Fusebox was an incredible experience. Not only was spending a week at a contemporary performance festival in Austin, Texas deeply exciting in itself, but having the opportunity to do this in the company of a cohort of other UK Festival Directors, it was extraordinarily rich and truly inspiring. Through sharing the stories of our own individual UK festivals with one another on a daily basis, and by engaging in lively conversations about the performance work we were experiencing together, we rapidly came together as a group, and started planning for possible collaborations. Fusebox provided us with the perfect setting in which to begin conversations about the artists and work we were potentially interested in programming in the UK, as well as future developments for all of our individual festivals. Fusebox also gave us an opportunity to discuss and compare different festival funding models, and to meet with other Festival Directors and delegates, allowing us to broaden our networks, our knowledge, and to celebrate festival as a space to come together and be inspired.
By attending Fusebox I was able to take time away from the immediate day to day concerns of running my own festival, GIFT, which was due to take place just a matter of weeks later. Instead, by immersing myself in Fusebox, I could reflect on GIFT from a broader perspective, and I found myself drawing parallels. In particular, Fusebox reminded me of some of the original aims of GIFT, most notably, I found similarities between what I originally set out to achieve in Gateshead through GIFT and how Fusebox was operating in Austin. When I founded GIFT in 2011, I set out to create a meaningful creative and cultural response to the redevelopment of Gateshead town centre as an urban space in a state of flux and transition. One of the ways in which I did this, was by occupying non-traditional performance spaces for the festival with events taking place in sited locations across the town. This was something that really struck me about Fusebox, and made it clearly resonate with GIFT, in that the festival occupied multiple types of venues, spaces and locations, many of which were ‘found’ or ‘reclaimed’ by the festival, which brought a very particular political agenda to the festival experience. This diversity of venues, in terms of scale, infrastructure, and neighbourhood gave Fusebox a distinct flavour, and allowed me as a festival go-er, to engage not just with the programme of artistic events, but also with Austin as a city, and as a festival site, or canvas, onto which the festival could explode and the city be explored.
One key distinction however between Gateshead and Austin is the scale! I seriously underestimated the distance between all of the festival venues at Fusebox, and was surprised how spread out venues were. I hadn’t anticipated the total reliance on cars to get from venue to venue (which made it very different from GIFT). While this encouraged me to explore different parts of Austin, it also made it difficult to maintain conversations with other audience members between events, which is sometimes when I find the best discussions can happen - in those informal ‘in-between’ spaces at a festival. I actually found this made it harder to feel connected to a broader festival community beyond those that I was already attending with from the UK.
Another area where I felt a strong connection between GIFT and Fusebox however, was in the inclusion of critical conversations in the festival programme, events whereby programmed artists were invited to discuss their work critically. I was really impressed by this emphasis on criticality, with dedicated time each day for focussed discussions. Having the opportunity to hear different programmed artists speak about their work in a daily event called ‘Waffle Chats’, with each being framed by a specific set of concerns or questions, was really rewarding and allowed for a deeper engagement with the work. These served to enhance my engagement with the programme and participating artists. By hosting these as daily inclusive ‘chats’ in a beautiful gallery setting, a pattern was established for how to experience the festival, and also in these spaces a festival community began to flourish. This is something that I also try and achieve at GIFT and I found these sessions particularly rewarding to attend.
Overall, attending Fusebox was a major highlight of this year, and it is definitely a festival I hope to return again one day! There were a number of performances that completely blew me away, and I would love to be able to programme in the UK in the future.