Festivals begin to feel the pinch

When the opera star Bryn Terfel appealed to his Faenol Festival audience to dig deep in order to keep the event afloat, it was a sure sign of a wider struggle. Simon Tait and Elisa Bray report

The acclaimed singer Bryn Terfel, who created the Faenol Festival 11 years ago to bring music and money to the undernourished corner of North Wales where he was born, has appealed to audiences to book now for this year's August bank holiday weekend event. Otherwise it may be short of some acts.

It is symptomatic of a downturn threatening what only two years ago a survey called the UK's "cultural powerhouse": arts festivals, the event form on which the Cultural Olympiad is being built for 2012. "Every festival is feeling the pinch," Terfel says. Until now, though, none has found it necessary to appeal directly to audiences to put their hands in their pockets.

"Many outdoor events are struggling, and there are a lot of factors at work," said Stewart Collins, chair of the British Arts Festivals Association, who also runs the Henley Festival. "Audiences are thinking twice about whether they can afford the treat in this economic climate, and bearing in mind three bad summers for weather in a row, they are waiting until the last minute before deciding."

Added to that, sponsors are either reducing their grants or withdrawing altogether, and the local authorities that support many outdoor local festivals are under increasing pressure to shift funding from such "soft" commitments.

Terfel's Faenol is based in a part of the country where sponsorship and philanthropy are as rare as summer rain is frequent, and Faenol has had a troubled history. Set near Caernarfon in largely rural Gwynedd, its tenth anniversary programme was cancelled last year when Welsh Assembly funding was agreed too late. This time the Arts Council of Wales have pledged £240,000 for the next three years – controversially, because at the same time, other arts organisations in Wales were having their funding cut – and ticket sales for 2010 were doing well until the Budget in June, after which they slumped.

In the past, Faenol has attracted around 30,000 visitors over the four days, and this year an extra comedy day, led by Al Murray, has been added. A craft village is also a new innovation, but the festival's success depends on advance ticket sales, Terfel said, and he has given audiences until the end of this month to pay up and give a vote of confidence.

"I know things are tough economically, but I am hopeful that our audience will give us the signal we need right now," he said. "To that end, I urge anyone who wants to attend Faenol Festival this year to buy their ticket within the next ten days, and commit to coming along and enjoying a wealth of world class entertainment."

He has a "Plan B", he said, although he would not elaborate – but it would mean support acts being axed (headliners such as Westlife and Rolando Villazon have already had to be paid and will appear). Faenol has local sponsors but no major core names; its chief support, Gwynedd County Council, is maintaining commitment for now because the festival brings £3m in extra spending to the region, but the full effects of national cuts on local councils are still to be felt.

Henley Festival, in mid-July, also had difficulties, with over £100,000 being lost in corporate sponsorship, presaged by a poor turnout in 2009. To offset the effect, Collins created a "New Patrons Club" to attract private funders, and raised £50,000 towards the £1.8m turnover. Even with a risky enhanced line-up devised to help audiences to decide to come, which included Terfel and Nigel Kennedy, ticket buyers were slow to commit. Nearly 20,000 came in the end, better than last year, but 15 per cent down on 2008, so that this year the Henley Festival broke even.

As local authorities feel the effect of £1.1bn in Treasury cuts and corporate sponsors reconsider the wisdom of hosting champagne events when staffs are being reduced, festival organisers are having to be inventive about programming and fund-raising.

Cheltenham now has four festivals – jazz, science, music and literature – spaced throughout the year, and four years ago a single chief executive for all four, Donna Renney, was appointed. Within a year she experienced a £220,000 local authority cut, and has had to build an infrastructure to cope with that and the recession that followed. There were many late bookings for the 2010 music festival, which ended last weekend; it experienced a great deal of seeming spur of the moment decisions by ticket-buyers, or "walk-ups". There was an 8 per cent improvement in box office in the final tally.

"It's down to marketing – and larger organisations like this are big enough to plan," Renney said. This year she started a membership scheme for the music festival that already has 4,000 members, and though it has only broken even, it is the core of a new support group for all four events from which she hopes to develop donors. "But smaller festivals can't have that kind of infrastructure, and they are going to find it very hard."

One festival casualty of 2010 is The Magic Loungeabout, which took a sabbatical year in 2009 and hoped to return as an extended three-day festival with a bigger capacity this year. Having added a speaker's tent, a cinema, a restaurant, a tea shop, an old school games room, doubled the entertainment on offer to children, and improved on production, a main investor pulled out at the last minute, leaving them with a sizeable funding gap.

Many pop festivals do not have the benefit of corporate back-up, and in priding themselves on being sponsorship-free events, their independent nature leaves them more exposed to the risks of slow ticket sales. Some festivals ease the pressure of ticket sales by offering early-bird tickets for the following year's event at a reduced price as soon as the festival is over, catching their buyers early.

Although many have felt a buoyancy in sales, including last week's Latitude and the forthcoming Green Man Festival – both selling out months early thanks to loyal followings developed over their consistent successes of recent years – there have been 13 festival cancellations to date this year. Among these are the dance-oriented Glade, which has been going since 2004 and which had Orbital, Simian Mobile Disco and Tricky on the bill. Organisers cited council restrictions as the main cause for their closure this year. They are an example of how increased requirements imposed upon festivals for policing, security and stewarding can be crippling for festivals who are forced to drive up ticket prices.

On their website, they stated: "As many Glade fans will know, over the years we have fought hard to maintain the integrity of the event against steadily increasing restrictions imposed by the local authority and police. The resulting compromises have led to increased costs, increased ticket prices and a throttling of the very essence of what we wanted to do. It led to us finally having to move from the lovely Wasing Estate due to late night noise restrictions and the police's demands for an ever-increasing security and police presence at the event."

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test