Culture, music, and art festivals reflect a society´s celebration of things essentially ephemeral, yet with a temporarily tangible dimension. Innovation, excellence, abundance, a sense of community, openness – they are all valued and made manifest during these short periods of intense, unrestricted creativity and joy. Historically associated with religion, folklore, or agricultural bounty, festivals have grown both in numbers and in importance, covering wider geographical areas and a range of creative fields. If film festivals, for instance, have a long and rich tradition, sustained by a thriving industry and international networks of creatives, European culture festivals of a smaller scale have been struggling to be recognised locally or nationally by statistical offices that monitor cultural activity, which in turn affects allocation of government funds and impacts the role of festivals in mainstream political practice and discourse.
The challenge to define festivals beyond their short-lived annual occurrence has been met by continent-wide initiatives, such as the European Festival Association, with the EFFE Labels (Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe) and the EFFE Awards, which strive to offer a more central position to festivals in Europe, thus reducing the lack of visibility and policies around these cultural events. The platform emphasises the magnitude of the festival as a cultural genre, reflecting the need to talk and act on culture as a whole, especially given the increased erosion of government funding towards arts and culture during the past few years.
In the spring of 2017, for instance, Denmark has announced a cut of over 80 million Euro to governmental support to the cultural sector, a heavy-hitting decision that affects many regional and local projects and institutions. In this context, a relatively young initiative such as the Heartland Festival is an embodiment of resistance and endurance, and of what makes this Scandinavian nation truly great: placing worth on experiences of sharing, listening, loving, and building a network of respect and freedom of creative expression.
Located around the 15th-century Egeskov Castle and Gardens, Heartland Festival encompasses music, art, debates, and gastronomy, building up to a collective mode of experience, rather than one based on individual artistic glory. Indeed, these rather small-scale events are essentially different from other forms of artistic celebration, such as elitist biennales or massive arena concerts, drawing their unique vitality from the heterogeneity of all this creative force, without fixating on notions of celebrity. Despite it requiring a certain amount of organising and planning, the festival as a cultural space is coproduced almost in real time; it starts being alive in the moment community forms around art performances, music sets, or food stalls. The forms and vectors of art appreciation shift and change accordingly, with an emphasis on engagement and participation, rather than distant reflection and profit-oriented consumption.
The fact that the festival is a relatively small-scale event, placed rather far from the core of cultural life in the country, the capital, does not take away from its intensity and relevance. The ephemeral feature of the festival directs the focus less on the products or objects of art, and more on its role as catalyst of human connection and togetherness. One Danish word for togetherness or community is “samvær,” which maintains the verb “to be/at være” as part of term, affirming with its every use the sense of presence that is so important to Danish culture, and that can illuminate the role of this type of festival: a bridge-building, collective consciousness, which permeates the relationship between community, culture, and diversity as convergent forces towards a more inclusive and tolerant society.
Words: Elena Stanciu