In late June 2023, 70 people gathered at Craiglockhart to discuss the thorny issue of Festival sustainability, writes Dr David Jarman, Lecturer.
There has long been an intricate relationship between festivals and the various ways that sustainability themes affects their actions, impacts, and the ways audiences and stakeholders relate to them. The Festival Sustainability Symposium was an opportunity to discuss a variety of these topics, with attendees from academia, government, the festival sector, and freelancers. It was particularly good to see a number of Edinburgh Napier graduates at the event.
The variety of papers presented at the event reflected the wide range of perspectives and areas of interest under the sustainability banner. Attendees heard about the Edinburgh Deaf Festival, and how it is enabling and supporting a community of eager participants and their audiences to engage with Edinburgh’s festival economy. Environmental sustainability was covered from a range of different angles, including case studies reflecting on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Other work presented practical and tangible lessons for those applying environmental sustainability in a festival context. A number of contributors spoke about community in relation to festivals, whether that be supporting underrepresented groups within society, or reflecting on the relationship between seasonal festivals and the established communities in which they take place. Festivals are a representation of the contexts in which they are planned and delivered, and they carry meaning and symbolism that reflects this.
This was also an opportunity to reflect upon Edinburgh Napier’s interest in festival and event sustainability. Some modules on our programmes focus specifically on sustainability, while others highlight the importance of community, the environment and related themes. Our students and graduates are therefore equipped to consider the types of discussions that featured at the symposium. As such, we are playing our part in the ongoing development and evolution of the sector as it tries to grapple with a wide variety of challenges in relation to sustainability. Resources are used at festivals, people travel a long way to attend them, and often there is little of tangible evidence to demonstrate their having taken place. However, festivals are also a platform on which to discuss good practice and to demonstrate the potential value of these kinds of events. Ultimately, as was discussed by the closing keynote speaker, there are opportunities for festivals to play a positive and enhancing role in the sustainability of environments, places, and organisations.
Edinburgh Napier’s Tourism Research Centre, and everyone involved in our Festival, Event, Tourism and Hospitality programmes, continues our work into research, industry enhancement and policy development in sustainability. For more information about what we do, including future events, research opportunities and student projects, please get in touch.