Sunday, 23 August 2009

Save the Fringe!

You may have heard that the Fringe Festival is being de-funded. In the goverment spin, this is presented as funding the National Folk Festival to host Fringe, and allowing the multicultural festival to focus more on our local cultural diversity. Yah, right. As long as it's very traditional cultural diversity and not postmodern gypsy punk eastern European storytelling, I guess.

I got this letter from a couple of people who have been involved as performers and organisers, and are very concerned about this direction. Please read and take what action you can.

Dear Arts lovers,

As you may know by now the Fringe Festival in Canberra has been defunded with a small portion of the previous funding being re-allocated to the National Folk Festival to do something "fringey". The Canberra Times is taking a big interest in this so please take the time to write your opinions down in a letter to the editor.
Points to think about:

* $30,000 is a mere fraction of the amount of money required to put on the grand scale we've seen in the last few years
* The folk festival is expensive, not free like fringe was and attracts a limited demographic
* The folk festival is a music festival with very little focus on theatre and visual arts which the fringe has always promoted evenly
* Local artists have relied heavily on the fringe as an affordable way to produce art and reach the wider canberra audience that only comes out of the woodwork for large scale free events in the middle of the city
* The folk festival is not central

Letters to the editor must be 200 words or less and sent to

You can also send a letter online at

I also suggest writing to Jon Stanhope, whose full contact details are at Or his email is

My take on it, as a regular of both festivals, is that the Folk Festival is too big, too focussed, and too isolated to do this well. Do you host it onsite at the National? It's already overcrowded out there, what venues will they use? And how much overlap in the audience will there be anyway? Fringe fans are not going to want to pay steep entry fees to the Folkie to see their shows. It's $85 a day if you buy at the gate. We usually buy season tickets early, which will be $166 this time.

And if you put it in town, that won't work well either. Folk fans from around Australia stay onsite in camp grounds - they won't go into town to watch their shows, especially not with our appalling public holiday bus schedules. How involved can the Folkie management possibly feel, in dealing with something offsite and well outside their usual audience's interests? They run on volunteer labour already; an extra job that few of their patrons care about is not likely to be done well!

And Easter is a bad time to attract audiences anyway. We all know that locals use the last warm long weekend of the season to go out of town. It was working well, but this is a mess. Why take a successful event and nobble it?

1 comment:

Zoe said...

Thanks, Cath this is really important. I heard a great interview with Robyn Archer on RN - - where she talked about the importance of grass roots arts funding using an analogy of protecting the little, "ugly" parts of ecosystems, because the "big trees" can't survive without healthy undergrowth. Now she's been appointed Director of the Canberra Centennial Festival, perhaps it's worth contacting her too? Her management email address is