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Island of Freedom in the City, Sziget Festival: A Magical Celebration of Music Every August
[Festivals] Island of Freedom in the City, Sziget Festival: A Magical Celebration of Music Every August
Writer : Choi Seok-gyu_artistic director for the British Council’s UK-Korea Season 2017–18 2016.01.26 Europe > Hungary

Island of Freedom in the City, Sziget Festival: A Magical Celebration of Music Every August
[Festivals/Markets] Sziget Festival


In Hungarian, the word sziget—the namesake of Hungary’s Sziget Festival—can be translated as "island." When one considers that Jaraseom Island hosts the Jarasum International Jazz Festival as well as "Hedgehog Island" of the goblin plays in the 2010 Chuncheon International Mime Festival, it’s reasonable to conclude that islands provide a spatial and temporal realm that’s isolated from our daily lives, the perfect conditions for a festival. Held every August in Budapest, the Sziget Festival is one of Hungary’s three largest festivals. It was named Europe’s best festival in 2011, having sold some 44,000 tickets in 2015. We spoke to creative director Dávid Ráday1) to discuss the festival’s past and future, as well as its past achievements and the challenges that still need to be overcome.



1) The creative director of a festival operates outside the organizational department, and is responsible for managing visual communication, promotional strategies, and venue design.



Q. Choi Seok-gyu : Thanks for meeting with me today. To start, would you mind sharing how you got involved with the festival and what your current responsibilities are?

Dávid Ráday : I majored in marketing and advertising and was working as a graphic designer. Web design became huge in Hungary during the late 1990s early 2000s. I’d wanted to be a musician from a young age, but my parents were unsupportive and refused to sponsor a career in the arts, so I turned to graphic design. But even as I worked as a graphic designer, I couldn’t give up my passion for music, which I focused on during my free time. In fact, a lot of people in Hungary’s art scene have two jobs or more. When I was a graphic designer, I also worked in television marketing and poster design until I became interested in visual communication for festivals, and that’s how I got started. I earned a full-time spot in 2013. Now, as creative director, I come up with the festival’s visual concepts, oversee the marketing campaign, and manage a portion of venue design and the art project programs. Instead of the performance arts, I work more closely with the visual arts, such as installations and spatial design. For example, while organizing the Art of Freedom, an award ceremony for installation art, I think of new concepts in spatial design, reflect on what’s truly innovative, and apply my ideas while formulating the festival’s spatial design plan. 

Q. Would you mind telling us about the festival’s program and venue?

Dávid Ráday : The Sziget Festival started out in 1993 as a music festival. Currently, it’s divided into music and non-music programs, the former featuring a variety of genres, including classical, jazz, and world music. The non-music programs are divided into performance art and visual art, and encourage audience participation through various programs that offer new experiences, including circuses, dance, visual art projects, and installations. The Sziget Festival’s setting is an island, but it’s an easily accessible island— Óbuda island, only a 15-minute taxi ride from the city [via a bridge]. Therefore, it’s a space that’s simultaneously within the city and separated from the city. How you convert the island into a venue for a festival is an important aspect in terms of determining the event’s success. Every year, we set up the equipment and main stage for a performance that incorporates music, as well as visual and installation art, spaces for audience participation, streets, and even bathrooms.

Festival branding, festival map, and a bird’s-eye view of Óbuda Island ©Sziget Festival

Festival branding, festival map, and a bird’s-eye view of Óbuda Island ©Sziget Festival

Festival branding, festival map, and a bird’s-eye view of Óbuda Island ©Sziget Festival

Q. Most Korean festivals receive government funding, but I understand that the Sziget Festival is privately operated.

Dávid Ráday : The Sziget Festival is managed by Sziget Cultural Management Ltd., a private firm that also organizes other events, such as music festivals, food festivals, and children’s festivals. The festival received government support at first, but it’s gotten more independent since. We also coordinate efforts with the city of Budapest. Because people who come for the festival also come as tourists to the city, we receive a significant public discount on marketing fees. For instance, when visitors purchase a City Pass, they receive transit discounts on trips to museums and art galleries as well as at the festival itself. The Sziget Festival currently employs a little over 50 people. Directors oversee their respective events, while the company as a whole is divided into festival project organizers and marketing experts. Festival project organizers are divided into music and non-music programs.

Q. This year marks the festival’s 23rd anniversary. I imagine that much has changed during this time. Would you mind telling us about some transformations that have occurred over the years?

Dávid Ráday : Well, I can’t give an exact account since I haven’t been with the festival since the beginning, but the festival started with only two stages and was a small local event. Now, however, it’s grown into one of Europe’s most influential international festivals.

Q. In that case, what do you think has made the festival so successful and influential? Is there a strategy behind everything?

Dávid Ráday :One important strategic element is that we’re a music festival that doesn’t just focus on music. The festival started out promoting music exclusively, but now it invests a lot more into performance art, visual art, and installations. Our strategy for the past three years has been to convert the festival’s island into a "magical space," if you will, and determine what kind of atmosphere and experience people will enjoy during the week of the festival. For instance, we can help fans of classical music to have chance encounters with other genres, or set up a space where people stumble upon installation art while taking a walk. In short, the goal is for people to have unexpected experiences in various forms of art that thereby inspire impromptu interests and feelings. Isn’t that the draw of attending a festival on an island?

Sziget Festival 2015 ©Sziget Festival

Sziget Festival 2015 ©Sziget Festival

Sziget Festival 2015 ©Sziget Festival

Q. I saw some video clips on the festival website that revealed just how young the festival’s audience is. How does the festival build its audience?

Dávid Ráday : Students make up our main target audience. Because the festival takes place during the summer, we try to make the festival an event that students can enjoy during their vacation. Students from nations outside Hungary, such as France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain, are always in search of good festivals to spend a week at during summer vacation. Yet we always try to cater to a variety of age groups. We provide family camping grounds and hold programs designed for older audiences during the daytime. We develop a wide range of programs so as to build up our audience. We offer one-day tickets, week tickets, and camping tickets that allow people to camp on the festival grounds for the whole week. Building on the "Island of Freedom" concept, we even decided to an install an "immigration office" at the festival entrance, where spectators are given passports, further promoting the notion of spending a week in a completely different environment. Audience members can even opt for the VIP camping grounds, where they can spend the week in comfortable wooden houses equipped with shower rooms and other conveniences.

Families attending the festival ©Sziget Festival

Spectators are granted passports to the Island of Freedom ©Sziget Festival

Families attending the festival
©Sziget Festival
Spectators are granted passports to the Island of Freedom
©Sziget Festival

Q. Is there a reason you are targeting audiences from across Europe?

Dávid Ráday : We cooperate with overseas event promoters in some joint marketing efforts, and have seen the most success in France and the Netherlands. About 70 percent of our crowds are international and 30 percent are Hungarian. Bands have recently raised their performance fees, which has hiked up ticket prices to levels that many Hungarian students can’t afford. We therefore offer discounted rates to domestic crowds. It’s just one benefit we offer so we don’t lose our Hungarian audience base. Although it’s important to market the event as a tourist attraction, it’s important to build a festival that local residents can be proud of. Statistics reveal that domestic audiences have increased within the last two years, and we’ll continue to focus on building our local audience.

Q. What is the most important aspect of the festival from a marketing standpoint?

Dávid Ráday : Rather than trying to sell tickets by promoting the artist lineup, I prefer to create a festival that becomes a legend in and of itself. Our marketing goal for the past 10 years has been to build a festival that everyone wants to visit at least once in their lifetime. I want to make a festival that sells out 12 hours after tickets go on sale, like Burning Man in the U.S. or the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts in the U.K. We want to develop the Sziget Festival into more than a simple music festival, [into] an event where people can experience a variety of artistic mediums on a magical island. Our visual communication involves selling the experience that people can have at our festival. We post photographs and videos of the festival on our website as well as on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media to entice people to come and experience the real event for themselves. This is an extremely important marketing tool. These days, people access information through their smartphones. People in the smartphone era don’t just focus on their individual experiences, they focus on what their family, friends, and co-workers think of their experiences. Therefore, one of my main responsibilities is to persuade artists to cooperate with audience members who want to take photographs and videos of performances and to make sure those photos and videos are uploaded online. Their photos, tagged with the hashtag #sziget2015, will be seen by audience members’ friends and families, who will in turn also feel a desire to attend the festival.  

The Sziget Festival 2015 Instagram page and audience members ©Sziget Festival

The Sziget Festival 2015 Instagram page and audience members ©Sziget Festival

The Sziget Festival 2015 Instagram page and audience members ©Sziget Festival

Q. On a closing note, are there any challenges or problems you need to overcome?

Dávid Ráday : Production costs have gone up due to increased rates demanded by performing artists, which has increased ticket prices. Thus, our tickets have become unaffordable to many potential audience groups. Also, given that the festival is held on public grounds, we’ve received several complaints from the island’s residents concerning the noise. We’re working on a number of solutions, such as turning the speakers away from residential areas or hosting projects where graffiti artists can work with residents to create artwork that harmonizes with the local surroundings. However, the biggest problem is the noise. That’s why we aim to end the main stage performances at 11 p.m. and are working to convince local residents that the festival benefits the community both economically and culturally.

 
 

©KAMS



기고자프로필

Choi Seok-gyu_artistic director for the British Council’s UK-Korea Season 2017–18
Choi is currently the artistic director for the UK-Korea Season 2017–18 at the British Council in Korea. Having served as artistic director of the Ansan Street Arts Festival and as assistant director and festival director of the Chuncheon International Mime Festival 2015, Choi has spent the past 15 years working in the field of performing arts festivals. In 2005, he founded AsiaNow, a company that focuses on developing works in contemporary theater, dance, and the interdisciplinary arts, and has hosted creative residency programs for international exchange in modern theater, international joint projects, and international productions in the interdisciplinary arts. He serves on the Korean steering committee for the Asian Producers’ Platform Camp.
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