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18 April, 2012  ▪  Olena Maksymenko

Waiting for Quality

The Ukrainian Week looks into ways to improve the organization of Ukrainian festivals
Gallery: Festival Venues (photos: 10)
28 March - 1 April. Telefilm festival Pilihrym (Pilgrim) (Zhytomyr, the oblast TV centre). This festival is dedicated to various kinds of tourism: cultural, spiritual, ethnic, and extreme, and includes meetings with travellers and extreme athletes, and master classes. The participants will present reports on their travels in the format of short films and photographs. 29 April - 2 May. Mediaeval Khotyn. (The Khotyn Fortress, Chernivtsi oblast).This is an islet where the Middle Ages come back to life in all manifestations imaginable: dressage, tournaments, mediaeval music, archery contests, fire shows, and many other attractions. This festival reminds you that fairy tales and legends are much closer at hand than you might think, and nothing disappears without a trace. 10-13 May. Fenrir Scottish Fest. (Suburbs of Kyiv)The four days dedicated to Scottish culture will bring guests closer to the customs and traditions of Scots. Music, dances, military exercises, everyday life, entertainments, and cuisine - all these aspects will be presented in their full flavour. The guests are kindly requested to wear traditional Scottish dress. 1-3 June. Alfa Jazz Festival (Lviv, Rynok Square; Bohdan Khmelnytsky Park; Valova Street). This is the second time that Lviv has assembled amateurs of jazz music. The concert programmes (which will last until late at night) are meant to let listeners wander from stage to stage to hear all the performers.

Amateurishness is the key problem of Ukraine’s festival movement, since event organization is mostly for enthusiasts who have to rely on other jobs to earn a living. And yet, enthusiasm means everything for us. This difference between our style of management and Western management styles was observed by Abigail Carney, a Scottish expert, who arrived in Kyiv together with other colleagues from Scotland, England, and Germany to take part in the Winter School for Festival Managers, which lasted until early March. This was the first-ever joint project for the Goethe-Institute and the British Council Ukraine.


“It was immensely fascinating to hear the Western experts. It was like they came from another planet!” Sviatoslav Pomerantsev, president of the International Poetry Festival Meridian Czernowitz, is filled with impressions. “They enjoy all the mechanism we can only dream about, and they work like a charm. Here I learned about such important things as statistics, keeping track of who comes to events and why, the analysis of the optimal area division for different kinds of public, efficient advertising methods, and so on.” Pomerantsev is convinced that all domestic festival managers should be trained in basic business management. An efficient manager has no right to overlook details. Or, more precisely, in this business there are no details to be overlooked. “Not only are good performers important to success, but so is the location of biotoilets (in case of an open air event) and ashtrays,” says Oleksii Kohan, art director of numerous jazz festivals. “For me and my partner any such event is a perfect triangle. One side represents the organisers, the second stands for the musicians, and the third for the audience.”

Indeed, anyone can recall unpleasant moments at open air events where organizers did not take enough care of cleaning, and the site soon turned into a dump. Or when international event organisers forgot to provide foreign guests with interpreters. There will be a fly in the ointment every now and then, due to drawbacks in planning or lack of resources. “There are no quantities that make success, there are only multipliers,” this is how producer Volodymyr Kaminsky formulates one of his principles. "All components of a festival, such as money, artists, or public – are multipliers rather than quantities, because if one of them is a zero, the entire result is also a zero.”


“How do you know if your festival has succeeded? You just know it!” says Carney. “Scotland has got such an intense festival atmosphere and competition that we have to endlessly justify ourselves! We always have to convince people providing us with resources, especially in cases of public-private partnership, to keep helping us.”

“There are three critical ‘ingredients’ for any good festival: quality content, audience, and management (to provide smooth action and control, a well-balanced budget, and so on). You may have a great programme and the best artists, but if your spectators are freezing, or the venue is not mentioned in the leaflet, or the wrong starting time is given, people will be disappointed,” Eckhard Thiemann, a British-based German expert and one of the six producers of the Culture Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, said.

“The first thing to be taken into account is the importance of the event,” adds Carney. “I mean not only the financial component, but also its social, economic, and cultural weight; that is to say, its value for society. On the one hand, we have the Edinburgh Festival, selling 138,000 tickets per year (of course, this is only one component of its success). On the other, there is the five-year-old boy who has attended his first minor performance and says, ‘Wow, this is the coolest show I have ever seen!’ Which is more efficient to measure quality? It depends on who is asking.”

Experts believe that it is not only the managers, producers, and art directors who need special training — it takes two to tango, and both the actor and the spectator are important in making a good performance. The time-proven law of the theatre applies to the festival business, too – and this brings up the question of audience quality.

“The biggest problem about Hugh Laurie’s concert (scheduled 20 June in Kyiv. – Ed.) is that most people will come not to listen to his blues, but just to look at Doctor House,” Kohan says, smiling ironically. Indeed, at the first festivals, for example Sheshory, the number of accidental spectators was astonishingly high. At best, they would be local old ladies — they would even try to teach the young the traditional round dances. It was worse when those casual guests were idle young men driving around in their SUVs, who just dropped in just to pass the time. Today, too, lots of festivals turn into friendly gatherings, and the content itself is shoved into the background. An educated and committed audience is also a luxury, and we have a long way to go before we have one.

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