Festivals as Future Labs - How Cross-Cultural Collaboration Can Lead to Social Change




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Mar 22, 2018
by Carly Sikina
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Festivals as Future Labs - How Cross-Cultural Collaboration Can Lead to Social Change

Salzburg Global Fellows explore the role cultural festivals play in society and the importance of interdisciplinary exchange   Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Festivals can provoke meaningful and productive conversations about the future(s). They are spaces where cross-sectoral exchange and collaboration can flourish and help shift the way we see the world and the future(s) of the planet.

If you want to drive a movement, inspire creativity and expand mindsets, a festival is a useful tool in this regard. While there may be some disagreement as to whether “festival” is the right word to describe such an event, what we can be sure of is an opportunity exists to utilize and explore cross-disciplinary collaboration.

During the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, participants discussed the importance of cross-cultural collaboration when thinking about the future – or the possibility of multiple futures.

One participant who believes in the importance of festivals is Cynthia Selin, director of the Center for the Study of Futures at Arizona State University (ASU). During a panel discussion, Selin described ASU’s multi-year festival, Emerge.

Selin sees Emerge as a way to discuss and cultivate futures fit for everyone. “[Emerge is] designed to break down those walls between the university and the community.” She says the festival is unique because it creates a sense of “A collective experience that is unlike others that [people] have access to.”

Tom Higham, former executive director of FutureEverything and now creative director of York Mediale, builds on this point, citing the “unintended consequences” that can often occur. He adds, “They are experiments - they are experiments in time. They have different rules than normal life and amazing things can come from that – awful things come too – but it’s a powerful vehicle that can be used for amazing things.”

David Wright, founder of the f3 Futures Film Festival, shares a similar mindset to Higham. What sets him apart, however, is his apprehension of using the word “festival.”  He says, “Although [f3] started off as a futures film festival, we found in Australia, there’s something called festival fatigue, and people think ‘Oh god, another festival, no.’ So they kind of get put off by the idea.”

Moving forward, Wright is exploring alternative ways of defining f3. Options have included the future film transmedia event, super event, and mega event. Wright says, “We experimented with the word ‘fiesta,’ which is the Spanish word for ‘party’ because I see it as a bit like a party.”

Wright describes his vision for f3 as “a way to generate new kinds of means [and] synergies which brings in people from around the world who have futuristic ideas, not just high-techy, Silicon Valley kind of stuff, but new kinds of social experimentation ideas and so on.”

Despite his concerns regarding festivals, Wright understands the importance of bringing people together through shared interests and cross-sectoral collaboration. “From a general point of view, festivals are a way of bringing like-minded people together over a certain period of time and then bumping into each other and they generate new ideas…”

Selin emphasizes the value of cross-sectoral initiatives like Emerge. “[Transdisciplinary collaboration] matters because so many of our pressing social problems – whether you think about climate change, poverty, equality, even things like literacy [and] problems with our food system – there is no single discipline that is able to address it.

“We must re-gear our knowledge production, our educational systems… to foster this interdisciplinary collaboration. Emerge is really an opportunity to illustrate, to demonstrate what that looks like and [how to] foster an environment where that kind of work can thrive.”

Similarly, Higham and Wright recognize the importance of collaboration between the arts, sciences, and technology. Higham sees the arts and sciences as being able to collaborate in interesting ways that benefit both disciplines. Interdisciplinary exchange between an artist and a scientist can “create amazing things that neither could create on their own.”

Wright identifies the lack of common language surrounding futures as one of the key issues that can be remedied through cross-cultural collaboration. Wright believes there is “no shortage of compelling images” of the future, but they are largely scattered and therefore, must be brought together so that they have “shape, pattern, coherence, upon which people [feel] empowered to act in the real world.”

He continues by mentioning the power of cross-sectoral initiatives. He sees collaborative efforts, especially with the arts, as a way “to inspire futures-oriented behaviors.”

Selin discusses the amount of “common-ground” among the participants, despite their diverse backgrounds. “What’s beautiful about being here [at Salzburg Global Seminar] is that I think there’s similar points of inspiration to try to work in whichever way you are best equipped to - to create positive social change, more equity, more justice, more sustainability, [a] sort of better quality of life and well-being…”

The Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future is part of the multi-year series, Culture, Arts and Society. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the program can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter using #SGSculture.