By Louise O'Kelly, Founding Director, Block Universe

03 July 2018 09:23 am

It was such a joy to attend the Fusebox Festival in Austin, TX earlier this year. It was a fantastic opportunity to explore different models for festival making and fundraising, and to meet with other festival directors from the UK to share our experiences. 

There are many similarities between Fusebox and Block Universe, the festival that I run in London. Both festivals take place across their specific cities in a number of different venues, each adding something unique to the experience of the work. At Block Universe, our goal is to offer a new generation of artists working with performance a platform and support structures to bring their work to wider audiences, through a curated ten-day long programme of performance, talks, workshops and artist-led events. 

Block Universe offers both ticketed and free admission to performances in major institutions and unique off-site locations, both commissioning new performance works and inviting international artists to premiere work in the city. Hence, I was interested in exploring Fusebox’s model of offering all of the shows for free. It was impressive to learn that the free ticket model had more than doubled the audience attendance figures since its introduction, although further work was to be done on diversifying reach. Seeing the audiences attending Fusebox firsthand helped me to reflect on our own experiences with the difference in audience members between our ticketed events, and those taking place in public spaces, albeit within the confines of cultural organisations. It has always been our intention to bring a wider awareness of performative practices to audiences in a way that makes it easy to access and where audiences feel comfortable experimenting with something new.

I was interested to compare Fusebox’s funding model with ours, as there are major differences in funding for the arts between the UK and the US, with a long history of philanthropy (and associated tax breaks) in the US, which is not as widespread as in the UK. It was exciting to experience a very well-organized and successful auction to launch the festival, and this valuable experience served as an example of creative thinking to supplement government funding.

Whilst in Austin, I also had the opportunity to meet with other curators and programmers from US institutions, and I am keen to explore how better to forge links with venues and festivals in the US as a result. The relationships formed with other festival directors from the UK were also an unexpected bonus. We had many illuminating conversations about the practicalities of running festivals in the UK, and it was inspiring to meet other individuals who are passionate about what they do and to hear how they make it happen. These relationships create an invaluable support network, as well as opening up the potential for new collaborations and conversations, which would not have been possible without this trip.