In the past two days I’ve eaten blue cake, seen a toddler in a pram listening to her ipod and a man exorcised on a street corner. I’m in Singapore, attending a conference for arts festival organisers. The 45 participants run festivals in an overwhelmingly diverse list of places including Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, the Philippines, Siberia and the Cook Islands. Singapore is a fascinating place where the arts industry didn’t emerge until the 80’s but which has now exploded in an incredibly vibrant way. This week is their arts festival and tomorrow we’re going to see some Taiwanese theatre.
On our first day it’s evident that jetlag is a strange collective experience; between us we’re functioning in at least 12 different time-zones. I’ve made sure not to finish the book I was reading before I came as these characters are the only familiar people here. Although the mid-century Hungarians in Julie Orringer’s beautiful new novel, The Invisible Bridge are not making acclimatisation any easier.
The conference is supposed to shake up my previously held ideas of running an arts festival, and so far, it’s doing exactly that. Exposure to so many other arts festivals has made me question processes that had seemed obvious. From the formats used, to the participatory elements, and the divergent political and cultural contexts have opened my eyes and inspired me to the potential that can be harnessed in a festival. Most of the others here are theatre and dance festival producers. For a start I’m realising the difference in selecting a work once you’ve seen it performed and, as is our experience, selecting a book that has moved you and then working out how that can be shaped into an event. When it comes to my turn presenting my festival to the group, the organiser of the interdisciplinary arts festival in the Philippines evolving from work with bamboo remarks that mine is an incredibly specific festival. I suppose it’s all context.