Building a sustainable future for festivals requires that we take equity, inclusion, and democracy as our foundations. A festival economy that expects workers to assume its risks without accounting for itself or including them in its decision-making, provides no such basis. The contributions exhibitors provide, the time, money, and labor that makes festivals possible, must be returned to them with a corresponding say in how these events are organized and managed.
Those who call on our shared resources must use these means to uplift all, insisting on transparency and cooperation over setting terms and enforcing hierarchies. What is asked of us should never result in the privileging of the advantaged or the lessening of our right to self-determination. Instead, it must be used to advance new modes and systems, where we define our own needs and empower each other to serve them.
We are those who require this future. We are those without whom festivals cannot exist. We join the Festival Workers Association in calling on festivals to adopt their principles:
Festivals need to open their books.
Artists and their publishers shouldn’t be asked to pay thousands in fees or have money solicited in their names without there being 100% transparency in accounting. All revenue, expenditures, and payments/gifts in kind made to staff, special guests, or outside persons and organizations should be publicly disclosed.
Artists need a say in festivals.
No matter how well-intentioned, those who manage these events are not sufficient proxies for the needs and concerns of those whose labor makes them possible. Artists should have their own independent, democratically-elected representation included in the planning and execution of festivals.
Festivals need to make honest and measurable commitments to understanding and reducing costs for all exhibitors.
Too much of their initial financing and too much of the risk associated with their performance is being placed on the backs of artists and their publishers. Festivals need to first devote themselves to improving the material standing of all of their exhibitors before growing themselves in ways that result in higher costs or subsidize the few at the expense of the many.
If someone is getting paid, everyone is getting paid.
If a festival is providing compensation or gifts in kind to its staff, special guests, or others, everyone else should be compensated for their participation in readings, instructional sessions, or similar festival-related activities.
Festivals need formal commitments to diversity and inclusion, including favoring broad, need-based support over hierarchical or individual celebrations.
Dispossession on the basis of things like racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia is a systemic problem. It must be countered systematically with means that improve the standing of all members of these communities, not just for the most visible or well-established.
Eric Kostiuk Williams