The art world copes with audience fatigue at biennials and other festivals

Jori Finkel, Los Angeles Times, 7/21/12

Compared with previous editions, [the 2012 Whitney Biennial] was messier, more intimate and more spontaneous, reflecting the artists' creative process. It wasn't the usual biennial -- a supersized display of art objects. The Whitney isn't the only biennial these days in the grips of serious soul-searching. Now that there's a glut of biennials, triennials and other festivals worldwide, not to mention the art fairs that serve as their commercial counterparts, the competition for visitors is fierce. It isn't just biennial fatigue -- it's almost a backlash. Why go to a biennial today when there are so many other venues for discovering new art? What does a biennial offer that making the rounds at galleries can't? Driven by such issues, many U.S. biennials are rethinking, refining or just plain abandoning their missions. And some of the biggest changes are happening outside of New York. The Orange County Museum of Art has radically re-envisioned its California Biennial to include Pacific Rim artists for its 2013 edition. "Without intending to we are following something of a trend: the transformation of biennials into triennials," said [Dan Cameron, the show's curator], acknowledging the success of the New Museum's triennial in New York. Meanwhile, Site Santa Fe, which has staged international biennials since 1995 has stopped producing its trademark show but promises to unveil plans next year for another sort of international exhibition with regional roots. "It will not be called a biennial. And it will not be called Site Santa Fe," said Irene Hofmann, director of the exhibition space that goes by the same name. "In the last several iterations, we saw a drop in audience. We've had to ask ourselves: How are we going to distinguish ourselves in a sea of biennials today?"


Commentary: Minnesota's music festival fatigue

Jeff Gage, [Minneapolis/St. Paul] City Pages, 7/17/12

It's been almost a week now since word broke out that the SoundTown Music and Camping Festival is cancelled this year, just two weeks before the gates were set to open. But even now there's something that feels inevitable about how the whole situation shook itself out -- not inevitable that the festival would get cancelled, per se, but that it would be one extreme or the other. It would be complete failure, or complete success. From the time that Somerset Amphitheater owner Matt Mithun launched the concept last year, there were plenty of grandiose ideas and lofty ambitions. SoundTown would be a bonafide destination festival, the Upper Midwest's answer to Coachella and Bonnaroo. Even after the understated first installment last summer, the promises never wavered. With the SoundTown dream, at least for now, seemingly dead, there could be more at stake than just missing out on a chance to see Radiohead or the Tupac hologram live and in person. What if the Twin Cities actually can't support such a concept? Or what if we're simply too over-saturated with festivals and other summertime shows, in general? [With] events like Rock the Garden, Soundset, the Basilica Block Party, and now River's Edge, in addition to the dozens of free block parties, it's possible that Twin Cities music fans are just plain over-saturated. Flip Arkulary, a Minneapolis-based promoter and musician who works with venues around the country, thinks listener fatigue is a real problem. "I think people are getting tired. I think it is pretty over-saturated," he says. Over the past couple years, he's sensed that attendance has been down at many of the music events he visits around the state. "People are kind of broke right now, and there's so much to pick from. There's 10 or 15 events every day I could go to, and sometimes I just want to stay in."


Commentary: How many film festivals does Miami really need?

Kareem Tabsch, Miami New Times, 5/25/12

It seems like every week there's a new film festival clamoring for attention and audiences. Sure, this is a pretty big city, and it's growing more and more diverse, which means more diverse people wanting to see their own stories on the big screen. But I can think of at least 15 different fests here in Miami, and I'm sure I'm missing several. That's more than one a month. And having checked out some of these events myself.... Well, let's just say that clearly there are too many festivals and not enough revelers. Most film festivals are born from community need -- meaning there's a substantial sub-section of the larger community to support the fest. Still, there are other festivals whose existence more than baffles. Is it necessary to have both an Italian Film Festival and a Sicilian Film Festival? Rather than a Turkish Film Festival, why not have a Middle Eastern Film Fest and bring everyone together? Clearly, if these groups joined forces, they could expand their reach and resources and create a larger, more worthwhile event. The problem is not as simple as having too many film festivals. It's that many in Miami's film scene are just raising the flag of their own event, without first carefully assessing Miami's film landscape as a whole. An overcrowded festival scene, stacked with narrowly focused events, will create audience fatigue and eventually thin out theater attendance across the board. Film festivals are great community events. They can bring together a diverse crowd to experience films that they'd likely never discover on their own. But when the focus of your festival is too narrow, or the target audience too small, all you have is an unsustainable event.


Commentary: Rain, recession, and audience fatigue shake up UK summer festivals

Suzy Bashford, Marketing Magazine [UK], 7/20/12

[As] a result of 2012's summer of festival gloom, many ticket-holders and [corporate sponsors] have been left downcast -- and, in some cases, out of pocket -- by the cancellation of a long list of festivals, including Big Chill, Innocent's Fruit Sports Day and Morrisons' debut MFest in Leeds. Organisers blame various factors for falling ticket sales, from the weather to the recession and the Olympics. Meanwhile, anxious marketers will wonder whether festivals -- an increasingly vital part of [sponsors'] summer marketing plans -- are still effective for targeting consumers. Brands need to pick their festival carefully. With more than 500 in the UK alone, brands can tap into specific audiences, from the family-oriented Camp Bestival and student-targeted Beach Break Live, to the more literary Latitude. This works well for Swedish cider brand Kopparberg, which favours quirkier, less mainstream festivals such as Field Day, Beacons and Green Man. "The big, generic, one-size-fits-all event is becoming boring and people are getting wise to it," says Kopparberg UK head of marketing Rob Calder. "The great stuff tends to happen on a much smaller scale. The smaller ones will grow in confidence and be bigger next year." The media has debated whether 'festival fatigue' and over-commercialisation are causing consumers to switch off from brand messaging. Some festivals, such as Hop Farm, are actively touting their 'no branding' policy. The deluge that washed away the best-laid plans of brands and organisers this summer will result in a diminished festival marketing investment from some brands in 2013. The ones that dry off and plan a return next year may well be rewarded for their resilience.

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