From expression to instrument: the success of an arts festival as a narration of cultural change

Voase, Richard (2008) From expression to instrument: the success of an arts festival as a narration of cultural change. In: Art, Culture and the Public Sphere, Joint Conference of the ESA Research Networks for the Sociology of Culture and the Sociology of the arts, 4-8 November 2008, IUAV University Venice.

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Abstract

This study charts the progress of a contemporary music festival, from its beginnings in 1978. Located in Huddersfield, a town of some 120,000 inhabitants in the textile-manufacturing conurbation of West Yorkshire, England, the festival grew in scale and reputation. Typically, the annual festival now hosts circa seventy events, with 10,000 ticket sales. A particular highlight was in 1989, with simultaneous visits by composers John Cage, Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messaien. The purpose of this study was, first, understand how an event, which started life with no intentions other than the expression and celebration of a particular art form, should become annexed to the discourse of civic boosterism and cultural regeneration. The second purpose was to understand why, after some thirty years, the quality media still report the success of this event, in its industrial location, as surprising.
The research involved interviews with three key individuals who, from 1978 to the early years of the new millennium, enjoyed uninterrupted involvement with festival: the artistic director, the Chair of the Board of Management, and the local authority’s head of cultural services. This research was complemented by searching the archives of the broadsheet press, to identify how the event was talked and written about in a wider cultural context. The research is underpinned by a reading of relevant theoretical and background literature.
The emerging explanation is that the festival’s success was incorporated into a discourse of urban cultural change from the industrial to the post-industrial. This discourse continues, despite the passage of thirty years, because this cultural change is still underway. The success of the festival is thus emblematic of an urban shift from production to consumption. It becomes an allegory for, and a narration of, cultural change. An intriguing finding was the way in which newspapers write the same story year after year. News is supposed to be new; and yet, as is pointed out by those who understand these things, news stories are selected for qualities of ‘continuity’ as well as ‘unexpectedness’; or alternatively, for ‘compatibility with inferential frameworks’. In the case of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, art does not simply become an instrument of post-industrial economic development. It is an instrument by which urban cultural change is negotiated and narrated.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Presentation)
Additional Information:This study charts the progress of a contemporary music festival, from its beginnings in 1978. Located in Huddersfield, a town of some 120,000 inhabitants in the textile-manufacturing conurbation of West Yorkshire, England, the festival grew in scale and reputation. Typically, the annual festival now hosts circa seventy events, with 10,000 ticket sales. A particular highlight was in 1989, with simultaneous visits by composers John Cage, Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messaien. The purpose of this study was, first, understand how an event, which started life with no intentions other than the expression and celebration of a particular art form, should become annexed to the discourse of civic boosterism and cultural regeneration. The second purpose was to understand why, after some thirty years, the quality media still report the success of this event, in its industrial location, as surprising. The research involved interviews with three key individuals who, from 1978 to the early years of the new millennium, enjoyed uninterrupted involvement with festival: the artistic director, the Chair of the Board of Management, and the local authority’s head of cultural services. This research was complemented by searching the archives of the broadsheet press, to identify how the event was talked and written about in a wider cultural context. The research is underpinned by a reading of relevant theoretical and background literature. The emerging explanation is that the festival’s success was incorporated into a discourse of urban cultural change from the industrial to the post-industrial. This discourse continues, despite the passage of thirty years, because this cultural change is still underway. The success of the festival is thus emblematic of an urban shift from production to consumption. It becomes an allegory for, and a narration of, cultural change. An intriguing finding was the way in which newspapers write the same story year after year. News is supposed to be new; and yet, as is pointed out by those who understand these things, news stories are selected for qualities of ‘continuity’ as well as ‘unexpectedness’; or alternatively, for ‘compatibility with inferential frameworks’. In the case of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, art does not simply become an instrument of post-industrial economic development. It is an instrument by which urban cultural change is negotiated and narrated.
Keywords:music, cultural, post-industrial, discourse, Huddersfield
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
Divisions:College of Social Science > Lincoln Business School
ID Code:5539
Deposited By: Richard Voase
Deposited On:14 May 2012 21:58
Last Modified:14 May 2012 21:58

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