The Impact of Festivals project – thoughts on the form and function of our report for the AHRC – Emma Webster

The Impact of Festivals project will generate two outputs: a report for the AHRC on the impact of festivals, based on a literature review and interviews with audience members and festival directors, and a critical history of the London Jazz Festival, which will be published as a book in 2017 as part of the Festival’s 25th anniversary.

Since the end of the London Jazz Festival back in November, I have been working on the literature review, which has thrown up a number of interesting questions and challenges.

The first is about the report’s focus: should it focus solely on jazz festivals, broaden this out to rock/pop and jazz, or even further: to music festivals in general, including folk and classical? Is there enough literature on jazz festivals to be able to have so narrow a focus?  Will a report about music festivals more generally have more impact? Should the report even broaden this focus out even further to consider cultural festivals or multi-arts events? And should the literature review only consider research from the UK or should it cover research from further afield?  Does it make sense to compare festivals from places as diverse as the UK, Italy [1] and Australia [2]? I currently have a database of around 200 articles and reports covering a broad range of festivals and events – many will not end up in the final report but it is a pleasure to be able to spend days reading and broadening my knowledge of festivals in general, I must say.

Festival literature screen grab 16 Nov 2015
Festival literature screen grab 16 Dec 2015

The second question is about the structure of the report: the remit is to write a literature review, but for the study to be as valuable (i.e. readable) as possible, a straightforward list of literature could be somewhat dull. A good compromise appears to be a short report (c. 3,000 words) alongside an annotated bibliography, akin to another Connected Communities report by George McKay and Ben Higham on Community Music: History and Current Practice, its Constructions of ‘Community’, Digital Turns and Future Sounding.

The third question is about the type of literature to be included: there are many economic impact studies out there about how much such-and-such festival both spends and earns, and one of the challenges will be to balance such reports against more academic literature, in order that the final document is, again, readable. The other challenge will be to avoid falling into the trap of generalising festivals based on specific festivals. For instance, while in one report on Edinburgh’s Festivals, an increase in opportunities to meet people from other backgrounds is counted as part of the overall impact of the Edinburgh festivals, in reality, only the Edinburgh Mela attendees were specifically asked a question about meeting people from other backgrounds. Similarly, the output of Edinburgh’s Storytelling Festival is 786% smaller than Fringe – is it therefore useful to compare them economically or even include them in the same report? Sticking with the Edinburgh Festivals, there have been a number of different reports written about Edinburgh and care will need to be taken to ensure that, just like the Mela, Edinburgh does not skew the final report too much in favour of the ‘world’s premier festival city’ (p. 11). [3]

All of this brings me to the fundamental question about who the report is for, and hence how it will be used. The original purpose of the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme is not only to ‘connect research on communities, but to connect communities with research’. With this in mind, then, the report and bibliography should be aimed not just at researchers, but also with festival stakeholders in mind who may find it useful: festival organisers, audiences, artists, volunteers, etc.

We are planning to launch the report at an event in late April and then host it on this website so do watch this space to see how these questions are answered.

1. Bracalante et al. (2011) The economic impact of cultural events: the Umbria Jazz music festival. Tourism economics 17 (6). 10.5367/te.2011.0096
2. Curtis, RA (2010) Australia’s Capital of Jazz? The (re)creation of place, music and community at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Australian Geographer, 41(1). 10.1080/00049180903535618
3. AEA Consulting (2006) Thundering Hooves: Maintaining the Global Competitive Edge of Edinburgh’s Festivals – http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/resources/publications/research/pdf/RES21%20Thundering%20Hooves%20Full%20Report.pdf

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