South Australia has long been synonymous with world-class arts festivals but, like festivals the world over, the future of many events in the State has been made challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite this contemporary reality, however, a new research report by the University of South Australia in conjunction with Arts South Australia and Adelaide Festival Centre, finds SA’s art festival sector, which was growing before the pandemic, has plenty of opportunity in the post-COVID economy.
UniSA arts management experts, Professor Ruth Rentschler OAM and Dr Boram Lee, examined the interconnections between arts festivals, collaboration, value creation and tourism, and their findings suggest a fresh approach to the festival sector can not only ensure a bright future, but also redress some problem areas of the past.
Across Australia, cultural tourists travel further, stay longer and spend more than other tourists, with more cultural tourists attending the arts than wineries and sport, so this is a strong market to capitalise on for South Australia, Prof Rentschler says.
“In the past, as a State, we haven’t done as much as we could to promote cultural tourism, so there is a real opportunity to grow that area, especially given domestic tourism is likely to see a major upswing while ever international tourism remains restricted.”
The report suggests arts festivals in the post-COVID19 world will need to be ‘smart’ and ‘slow’, engaging with audiences to build a relationship rather than seeking volume, with an increasing focus on health, well-being and digital streaming, requiring a rethink of arts festival strategy.
Key to that rethink, with both tourism and the arts being among the sectors worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, there is now a heavy incentive for the industries to work together, and the report makes four key recommendations around how private and public entities might achieve that.
A successful tourism marketing effort relies on collaboration between arts festival organisers, arts agencies and tourism agencies, Prof Rentschler says.
“So, firstly, we’re recommending an expanded role for Festivals Adelaide, to facilitate greater collaboration between key stakeholders, especially the two government agencies, Arts South Australia and South Australian Tourism.
“We also believe Festivals Adelaide is in the best position to provide stronger communication with the general public, especially digitally, due to its linkages with each major arts festival and the communications networks they provide.”
The report also recommends expanded roles for both the State Government and individual festival operators, who will need to work closely and cooperatively to maximise opportunities in a challenging new economy.
“On the one hand, the State Government needs to expand its scope in guiding arts festival organisers as they operate on a knife edge through a period of financial transition, whilst also communicating the value of the arts sector to the wider community and encouraging a culture of philanthropy.
“At the same time, arts festival organisers need to justify their own ‘social licenses’ to operate within society, and this includes providing adequate training, skills development and opportunities to allow artists to be entrepreneurial and to promote and commercialise their artistic offerings through digital platforms in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Finally, the report underlines the need for a total reboot of how the arts scene is represented in South Australian tourism promotion, aimed at improving the future sustainability of both sectors.
“There is a need to actively diversify the State’s tourism marketing strategy by including the arts, not merely as an ambient activity, but recognising some of the major arts festivals as key brand associations,” Prof Rentschler says.
“So, for instance, there was a lack of publicity around the opening of the 60th year of the Adelaide Fringe or the Adelaide Festival, where sport events, such as ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the build-up to the ICC T20 World Cup, were promoted.
“This is a clear missed opportunity to promote both the State as a cultural tourism destination and our arts festival sector as a key part of the social fabric, and our research suggests there are widespread benefits to rectifying the issue.”