Big Festivals vs Funding all year round

Our City, Durban, seems to be on a “go big or go home” state of mind when it comes to events and the cultural life of the city. We have seen this with the advent over the last 10 years of key international events like the expensive Top Gear Festival, and the G1 Grand Prix and more recently the failed bid for the North Sea Jazz Festival, and last years controversial Essence Festival. In all the spin emanating from those responsible we hear about the benefits to the city’s tourism and the economoc spin-offs as justification for the vast amounts of money being spent. It’s true that in some instances there are major spin-offs and for a short period just before and just after the event, there are media & marketing benefits for the city. The questions one must ask about this current state of mind in our city are as follows:

  • Is the return on investment worth the amount actually spent?
  • Is the marketing generated worth the amount spent?
  • Does the event really contribute materially to the lives of the citizens of Durban?
  • Are real job opportunities created for the citizens of the city?
  • Of the money spent, how much remains here, and how much is leaving our shores?

It is well-known and fairly widely accepted that events that are properly organised and marketed well generate positive spin-offs for the economy of Cities and for marketing the City around the world. The reasonably small Durban International Blues Festival (DIBF – which I admit I have organised for the last 13 years) which costs the City and Province between R300 000 – R500 000 per annum generates a 7:1 ecenomic return for the city and an almost 10:1 return from a marketing point of view. The electronic, digital and print media that this small festival generates is impressive.

The official line generated by the City spin doctors is that R40 000 000 was spent on the Essence festival in 2016. For this amont of money we could quadruple the size of the DIBF  and run it for ten years. Yes, we know that Essence is a magnificent international festival in New Orleans, but in SA, judging by the support from the public this last year, this festival showed little to no pulling power and has a long way to go before it achieves anything significant. If each recognised music venue in the city was given 2 million, twenty music venues would be able to employ ‘live’ musicians all year round.

Yes, employment was created for that one week or weekend, and the rest of the year? It would be interesting to know how much money left our shores, how much money was spent on acts from outside Durban and how much was spent on locals. I believe that government in every tier needs to radically transform the way they think about supporting events and the creative industries in general. I believe that the same ecomonic spin-offs and marketing for the city can be achieved by spreading the money out throughout the year, allowing smaller festivals to develop and grow until they have their own international appeal allowing the industry to develop – developing the artists, developing the audience, and developing the industry.


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