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Supporting Festivals in an Era of Social Distancing

Timothea Pham, Program Officer

A still from the Plymouth Art at Home Festival video produced by local videographer, Christopher Harting, for the Plymouth Bay Cultural District.

What would have been a summer filled with live, outdoor festivals such as Tanglewood (Berkshires), the Green River Festival (Greenfield), and the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament (New Bedford), is not going to be possible due to COVID-19.

Festivals help connect us. They drive economic development and tourism and allow us to immerse ourselves in a wide array of cultures. With most spring and summer festivals postponed or cancelled, festival producers, artists, and community stakeholders are coming together to process how that will impact the livelihood of towns and cities, and to explore new and creative ways of engaging audiences.

Mass Cultural Council’s Festivals Program provides $500 grants to help programmers bring their vision to life, as well as find and develop sustainable audiences. In our FY20 Spring/Summer cycle we awarded $61,000 to 122 festivals.

Here are a few highlights of how festivals have gotten creative during this time:

Before the COVID-19 crisis, ArtWeek was poised to present almost 800 events in over 170 communities across the state. They had to cancel the festival as it was originally envisioned and pivoted to ArtWeek at Home. Participants used social media to share their own creations and had the chance to follow daily prompts and engage in virtual events and activities.

Plymouth Art at Home Festival
The Plymouth Bay Cultural District worked with a local videographer named Christopher Harting to engage youth, small business, and cultural community to produce this short video (27:58) showing that the arts are alive and well in Plymouth.

Home is Where the Art Is
The Arts Foundation of Cape Cod put together a virtual fundraiser to raise money for the Cape Cod Arts Relief Fund. This weekend of events and activities featured performances from local artists, workshops, and also provided an opportunity for folks to meet for virtual happy hours.

The Somerville Arts Council virtually adapted what was formerly known as “Porchfest” to “CouchFest” earlier this month. Local bands and musicians had the choice of live streaming performances and showcasing pre-recorded materials.

Drive-Thru Art Fair
The Artists Association of Nantucket worked together with the Nantucket Cultural District to promote their Drive-Thru Art Fair in May, utilizing physical space while also complying with social distancing measures.

Cambridge Arts Stream Festival
In addition to building an online schedule for a day’s worth of art workshops, performances, and cultural events, Cambridge Arts is partnering with Cambridge Community Television to run the Cambridge Arts Stream Festival on June 6.

Building a Festivals Cohort

In addition to the Festivals grant program, Mass Cultural Council supports the sustainability and viability of festivals through the Audience Lab Pilot Program. In partnership with ArtsBoston, we continue to work with our festival cohort around marketing and audience engagement. Many of the festivals had to cancel this year’s programming and some have moved to virtual programming. The focus for the cohort has shifted slightly to exploring ways to engage with their audiences on a regular basis, via multiple channels, in anticipation of festivals coming back in Spring/Summer 2021. The expectation is that by the end of FY21, Audience Lab will create a resource guide for all festivals around audience engagement, marketing, and promotion.

In the upcoming months, Mass Cultural Council’s Community Initiative team members expect to host webinars on related topics, like “To Go or Not To Go Virtual” and “Audience Engagement” to provide a forum to share resources, guidance, and best practices to our festivals cohort.

To find upcoming festivals, visit ArtsBoston’s calendar.

To get future Festivals Program updates, subscribe to our Community Initiative News.

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