FOLK FEST: BETTER THAN THE REST
As winner of the ACT Tourism Award (in the festivals and events category), the NATIONAL FOLK FESTIVAL will go on to represent the territory in the National Tourism Awards in Cairns next March. Other state and territory award winners will be judged nationally, alongside the National Folk Festival to determine Australia’s best festival.
Every Easter, an annual celebration of folk culture is yielded and shared over four days at Canberra’s Exhibition Park (EPIC). For 45 years, performers from across the world have gathered under the banner of the National Folk Festival to create an accessible and broadly appealing event, attracting 50 thousand patrons (60 percent from the ACT and surrounding region, the remainder from interstate).
“2011 was a really challenging year for us,” explains the Managing Director of the National Folk Festival, Sebastian Flynn. “From a national perspective, it was a challenging year for many people surviving national disasters. Having been through some of those things before, I think it makes you realise that cultural events are not always the first consideration when survival is the order of the day.”
“The Folk Festival submission was fantastic, and it will compete strongly, nationally…but in the end it’s about people changing post codes and the ability of the Folk Festival to bring people into the ACT to visit Canberra,” says Gary Watson, Chair of Judges for the Canberra and Capitol Region Tourism Awards.
ACT Minister for the Arts, Mr Andrew Barr congratulated the Folk Festival on its win, highlighting it as one of the Canberra’s flagship events. “It’s certainly one of our more significant events on Canberra’s tourism calendar and given the festival falls on the Anzac weekend, it’s a key weekend for Canberra Tourism and they’ve been doing a fantastic job,” Mr Barr said.
Speaking about his strategic plans for the 2012 festival, Flynn will focus on building the festival’s education and participation themes as a way of creating an experience that really engages people; emphasising his ideas to create a space for human beings to express themselves. He hopes to create an expectation of what the festival is like as a cultural experience. “For me, folk is about human culture that goes back to the dawn of time, and any form of human expression. It’s about being inspired to continue your own creative journey and remembering that what you have is absolutely unique.”
But Flynn’s bigger picture plan to reframe Canberra as a cultural centre as well as a political centre is perhaps his most challenging strategic endeavour. “Canberra is seen from outsiders as being a political place, but under the surface, it is a place where people really enjoy music and art. It’s got a quieter culture, which I think is actually much closer to the real human culture.”
Preparing for the centenary of Canberra, to be celebrated in 2013, Flynn spoke about prompting the festival as part of a broader campaign to change current perceptions of Canberra. “We’re aiming to increase our day visitation to the festival, and encourage younger people to come for the day from Sydney and Melbourne, take in some of their favourite headliners and then go to the National Gallery to see the Renaissance exhibition.”
A planned development of the service station on Northbourne Avenue and located on the EPIC precinct (which will involve Woolworths taking over and McDonalds operating from the same site) will result in increased commercial rent being paid to the EPIC Corporation. The increased revenue should equate to further cosmetic and structural investment of the site and greater visitor capacity for the festival event (which currently sits at 65 thousand).
The ACT government says it’s very supportive of EPIC events, and is looking at ways to expand Exhibition Park’s footprint, to allow for more accommodation. “The Government provides an annual fund for the Exhibition Park Corporation which is part of our annual capital upgrades program, and they can also put up bids for additional projects that may be beyond the scope of that annual fund,” Minister Barr said.
In his short time as festival director, Sebastian Flynn has made a significant contribution to the strategic future of the festival; taking an active role in rebranding Canberra as a cultural icon, and securing a permanent place for the event on the national events calendar. Despite this, Flynn was humble in his acceptance of the tourism award. “One of the great achievements of the festival is its longevity – and it hasn’t just hung on, it’s been a really successful event, so getting this award and recognition is great. And really the award is very much everybody’s award for that sustained effort over many years. A lot of the company members, the Board, the Co-ordinators and the volunteers are people who have been here since the beginning, and I think we have a responsibility to those people who created the event to keep it up there and uphold it for them.”
The National Folk Festival will take place over Thursday-Monday April 5-9 at Exhibition Park. Early Bird tickets are available now via the festival’s website.