Sponsorship woes hit Adelaide festivals

Susan Abulhawa and Mohammed El-Kurd are appearing at Adelaide Writers' Week.

The Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival are having to grapple with simultaneous sponsorship issues.

One of the Adelaide Festival’s major sponsors, law firm MinterEllison, has withdrawn its public support for this year’s event over concern about the views of two pro-Palestinian writers invited to speak at Writers’ Week.

Mohammed El-Kurd and Susan Abulhawa have upset both Israeli and Ukrainian groups respectively over critical comments they have made in the past.

MinterEllison said in a statement it does not agree with the views of either writer.

“We have strongly expressed our reservations to the festival,” the firm said.

“We sought the festival’s assurances that no racist or anti-Semitic commentary should be tolerated as part of Mr El-Kurd’s or Ms Abulhawa’s or any other festival session.

“In addition, as these speakers are associated with the festival, we will be removing our support from the broader festival program (where feasible). We are in the process of reviewing the future partnership.”

The law firm will honour its sponsorship, but its logos will no longer appear publicly, except on material that has already printed.

Festival chief executive Kath Mainland said they were disappointed at MinterEllison’s decision.

“We also respect their choice to do so,” Mainland said.

“Adelaide Festival places a focus on providing an opportunity for civil dialogue and the contest of ideas.

“We fervently believe in the importance of enabling and facilitating the freedom to express ideas that might be challenging or confronting, whilst always remaining respectful.”

Information technology company Capgemini has also since signalled it will not renew its sponsorship of the festival next year, while Ukrainian authors Kateryna Babkina and Olesya Khromeychuk have withdrawn from the festival over comments made by Abulhawa on Twitter.

Sponsorship is becoming an increasing challenge for festivals – pick the wrong sponsor and artists will leave or pick the wrong guests and sponsors will tear up their contracts.

Adelaide Fringe has its own worries, with reports that a sponsorship deal with South Australian tabloid The Advertiser has gone south, resulting in the news outlet essentially ignoring the festival in its editorial coverage.

According to a report in The Guardian, Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall is disappointed The Advertiser has only given very limited coverage of the festival’s opening but concedes The Fringe has not placed any advertising with the news outlet.

A spokesperson for The Advertiser said they would cover The Fringe Festival “on its merits”.

“Any claim our coverage is influenced by commercial considerations is 100% false,” they said.

A festival spokesman said the lack of coverage over the opening “raised a flag with us,”.

“We are hoping that with 330,000 attendances at Fringe on opening weekend the Advertiser will see the merit in covering this wonderful festival,” the spokesman said.