Carlina Ericson launched the inaugural Australian Festival Industry Conference (AFIC) in late 2019. Talk about timing! But the AFIC is back bigger than ever when it returns later this year on the Gold Coast.
So what has been the biggest life lesson for Ericson over the last two years?
“Learning how to be resilient has been a big one for me,” she says.
“The other is learning how to be adaptable at the same time! I’m sure every event organiser faces the same sort of roller coaster of emotions when planning a significant event, but I’m still working on how to remain focused on the things I can control rather than the things I can’t.”
The festival sector is rebounding fast, with the public appetite for events evident in the turnout for major festivals such as Vivid Sydney and Dark Mofo. But challenges remain.
The skills shortage is one of the biggest.
“For months I’ve been hearing from all corners of the industry that employers are struggling to attract experienced and qualified staff relating to any aspect of their festival, whether it be in hospitality, marketing or event production,” says Ericson.
The AFIC will be tackling the issue head on with a panel discussing both the challenges and solutions over 1.5 hours.
With Covid still very present, site planning is another key topic. Expert panellists for that topic include Dr Jamie Ranse from Griffith University, who led the development of Queensland’s ‘Industry Framework for COVID Safe Events’, and Rna’s Luke Pearl who brings his experience from a venue (Brisbane Showgrounds) and major event organiser (Ekka) perspective.
Dr Andrew Mathieson, senior lecturer at the Australian National University, will be covering off on some of the lessons he learnt on preparing for natural disasters from working first-hand on the UK’s Glastonbury Festival over a number of years.
Event insurance is another issue that remains top of mind for everyone. Jason Holmes, managing director of H2 Insurance Solutions, will be giving his top tips on how festival organisers can best insure their event against the worst-case scenarios.
“Covid-19 has also shifted the industry’s focus onto technology-based methods of delivering festivals,” says Ericson.
“We’ll be exploring this in greater depth in one of our keynote presentations by Ulrich Schrauth, founder of Germany’s VRHAM! (Virtual Reality & Arts Festival).”
With budgets still very lean, maximising a revenue stream from festivals is also a priority.
“As festivals slowly emerge from the pandemic, most are still watching their budgets very closely, so I have lined up renowned regional events and tourism expert, Linda Tillman, to talk on the topic of ‘Managing your festival’s revenue streams’,” says Ericson.
“This will be followed up with a workshop on the final day of the conference: ‘Grant writing 101’.”
In some ways the pandemic has galvanised the festival sector into a greater sense of unity, at least for those that remain.
“The pandemic also highlighted how fragmented the industry is in terms of what associations are representing particular pockets of the wider industry,” says Ericson.
“It forced the industry to look at itself, including how it defines itself and how better coordination is needed among peak national bodies to ensure there’s an appropriate level of representation to all levels of government, particularly federally.”
One flip side to the pandemic is an increasing number of funding programs being offered across the country, according to Ericson.
“Presently you can almost guarantee that every state tourism organisation is offering at least a hand full of funding programs targeted at festivals of varying sizes and types,” she says.
“It’s encouraging to see and I don’t doubt there’s an enormous amount of gratitude from the industry in response, but there’s still a long way on the road to financial recovery for the industry as a whole. Recovering losses from two, sometimes three years of cancellations is going to take some time yet!”