Place-based festivals ‘out of fashion’

Mars astronaut candidate Dianne McGrath and City of Greater Dandenong landscape architect Emma Mydaras at the Forever Fest launch. 237401_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Virtual festivals may be the future despite a “poor” on-site turnout at City of Greater Dandenong’s rebranded sustainability festival.

Forever Fest opened at Springvale Community Hub on 22 May, with guest speakers including ambassador and candidate Mars One space-colony astronaut Dianne McGrath.

The festival was staged part on-site and online across nine days until 30 May.

Ms McGrath appeared each day of the festival via ZOOM.

In a public question time at a 24 May council meeting, former councillor Matthew Kirwan queried the “poor attendance”.

He asked whether the annual festival would revert to its old name Greater Dandenong Sustainabilty Festival and move back to Dandenong Market.

At that site, the event had grown each year between 2014-’19, attracting “many thousands”.

At the meeting, Cr Jim Memeti said he was trying to work out “what is Forever Festival?”.

He asked why the council changed the event’s former “fantastic” name, which the public easily understood.

City amenity director Jody Bosman said place-based festivals were “going out of fashion”.

“It’s definitely a new foray into different kinds of festival.

“Digital festivals (are) the way to go – you see that across the world.”

Mr Bosman said the low physical turnout may be “exceeded” by the online “attendance”.

“Generally the evidence shows that digital festivals are attracting a greater variety of people and a greater number of people than place-based festivals do.

“You can go to a place-based festival once and that’s it – the experience is over.

“A digital festival becomes archived and you can have access to it over and over again.”

Virtual festivals were cheaper to run and ensured equity of access to “otherwise disadvantaged communities”.

They were also more environmentally responsible by not physically drawing large numbers across a region to a single site, Mr Bosman said

The council would review whether the new name had “traction” as well as the levels of “digital patronage”.

At the Forever Fest launch, there were onsite activities such as pre-loved clothes swaps, zero-waste cooking classes and a workshop on building a bee hotel.

Athol Road Primary School also held a marquee, and the proposed Maralinga Community Garden was promoted by organisers.

The festival featured key speakers including ABC’s War on Waste executive producer Jodi Boylan, celebrity chef Alice Zaslavsky, Sustainability Collective founder Charlotte Connell and ClimateForce founder Barney Swan.

Each day of the festival, Mr Swan will plant 100 trees in the Daintree rainforest in north Queensland.

The 900 trees help protect biodiversity and reduce run-off to the Great Barrier Reef.