By LJ Findlay-Walsh, Artistic Director, Take Me Somewhere Ltd.

29 June 2018 04:07 pm

My Fusebox festival experience in Austin, Texas was certainly one of the most illuminating trips I’ve taken. It was a really wonderful mix of inspiring and dynamic programming and good conversation. The space allocated for conversation between us as delegates (‘Young Festivals’/’Festivals of the Future’) wasn’t overly managed and curated. The conversations moved organically into places that were useful for us as a group. We gained a lot from each other’s company within such a generous and supportive space. It was an astute move on the behalf of the British Council to bring us together. Our group bonded not through adversity but through creative thinking, positivity and, ambition. I suspect there is a legacy to come from this experience yet to be fully realised. 

The festival itself made me consider the role of a curator as a host. I started to consider that, as a curator, one might try to build their vision of an ideal community, one with variety, urgent and inspiring conversations, food, and laughter. Even though festivals greatly depends on the performance pieces, there are other important factors to keep in mind as well. 

When we were in Austin, we met an Uber driver named Melody. She was friendly, and we chatted away about ‘Keeping Austin Weird’. She had never been to Fusebox, and we invited her to join us that evening. Somehow, we knew we weren’t taking a huge risk, and I found this to be very interesting.  

Fusebox reminded me of a friend who just loves to host a party - come one come all, it’s a relaxed affair. Fusebox doesn't focus primarily on performances in the theatre studio (which we did to see Rachel Mars); it was about being in unusual locations, and not needing to have money in your pocket to enjoy great work. Melody and I spoke to people we had never met before. It made me think about the invitation to my own festival. What’s the risk or offer for an initiated audience member to bring someone new to it all? How does not charging for tickets affect this offer? How can I get Melody to come to our festival back home?

Attending the Fundraising gala was another highlight of the trip. There was nothing that made me feel more British than being in a room where people openly asked for money and received it with such fervor. The notion of an extravagant event to fundraise for the arts is really the reserve of the national companies and larger charities back home. I think I’d always considered this an impossibility for our festival since so many of our supporters are artists and creative type people. It felt impossible to shift the onus on to them when their presence at the festival is payment enough.

It became clear to me that, even though there is a different culture of fundraising in the UK, hosting a similar gala-type event might encourage people to give more money. It felt like a celebration of community and the values of the festival, a great event in itself. If our festival was free, would it make this gala transaction possible? What is the UK/Take Me Somewhere version of this?

Upon talking to individuals at the event, I realized that we are currently lacking in US business connections. I wonder, if our festival was free, what kind of relationships and conversations could be allowed to blossom? More broadly, what would it mean for widening audiences, connecting people and civic pride?