Atelier for Young Festival Managers

A few weeks ago, sound Coordinator Kadri took part in a course called Atelier Next. Here are her thoughts.

A week after finishing soundfestival I packed a small suitcase and took a train from Aberdeen to Kortrijk, Belgium. I was one of the 35 young festival managers accepted to take part in a week-long intensive course called Atelier for Young Festival Managers. The course took place in the Eurometropolis region of Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai and Valenciennes, hosted by the International Arts Festival NEXT.

In an attempt to cut down on my carbon footprint, I took a train instead of plane to Belgium. The trip was easier than I thought it would be. The first leg of the trip took me from Aberdeen to London. From London I boarded the Eurostar to Lille and then one more train before I reached my destination, Kortrijk. The carbon emission for flying would have been 262.6 kg, whereas this train trip came to 34kg – a fraction (12%) of flying. Yes, it did take a bit a longer to get to my destination and back, but if you add in arriving to the airport 2hrs before the flights and the transfer between airport and city centre, it really was not that huge a difference. The trains were comfortable and I would do a journey this way again.

Atelier for Young Festival Managers is a 7-day training programme addressed at young artistic festival managers or those who are keen to become involved in programming or in programming related departments within a festival. “Young” refers to young in the festival business. There’s no age limit, but the average age of Atelier participant is 35. This Atelier was the 16th edition. Previous editions have taken place all across the world: China, Hungary, Lebanon, South Africa, Sweden etc. In 2020 Atelier will take place in Germany and Uganda.

I attended the Atelier with a few aims in mind: to develop programming skills, gain new perspective in festival management and make contacts that can lead to new collaborative projects.

The first few days felt like the first few days of school:  getting to know who's who and where everyone is from. The Atelier that I attended had attendees from all across the world and from all kinds of festivals/cultural organisations. The festivals/organisations present included: a film festival in Egypt, a Hans Christian Andersen festival in Denmark, the Sidney Opera House, a student theatre festival in South Africa and Art Space for kids in China to name a few,  The mentors were established festival managers with vast experience and knowledge coming from different countries and backgrounds. I was one of the three participants from the United Kingdom and the only one representing Scotland.

The training programme was jam-packed: the days were long and intense, full of presentations, group tasks, roundtable discussions, plenary sessions and performances. At times, it felt too intense and overwhelming as there wasn't much free time to reflect and digest the over-abundance of information. The big contact time with the participants and mentors led to more connections being made and in-depth and honest conversations with others. What was clear from all the discussions and activities is that festivals don't take place in a vacuum. Even though we, the participants had similar troubles regarding funding, programming, audience development, each of us had a different socioeconomic, political context. From Australian festival managers attending Atelier as the forest fires were engulfing their country to an organiser of "A night with Buddha" festival in Afghanistan who has had to seek refuge in Norway.  The common ground of being festival managers despite the different circumstances led to enlightening and thought-provoking discussions. I was surprised to find out that one of the participants had even seen sound's production “The Garden” when it toured Shanghai in 2016. Talk about a small world!

In addition to the discussions with participants and mentors, some of my highlights from Atelier included: a roundtable discussion about audience development, open space sessions on inclusivity, open calls and co-productions. Mentors guided us through these 7 days with stimulating questions and inspiring input. It was great to be surrounded by like-minded individuals and share our knowledge, experiences and ideas. 

Because we all came from different circumstances, the answers that we were looking for varied from person to person. What is more, Atelier made us think about questions we hadn't even considered. I did leave Atelier with more questions than definitive answers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, Atelier NEXT made me get out of the routine bubble we all get lost in and consider why and how we are doing things, especially at sound and in Aberdeen.

One of the biggest takeaways of Atelier is the relationships and connections I have made with people – I'm now part of this informal group of like-minded individuals who attended Atelier NEXT and an alumni network of almost 700 people from 80+ countries. I've returned from Atelier with ideas for future collaborations and ideas to implement. I'd like to thank Aberdeen City Council for the funding that helped me attend Atelier NEXT.

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