Summary of results
Festivals are diverse
Results from our database demonstrate that cultural festivals are highly diverse. The most common were sporting, community, agricultural and music festivals. These categories alone make up 75% of all cultural festivals in non-metropolitan areas. There was also great diversity within these categories of festival types. ‘Community’ festivals covered everything from Grafton’s historic Jacaranda Festival (named after the town’s signature tree) to Kurrajong’s Scarecrow Festival, Nimbin’s Mardi Grass (a marijuana pro-legalization festival), Ballarat’s Stuffest Youth Festival, Ettalong’s Psychic Festival, Tumut’s Festival of the Falling Leaf, Queanbeyan’s Festival of Ability, Myrtleford’s Tobacco, Hops and Timber Festival, and Benalla’s Wheelie Bin Races and Latin American Festival. Similarly varied were sports festivals, covering everything from fishing to billy carts, cycling, pigeon-racing, hang gliding, dragon boat racing and camp drafting, an Australian sport involving mounted horse-riders demonstrating droving skills by navigating individual cattle through gates and obstacles
Where is Australia’s festival capital?
Ballarat is Australia’s ‘rural capital’ of festivals, with 73 festivals staged in 2006-2007. In NSW, Snowy River, Taree and Wollongong all staged over 50 festivals in a calendar year. In Tasmania, West Tamar was the festival heartland with 20 festivals.
When measured by head of population, very small places had the distinction of hosting more festivals, relatively speaking: Wakool in the NSW Riverina, with a population of only 4800, hosted 22 festivals in 2006-2007. Other towns in NSW with high numbers of festivals per capita included Narrandera, Tumbarumba, Barraba and Bombala. In Victoria, the tiny Towong and Buloke Shires, with 6000 residents each, had more festivals per capita than anywhere else in that state. In Tasmania, King Island, Central Highlands and Break O’Day topped the per capita festivals list
Most festivals were small
The average attendance at festivals was 7,020 – but results were variable. Two festivals in Geelong – the Pako Festa and the Geelong Show – both claimed audiences of 100,000 people and the Victorian Seniors Festival, actually held in many locations at different times throughout the state, claimed an attendance of 400,000. By contrast, the tiny Summit to the Sea endurance cycling festival had a mere 15 participants. 138 festivals (29 percent) had audiences of fewer than 1,000 people; two-thirds had fewer than 5,000. Only 11 festivals (just over 2 percent) had audiences of more than 50,000. Festivals surveyed were held for an average duration of 3.3 days and had an average of 67 stalls (including food, clothing and merchandise).
Most festivals were local in orientation
On average 58 percent of attendees across the festivals surveyed were from the immediate locality; 10.5 percent were from the state capital (Sydney, Melbourne or Hobart); 20.9 percent were from elsewhere in the state (notably double the result for capital cities); 8.3 percent from interstate; and a tiny 1 percent on average were international visitors. In total 91 festivals reported that 90 percent or more of their audiences came from their immediate vicinity.
The vast majority (74%) of festivals were run by non-profit organisations, usually tiny in size. Only 3.3 percent of the festivals surveyed were run by private sector/profit-seeking companies. Reflecting this somewhat, the stated aims of festivals were more often than not linked to the pastimes, passions or pursuits of the individuals on organizing committees, or to socially- or culturally-orientated ends such as building community, rather than as income-generating ventures. Indeed, of all categories of festival aims, ‘to make money’ and ‘to increase regional income’ were the two rarest responses (recorded in only 5 percent of cases, combined). It came as little surprise, then, when festivals on the whole recorded small funding bases, limited turnovers, and frequently only just broke even or made very modest profits.
Although mostly small and modest, festivals are lively cells of economic activity, particularly so in small local economies where their relative impact is greater than in urban areas. Questions relating to employment were quite specifically worded to capture economic benefits – asking for the break-down of full-time versus part-time and fixed term versus year-long work both for organisers themselves, and for other associated staff. Overall, using actual employment results from our survey, and extrapolating this for our full database of 2,856 festivals across the three states, it is estimated that 176,560 full-time and part-time jobs are created directly in the planning and operation of cultural festivals in regional Australia. Breaking the results down, on average 4.1 full-time jobs were directly created in each festival in the planning stage, and 5.1 part-time jobs directly created in the planning stage; 13 full-time jobs and 12.6 part-time jobs were on average created at the time of operation. In other words, across all festivals in the three states included in the study, 99,448 jobs were directly created in planning and running the festival. The most common were event managers/directors/coordinators (25 percent of jobs created), administration and accounting positions (24 percent), ground-keepers, ground staff and facilities managers (12 percent), public relations, promotions and marketing positions (9 percent) and artistic services (including artists, artistic and musical directors – 8.5 percent). Other paid positions created by festivals included retail staff, cleaners, security, catering, judging, stage crew, announcers, and tourism and community development planners. In addition to these figures, organizers claimed that on average another 27 directly related jobs (over 77,000 in total) were created by their festivals in the wider community (i.e. not employed by the festival itself). Actual conditions and length of employment generated by festivals obviously vary enormously and need to be understood. But in overall terms, festivals are deceptively effective creators of local jobs.
Festival organizers surveyed estimated that 19.2 days were spent by the average volunteer assisting their festival during its planning phase, and 5.7 days on average assisting during the running of the event at time of operation. Across the 480 surveys this constituted the equivalent of over 8,600 days (or 23 years’ worth of labour) when adding up the work done by the average volunteer across all festivals in that given calendar year. The magnitude of this can then be multiplied by the factor of number of volunteers actually contributing at each festival. Assuming the average festival has 5 volunteer workers, then 355,570 days’ worth of labour (equivalent to 975 years) was provided in total across all 2856 festivals in the three states. Using a more ambitious estimate of 20 volunteers, the figure was more like 1,422,280 days’ worth of labour (or 3,900 years). Cultural festivals are thus deeply embedded in local economies through volunteerism. Along with the fact that they are predominantly organised by non-profit organisations, they are in many respects a classic example of the ‘community economy’ at work.