TFA Working Group: How to Move a Festival Online #1

09 April 20 - Online

Can festivals adapt to digital space? How do you curate an online festival? How do you engage the audience? Can you make a digital festival financially sustainable? This discussion looks at what happens to festivals and the arts when we can no longer gather in person. Sharing examples of digital art and online festivals, we'll explore the pros and cons of digitizing a festival and offer advice on the practicalities of moving performance online.


Intro: GIFT Festival will take place from 1 – 3 May 2020. To go online, artists were asked to reframe and rework their work to a digital space in GIFT festival, since the curation and funding was already in place. Tickets will be released on 10 April. There was an existing community – audience/ key artists that had been in the festival before, that would move to the digital space. The ethos of GIFT festival is to bring people together, with a prior experience in using ‘domestic technology’ to have the festival online for a variety of reasons. They have used Twitter, Facebook and Zoom already. Moving to a digital space makes the experience more accessible and available for all. It becomes more collaborative in a way.

RE-connect festival

Intro: It was the first edition, a new digital festival with an open call/ new work for the digital space, in response to the lockdown situation in Iran. The organizers consulted a lawyer to check restrictions. Funding was done through a Facebook page, but because of economic sanctions, access to this money is limited. They are thinking of shifting it away from Iran. Also, in the next editions, which are already being foreseen, they would like to have in place software to bring different platforms together. They have been using Instagram as a platform. 



  • Her experience in terms of moving a festival online is very specific and embedded in her own practice.
  • The shows already existed. What GIFT is all about? Try to get people together and give them an opportunity to connect. Bringing artists and audiences together, supporting artists through a creative dialogue moving from a real-life program to a digital space.
  • Find platforms that artists require and need for functionalities. Thinking about the audience and their access, with familiarity.
  • Every festival is unique, so each decision to move online partially or totally must come from the spirit of members. So, there is no One Answer.
  • An existing community – audience/ key artists that had been in the festival before etc that you move to the digital space 
  • One of the shows happened in Barcelona in January and they have a great recording of it so it will be uploaded online in the Festival. 
  • One artist from Texas
  • A possible new community that you can engage – globally/ internationally etc
  • Format: Festival takes place as foreseen with shows starting at particular times for which you get a virtual ticket – so not continued streaming – you have to be present at that moment in time.
  • Pay what you can/decide policy: the audiences are directed to a donate button before and reminded after the performance, once they book themselves a digital ticket. 
  • 50% of GIFT festivals are free, 50% are ticketing with the pay what you decide policy.
  • As a collective experience, to diminish the feeling of isolation, chatting with artists after performances and joining private Facebook groups are being used by GIFT


  • Accessibility – Online festivals need to be accessible in terms of impairments and disabilities (deafness and blindness).
  • Computer illiteracy problem: A film festival in Ireland is thinking of bringing the films on CD for audience members who might be less computer literate
  • How to still create this collective audience experience
  • The idea of materiality, where artists ask the audience to do physical actions: getting the audience to hold an ice cube throughout the duration of the performance which deals with global warming or being the sound engineers to the performance, where the artist tells the audience which soundtrack to play from a prior list of songs.
  • What is the audience experience? How do we still keep when going online?
  • Engage the audience: a lot of works are reimagined to engage in conversation with the audience.
  • Examples of audience engagement: 

1. The artist taking over your computer screen
2. Tania el Khoury – only for 30 people at a time. 
3. Someone from a distance takes over, people are reframing their work.
4. After the show, artists will be in a Zoom meeting as a cocktail bar to discuss,       using the digital space as a creative space.

  • Interpreter/Working groups
  • Make this open for everyone, thinking about audience at every stage.
  • It makes the economic gap even more apparent because some people do not have access to devices.


  • Financial sustainability was for GIFT anyway a challenge whether in the digital space or not
  • It is an experiment they are trying this year; Kate does not have the answer yet.
  • Still interact and get together as an audience, a conversation, small meetings. Building this in the Festival, filling the gaps.
  • There is a kind of competition for funds in England because there is not enough money for everyone. For example, in 2015 GIFT did not receive any funding so they decided to go online rather than cancel everything. Ran the Festival as an open-access festival. Used FB and Twitter, it was very open. It was a way to keep GIFT alive.


  • 2005: Kate started a practice as a theatre maker using Skype as a tool to enable collaborations from around the world. She wrote her PhD about that. So, she has a history of collaborating artistically using what she calls ‘Domestic technology’.
  • Mouth to mouth: Company with master’s peers using Skype to collaborate 2005-2006 until 2011.
  • 5:26 AM to 8:26 PM tracks from sunrise to sunset. Performed by four performers from all over the world who invite the audience to participate by clicking on buttons playing tracks.



  • Design an Open call which needs to be related to the moral/social code of Iran.
  • Pro bono first edition – volunteers.
  • Add international curators as Meera Krishnan from India or Erica McCalman from Australia (was also looking for China and Italy).
  • Complicated since the internet speed is not the same in Iran and because of funding/logistics/censorship. There is no rule in Iran, so no idea.
  • What do we really want to curate for an Online Festival? For people who studied Digital as Nima, it can be a different vision of what he would like to talk about.
  • Normal shows online or really specific shows made for Online?

Audience engagement

  • Doing almost the same things as on real-life performances. Need punctuality as a form of respect.
  • The directness of audience response through likes and loves, comments
  • The different experience of watching a show together online / not in an audience 
  • Putting Instagram hyperlink to lead people to the account and to live performances, to reach more audience.
  • Initiate other platforms like Youtube or Facebook to reach a wider audience.
  • Giving access to artists to the Instagram account to let them live stream/live perform from here. Notification for all followers. 
  • Boost up the audience engagement by inviting other people. Multicast is ideal.
  • He sees a future and believes in including more AR, VR…
  • Trying to put more and more talks and discussions on the Online Subject to bring more and more.
  • Cover all time zones.

Shifting perspectives

  • Before – Festivals are all about collective energy that is going around when you are together.
  • Now? 


  • No funding for this in Iran - Context of Iran would not allow to monetize this digital format – e.g; Facebook funding page was closed by FB because of economic sanctions against Iran – had to make a detour via a partner organization in San Francisco
  • First Pro Bono edition: Volunteer basis.
  • Move the Online in SF for example would help to find fundings and a more sustainable funding system, still being for Iranians.
  • Opened a fundraising page on FB to get technical softwares and website. FB closed this page and returned the money to donators because of economic sanctions of America and Iran.


  • No funding at all in Iran


  • Different time zones – Virtual jetlag
  • The artists who are already working digitally might feel threatened by this sudden shift
  • Chatting with artists after performances and joining private Facebook groups are being used by GIFT to diminish isolation
  • It raises the question of the relationship with the audience. What functions do people need or require, are they familiar with the online platforms?
  • There is an awareness on the gaping economic divide with taking festivals online.
  • Online festivals might miss on the localization when going online. This could be seen both as a pro and con. 
  • Compensation for artists is being felt when museums, theatres and other media channels make the works of artists available for free with no remuneration to the artists
  • Royalties towards artists need to be respected.

Some main questions/remarks

  • How to monetize these digital platforms? 
  • How to attract funding (public or private) to these digital initiatives? 
  • How to convince regional support into supporting something online (where the audience may come from other places) or how to establish a regional presence. 
  • How can we imagine to be funded if everything is online, with no territorial implication?
  • How to introduce new artists in a digital space (who did not perform at the festival yet and are unknown to the audience)

- Tamanda Mbendera/ Malawi 

  • New digital festival – 1-5 May
  • Very small circle of artists/ cultural workers – everyone wants to be on board/ no competition/ one Community
  • No real opportunity to make money with your art – digital or not
  • Use of digital platforms was already in place to share art

- Angela/ Peru 

  • Cancellation Hay Festival / peter Florence – video efa meeting to be shared 
  • Presentation Peter Florence/ hay Festival to be shared 
  • Different realities Wales edition/ Peru edition – funders/ Investors say their priorities shift (not first on art/ education)
  • Next week meeting with other festivals – report? 
  • No arts council in Peru. “Culture is left aside, it’s not a priority, and all culture workers are dealing with the lack of support”

- Meera Krishnan/India

  • Different reality of social distancing in India
  • No arts council in India – different reality of funding be it digital or non-digital (experience shared by Sepehr, Angela etc…)

- Tom Creed/ Dublin – Digital Film Festival 

  • Different disciplines – different challenges
  • How to deal with digital illiteracy also in developing countries with good access – DVD’s to old people
  • How to use the narrative that ‘Culture is helping us get through these crisis’ with many people participating in online culture while at home but how artists and art are currently not being paid for this (eg museums opening up their collections, film festivals their archives…)
  • Eagerness for people to meet again/ fear of some to be physically close? – reference to the Jazz age in the 1920’s following the Spanish Flu epidemic 
  • Important to ensure that the public does not lose the habit to pay for culture.
  • The Irish government announced its support for the Culture to get people through the crisis.

- Mike van Graan/South Africa

  • Research/mapping of Digital Festivals in the African continent – GIZ – to support these kind of festivals/ initiatives
  • NAF South Africa is transforming to a digital festival for this year’s edition
  • Can Festivals become platforms that connect artists to individual patrons that could support the artist’s work

- Lorenzo Pappagallo/Spain

  • How to play the cities? Digital visibility/ Promotion of cities – eg already ranking of best things online etc.
  • Lorenzo Pappagallo shares here all theatre shows streamed online from big cultural institutions around the world to smaller initiatives. Feel free to add any new links!

- Brett Pyper/South Africa

  • Are their practices of your digital festival that you would like to keep on in place once regular movement resumes? 

- Kate Craddock/UK

  • A lot of learning will come from this crisis. The idea is to find ways of reaching others.

- Frederic Poty/France 

  • This crisis will increase the gap between the funded and not funded activities, and among the non-funded, the gap between "mainstreamers" and researchers”.