Past Program


One hundred years ago at Schloss Leopoldskron, Max Reinhardt, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal founded the world-renowned Salzburg Festival as a “Festival of Peace” to transform “the whole town into one stage.” To celebrate this centenary so closely linked with its home - Schloss Leopoldskron - Salzburg Global originally scheduled the forward-looking program “What Future for Festivals” for March 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program had to be postponed to October and has now been moved online due to continuing travel restrictions.

With many festivals facing an uncertain future, the question at the core of this program has become not only more relevant but perhaps even an existential one in many cases.  Salzburg Global seeks to support the global festival community during these uncertain times by bringing groundbreaking practitioners and disruptive innovators from around the world together online to catalyze breakthrough ideas, actions, and connections in response to the COVID crisis and against a backdrop of polarization, dehumanization, climate crisis, economic downturn, and techno-colonization.


2020 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the world-renowned Salzburg Festival, founded by Max Reinhardt, Richard Strauss, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal in 1920 in the baroque palace of Schloss Leopoldskron – home of Salzburg Global Seminar. As World War I drew to a close, the festival founders proposed an act of radical re-imagination: a “Festival of Peace” to transform “the whole town into one stage.”

Less than 30 years later, Salzburg Global Seminar was born out of another global conflict in the same inspirational location of Schloss Leopoldskron. Committed since 1947 to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world, Salzburg Global sought to use this unique centennial moment as a springboard to explore the significance and future of festivals for people and planet.

Originally scheduled for March 10-15, 2020, the program What Future for Festivals? unfortunately had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing travel restrictions and lockdowns. Immediately re-scheduled for October 2020, the program was to be held in person in Salzburg, however, due to the continuing uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the by-invitation program has been moved online.

Little did we know while developing the session in 2019, just how compelling and urgent the focus of the program would be:  what future for festivals?  Few sectors have been hit as hard by the pandemic as the cultural sector, with festivals being particularly vulnerable to the fallout from the global crises – not just COVID-19, but also the climate crisis, and worldwide social and economic upheaval.  It is more relevant than ever to be asking what Reinhardt, Strauss, and Hofmannsthal would do if they were alive today.

Festivals have energized communities since time immemorial. Rooted in rituals, stories and faiths, they embody local and indigenous cultures and celebrate deep bonds to nature, land and the seasons. Modern festivals have ranged from intimate experiments to gigantic mega-events, showcasing ever more diverse creative practices, from the performing, visual, and traditional arts to photography, film, literature, street arts, food, light, design and ideas-based, future-focused, eco-inspired events. Whatever their intended focus has been – creative innovation, activism, city branding, wellness, entertainment – festivals have spoken to fundamental human needs. They have allowed us to share in a density and intensity experience, revel in specialness beyond day-to-day routine, and join – as the German word “Festspiele” infers – in “celebratory play.”

But what is the future of festivals in times of travel restrictions, stringent limitations on public events of all kinds, worries about the safety of audiences and performers?  And, even if a COVID 19 vaccine is forthcoming, how will the festival landscape have changed in the interim and how will festivals adapt and cope with these altered circumstances?  These and many other questions will be at the center of our online conversations and discussions.

This 2020 program of Salzburg Global Seminar’s Culture, Arts and Society series will be framed around three interlinked areas of inquiry:

  • Taking Stock: Responding to Recent Shocks to the System
  • Medium-Term Strategies for Survival and Adaptation: Coping with Uncertainty
  • Designs on the Future: Creative Opportunities for Radical Reimagination 


  • Provide an intimate space for dialogue across the global festival community and opportunities to reimagine forms of networking and programming in response to the COVID pandemic and aligned with a sustainable development agenda for our planet;
  • Inspire, incubate, and catalyze new South/North/East/West exchanges;
  • Disseminate a summary of the proceedings and compile a “What Future for Festivals” Reader, with thought pieces authored by program participants;
  • Share learning from Salzburg Global through dynamic reporting (including blogs, social media, and a substantive report) with a broad, international group of stakeholders.


  • Why will we create festivals? For whom? By whom? And to what end? Can they catalyze breakthrough ideas, actions and connections in our conflicted age?
  • With new models of localism and co-creation emerging against the backdrop of the COVID 19 pandemic and climate risk, how can festivals increasingly foster development of a communal identity? How do they engender feelings of belonging and new social bonds? Can they play a cohesive and humanizing role for societies in conflict or across deep generational, social, economic and political divides? Can festivals offer new “ways in” when formal structures in society do not?
  • Who will be designing festivals and who or what will be the underlying drivers? For which audiences will festivals be designed? Whose stories will be told and whose voices heard? How can diversity and equity be promoted and supported more strongly through festivals in the future?
  • Can festivals help to regenerate more livable and inclusive cities and communities that celebrate uniqueness and authenticity? What radical business models are being considered, especially for legacy festivals? What new forms of business-arts partnerships can be imagined?
  • Given that festival-goers usually produce huge quantities of waste and international travel related to festivals has become even more problematic, how can explicitly greener festivals stimulate take-up on the grand scale?  
  • What new forms of festivals could emerge, driven by technical innovation such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence? What top-down, bottom-up, online or hybrid festival models are emerging?
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