An interview with Anthony Gardner about biennales

Crowds outside a lecture presentation featuring Kazuyo Sejima, Venice Biennale 2010. Image: Luke Kakizaki

I’ve been away on holidays over the Christmass – New Years break, but with 2011 well and truly underway, it’s time to dust off the WordPress passsword and get blogging again.

Kicking off this year is something I’m very excited about: an interview with University of Melbourne researcher Anthony Gardner. Gardner came to my attention as a outstanding early career researcher who late last year was awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council grant to study the international visual arts biennale circuit.

It’s a subject I’ve covered peripherally here before, and one that has been dealt with by some important recent books I’ve mentioned here such as Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World and Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark.

I emailed Anthony before Christmas with some questions in bold; below are his responses:

 

Anthony Gardner in 2010. Image: Anthony Gardner.

Can you tell me briefly what you’ll be researching?

The main and overt subject matter is the development of so-called “mega-exhibitions” worldwide since the Second World War: the biennales, triennales, quadrennials, quinquennials and so on that have emerged in places as diverse as Dakar in Senegal, Tirana in Albania or Guangzhou in China. These perennial exhibitions – perhaps we should really call them perennales, no matter how uglythe word – have been one of the main driving forces in the display, production and thinking of art in the last 40 years or so, and what I want to track with this project (together with my co-investigator, Charles Green at the University of Melbourne) are three (maybe even four) waves of biennialisation that have emerged since the development of the Venice Biennale in 1895. This wouldcomprise a first wave in the late 19th century, a second in the 1950s to the mid 1980s, a third from the early 1990s on, and if there is indeed a fourth, then it is only in recent years as biennales have supposedly begun to decline and become discursive, have reflected on their own conditions, as they age.
The more meaty subject, however, is the shift and changes that histories of exhibition and curatorship have brought (and on occasions wrought) on art history, and how the ideologies driving these exhibitions signify important shifts from “world art” and its grounding in internationalism, to globalism and globalisation in art and culture, and the re-emergence of regional and very localfoci amid the global. What complications do histories of art’s display present to our usual understandings of the history of art works as discrete entities? And how can a broad yet thorough understanding of these waves of biennialisation provide us with a richer of art’s globalisation through the twentieth century?

Continue reading

Advertisements

Ticket prices for music festivals skyrocket … and the punters can’t get enough

The crowd enjoy the performance of The Flaming Lips at Splendour in the Grass 2009. Image: Sportsgirl

The announcement this week of the biggest-ever line-up for the Splendour in the Grass music festival underlines one of the most important trends in the music industry of the past few years: the triumph of the gatekeeper.

What do I mean by this? Literally, the importance of high fences and hulking security guards to the future of the music industry. As sales of recorded music have fallen since the late 1990s due to rampant downloading, the music industry has responded by transforming itself into a predominantly live industry. The result is  that music festivals and the live performance circuit have become more important to the economics of music than at any time since Edison invented the phonograph.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times about California’s Coachella festival confirms the trend:

“We almost didn’t do Coachella this year,” said Paul Tollett, 44, the organizer and founder of the 11-year-old show, which is promoted by concert heavyweight Goldenvoice and owned by AEG in Los Angeles. “We felt the economy wasn’t looking so hot. But festivals seem to be hanging in there, and I’m as surprised as anyone.”

The sellout is all the more noteworthy given a change in pricing this year that does away with single-day $103 tickets in favor of one entry fee for all three days that, with service charges, pushes the cost above $300.

“Coachella has been established as a tribal rite among hipsters who go just so they can say they’ve been there,” independent music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz said of the sellout.

Here in Australia, music festival prices have also spiralled without any apparent effect on demand. Splendour in the Grass is charging close to $500 for 3-day tickets, once camping is taken into account, but the stellar line-up and strong reputation of the festival (once based in Byron Bay, NSW and this year moving to Woodford, QLD) is still luring huge interest.

As the L.A. Times article observes,

Live music is thriving, even as other parts of the music industry are faltering. Recorded music continued its downward spiral, with U.S. album sales falling 8% in the first three months of the year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Even digital music, which had enjoyed a drumbeat of increasing sales, fell 1% in the first quarter, its first such drop since 2003, when Nielsen began tracking digital downloads.

But worldwide concert ticket sales busted through $1 billion in the same period, up 6.2% over the same quarter of 2009, another surprising first given that the quarter typically is slow for concerts, according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a concert industry trade magazine.

The growth of the live performance industry is a vindication of the theories of thinkers such as Corey Doctorow, who wrote in a 2006 article entitled Giving It Away that:

This isn’t the first time creative entrepreneurs have gone through one of these transitions. Vaudeville performers had to transition to radio, an abrupt shift from having perfect control over who could hear a performance (if they don’t buy a ticket, you throw them out) to no control whatsoever (any family whose 12-year-old could build a crystal set, the day’s equivalent of installing file-sharing software, could tune in). There were business models for radio, but predicting them a priori wasn’t easy. Who could have foreseen that radio’s great fortunes would be had through creating a blanket license, securing a Congressional consent decree, chartering a collecting society and inventing a new form of statistical mathematics to fund it?

Who’d have thought the music industry would end up thriving by effectively giving away most of its recorded product for free (albeit illegally) over the internet, and instead returning to the tried-and-tested model of constant touring and performance perfected by medieval troubadours?

On holidays

Happy 2010! I’ve been on holidays over the past week at Lorne, Victoria’s Falls Festival, where I’ve seen some fantastic music and also got hot, wet and muddy.

The blog will return on January 4th with a post on music festivals, and we’ll head into the year from there. Until then, hope you’re enjoying yourself and remember to party and drive nice and safely 😉

Lyndon Terracini on “why our art’s in the wrong place”

lyndon_terracini_headshot

Lyndon Terracini (source: Opera Australia website).

The former Director of the Brisbane Festival and incoming Artistic Director of Opera Australia, Lyndon Terracini, has orchestrated a well-publicised spray at Australia’s major performing arts sector in today’s Australian.

In an article by Michaela Boland, Terracini previews a speech today to the Australian Business Arts Foundation, which will dovetail with a forthcoming publication with Currency House:

Lyndon Terracini, the former artistic director of the Brisbane Festival, has arrived at the opera company with a bold vision to make it more accessible and more representative of the community. He believes storytelling in Australia has become predictable and conservative, and is concerned it lacks creative inspiration.

Even productions acclaimed as visionary, such as Benedict Andrews’s epic War of the Roses and the plays of Barrie Kosky, fall short of his expectations.

“I don’t think they have the element of daring that Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll had,” Terracini told The Australian on the eve of his speech.

Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, staged at the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1955, was the first mainstage Australian production, and signalled the end of British domination of the Australian theatre. Such a landmark effort is difficult to replicate.

“The work we are doing now is much more professional, even sophisticated, but where is our core ethos?” Terracini said.

“What has happened to the boldness and cavalier daring of our performing aesthetic? We’ve become comfortable, the art we’re making is very comfortable and we’ve become mean-spirited.”

In a speech in Melbourne hosted by arts publisher Currency House and the Australia Business Arts Foundation, which will be repeated in Sydney next week, Terracini will accuse contemporary artists of lacking courage in their work. He intends to pour scorn on the major performing arts companies for selecting performers from a limited ethnic pool.

“How many indigenous faces do you see in the SSO, MSO, Brisbane’s orchestras or the ACO? We’re not seeing them, and we should ask why,” he said.

Terracini intends to rectify the racial sameness that is obvious at Opera Australia.

“Opera companies have remained the same since their inception and the world has changed dramatically,” he said. “Yet 200 years ago the role of an opera company was very different to now. Opera used to be what the movies are now. People for all sorts of reasons may have had a prejudice about coming to opera, but once they come you can bet they will adore it,” he said.

Oh really? I’m not sure  if the stats would back that assertion up.  Continue reading

Bob Stein at the Melbourne Writers Festival

Last Thursday, my sister (Kate Eltham of Electric Alphabet) moderated a whole day of sessions about digital publishing at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

It was a fascinating series of sessions which included some very interesting comments from the Institute for the Future of the Book’s Bob Stein.  While I didn’t record or transcribe his comments at the festival, I was able to chat to him on Friday night, which was brief but very rewarding. I’m going to attempt a brief precis of some of the things he said, in the sessions I saw. Continue reading

Special post 3: Festivals and urban cultural policy: Some meditations on the literature

Okay, so apologies for another long break from posting – I’ve been in Sydney, interviewing the Sydney Festival’s Lindy Hume for Meanjin Quarterly and aso catching up with my colleagues at the University of Western Sydney and NewMatilda.com.

I’m going to make it up to you all today with a long post on the literature of urban cultural policy as it relates to festivals.  This will be the final post in my “special series” on academic festivals literature, which has been a lot of fun to read up on. It’s another fascinating area of the knowledge base, and while I could spend days delving into it, I am going to discuss the literature in general before examining a couple of specific papers. Continue reading

Special post 2: More festivals literature

You’re probably wondering what I’ve been doing for the past week and a bit.

The answer is: reading about festivals and interviewing festival directors! So far I’ve spoken to some wonderful people, indeed even a personal heroine of mine in former Melbourne International Arts Festival Artistic Director, Kristy Edmunds.

But enough of that: on to the liteature. I’m not going to do a whole bunch of analysis her, just hrow a bunch of links and quic k summaries at you. Here goes …

1: Bruno Frey’s work on arts festivals. Frey is one of the better-known cultural economists working internationally, and his book Arts and Economics: Analysis and Cultural Policy (Springer: 2003) contains a chapter devoted to festivals economics. Frey’s big idea, if I could be so vulgar as to boil it down to this (but hey, it’s a blog) is that arts festivals have enabled many arts organisaitons to escape William Baumol’s dreaded ‘cost disease’ by allowing them to expand production and improve their productivity.

2: Richard Prentice and Vivien Anderson’s “Festival as Creative Destination.” A 2003 scholarly article published in Annals of Tourism Research 30(1): 7-30, this article examines Edinburgh’s many clustered festivals and contrasts Edinburgh’s “success in attracting audiences for the performing arts contrasts with the limited extent it appears to modify the general image of Scotland among its tourists.”

3. Also informed by the Edinburgh experience is the work of Martin Robertson, formerly of the Centre for Festival and Event Management at Napier University. Robertson and co-authors Jack Carlsen and Jane Ali-Knight has come up with a “research agenda” for researching festivals called “ACCESS.” ACCESS is a 6-dimensional research matrix which looks at for Arts, Culture, Community, Economy, Society and Stakeholders. This is valuable, but the solid gold is his first-authored paper (with Phil Rogers and Anna Leask)  “Progressing socio-cultural impact evaluation for festivals“, published this year in the Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events [2009: Vol 1(2): 1566-169].

This paper is based on a brilliantly comprehensive review of the secondary literature on festivals and is, therefore, one of the best places to start for industry professionals and academics looking to get a better idea of this field. But wait! There’s more! Robertson and his co-authors also surveyed 60 festival directors on the range of likely impacts to their festivals, including things like impact on local residents and the community, funding, community pride and participation, and so on.

Perhaps the most interesting point from a policy perspective was this intriguing sentence in the paper’s discussion, “the gorwing literature in the area of cultural capital has had very little influence on measuring management practice for festivals. ” Robertson suggests that directors are perhaps more interested in pragmatic outcomes like brokering outcomes for artists and performers, and, although I am paraphrasing here, bums on seats.

TOMORROW: Even more festivals literature!

Special post 1: a round-up of the academic festivals literature

Today I present a poston the academic literature of arts festivals, focussing on a number of key papers in the field.

This Report has been prompted by my commission to write an essay for Meanjin Quarterly on arts festivals in Australia, but can be expected to have broader relevance to arts policy and management professionals working in the field. Continue reading

When cultural policy = boosterism: Vivid Sydney

In The Sunday Age, Steve Dow has taken a long hard look at the dubious policy logic behind Events NSW’s Vivid Sydney program, suggesting that he boosterism only too common in this kind of policy initiative is alive and well in NSW:

In a sure sign NSW wants to unsettle Victoria’s claim to the high ground of ideas, on May 27 Events NSW will also launch an annual Creative Sydney festival to become “an annual hub for the creative industries throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific”, with three weeks of conferences and talks on music, design, architecture, writing, performance and film.

Says Events NSW boss Geoff Parmenter, the former head of marketing at Football Federation Australia: “I’d like to think that people throughout the region would come to Sydney every June to get their ideas.”

He’s also done me the favour of quoting my views on the topic:

Ben Eltham, a Melbourne-based writer, musician and theatre producer, agrees. Eltham, originally from Brisbane, moved south in 2007 to take up an internship with the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which receives funding from Arts Victoria. He says that while he has noticed that some artists are being forced by high rents to move from traditional creative suburbs such as St Kilda and Fitzroy out to the likes of Brunswick and Preston, he has been able to find reasonably cheap digs in Collingwood.
Eltham, who is researching a PhD in cultural policy at the University of Western Sydney, and is a fellow at the Sydney-based Centre for Policy Development, says Melbourne’s virtue is its “ecosystem of cultural enterprise”, which Sydney fails to emulate because of a lack of proper funding at the lower end.
“In Melbourne, there are big companies and there are big performing arts venues, but there are also small companies and small venues. So, if you’re an artist trying to work your way through the system, or a director or a person who’s a stage manager or works in a crew, or simply a cultural entrepreneur, there’s a ladder there, a stepping stone.”
Eltham is highly critical of Luminous. He sees it as a form of “cultural cringe”, importing the likes of Eno and ignoring local artists, although Events NSW insists local artists are important players in all its festivals being launched this month. Eltham says the NSW Ministry of Arts largely ignores much of the “really awesome underground stuff” going on in Sydney. “The classic example is a fringe festival … Melbourne’s had a fringe festival for 26 years, Adelaide’s had one for 49 years. Sydney doesn’t have one at all.”

Ben Eltham, a Melbourne-based writer, musician and theatre producer, agrees. Eltham, originally from Brisbane, moved south in 2007 to take up an internship with the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which receives funding from Arts Victoria. He says that while he has noticed that some artists are being forced by high rents to move from traditional creative suburbs such as St Kilda and Fitzroy out to the likes of Brunswick and Preston, he has been able to find reasonably cheap digs in Collingwood.

Eltham, who is researching a PhD in cultural policy at the University of Western Sydney, and is a fellow at the Sydney-based Centre for Policy Development, says Melbourne’s virtue is its “ecosystem of cultural enterprise”, which Sydney fails to emulate because of a lack of proper funding at the lower end.

“In Melbourne, there are big companies and there are big performing arts venues, but there are also small companies and small venues. So, if you’re an artist trying to work your way through the system, or a director or a person who’s a stage manager or works in a crew, or simply a cultural entrepreneur, there’s a ladder there, a stepping stone.”

Eltham is highly critical of Luminous. He sees it as a form of “cultural cringe”, importing the likes of Eno and ignoring local artists, although Events NSW insists local artists are important players in all its festivals being launched this month. Eltham says the NSW Ministry of Arts largely ignores much of the “really awesome underground stuff” going on in Sydney. “The classic example is a fringe festival … Melbourne’s had a fringe festival for 26 years, Adelaide’s had one for 49 years. Sydney doesn’t have one at all.”