Festival Behavior/ Observations Mary Briggs 1 Going to keep this to the point: about you, as a cultural worker in the field, relating to and scrutinizing behaviors –aka the performance of culture-- in relation to the context of “festival.” I’m going to use as a reference the Kinetic Sculpture Race that takes place in Baltimore every year in May and is produced by the American Visionary Art Museum. This year was the 19th year. In many ways the race is a classic festival in that is cyclical and stakes its claim on a particular time and place. It contains ritual, competition, and chaos that are dictated by traditions established by the race over the years. So here we go. 2 Ok, so it is important to note the role of both ritual and play in the “time out of time” of a community celebration. Ritual, of course, not being limted to a religious connotation. Ok? Ritual being a series of actions performed in a prescribed order that demonstrate or connect the participants to a concept or an activity that is in some way profound or relevant to those participants. Ritual marks the beginning and the finish of the festival because it is a statement of intent –the reason why. At the Kinetic Sculpture Race, the ritual is entirely irreverent—as playfulness and artmaking are central to the event. The beginning ceremony is mock solemnity with the lighting of an Olympic-style flame, and speeches—one in particular given as a homily by a man dressed as a Catholic nun, that articulated the heart of the festival, namely play—that children should see adults at play, because that way they will not be afraid to grow up. 3 In ritual there is order but then –it’s like yin and yang---order is balanced by chaos. Chaos is critical to play, creative expression --and to participation that refreshes and bonds a community. After the formality of the ritual, release in the form of actions that are—at least superficially--rebellious and transgressive—all within the confines of the festival. So everybody at the festival is in it TOGETHER. This is the mission of the “festival” ---to build and sustain a healthy community. Now what is a community? It is a group of people that share an expressive culture-who have something in common: ethnicity, family, region, occupation, religion, nationality, age, gender, social class, social clubs, school, on and on. Everyone of us belongs to multiple communities. So when I reference community, think of the term broadly—not just relating to an ethnic group or neighborhood. You may be a part of a neighborhood festival but you may also be part of a music festival, a rodeo, a harvest festival, a carnival—any or all. Remember it’s all about shared culture. 4 As a cultural worker, you may have vested interest in observing behavior—of being conscience of what is going on. 5 How do you know the festival is succeeding? How invested and engaged is the community? Do outsiders feel welcome and do they understand what is going on? In other words, is the festival calling on community voices or is it bringing others into the community? How do you know people are participating as intended in the mission and vision of the event? You have to observe quality and nuances of behavior. 6 This is the Kinetic Sculpture Race code of conduct for spectators—anyone not racing. I’ll just let you read it—because I know you can! I think it does a good job of articulating and encouraging transgressive festival behavior and yet containing it, especially the last two points. It’s rebellion with a reality check. 7 So this is your job as a cultural worker—to peal back the layers of meaning of behavior, sometimes to negotiate it and sometimes to evaluate it. There are layers of behavior just as there are different levels of participation at festival.—Major players are organizers and direct participants (artists, performers, clergy, competitors, etc) But there festival visitors who come to participate actively or just to be spectators. There are community outsiders who are an interested audience. There are outsiders not attending the festival or invested in it who are affected by the event and associated behaviors. I kind of think about it as dropping a pebble into water and the ripple effect it creates. 8 At a local festival, ask what are the local norms of behavior? If festival goers are local, socializing may be part of the behavior event—and types of behavior will depend on character of the event. At the Smithsonian Folk Festival, large crowds are mostly spectators who search out specific areas or programs that engage them, so over-all the crowd seems passive but we almost see small festivals within the festival. At the National Button Accordion festival, there were live polka bands, jamming and lots of dancing but most participants were quite elderly so level of behavior—the energy level is different from a festival with an across the board younger demographic. Cambodian New Year festival that I worked on for years starts out quite formal with religious overtones --- visitation by the Buddhist monks followed by stage performance of formal dance enacting sacred texts—everyone is well- dressed for the celebrations—but at same time audience will chat during a performance, stand up and wave to great friends, skuttle around taking photos—not what we as westerners would expect at a formal performance. After the main program there are Cambodian food vendors and western style dancing to a live pop music band. So it is the behavioral norm for this community. 9/10 So there is no rule for festival behavior—because the way different groups of people conduct themselves is the way they perform their culture. 11 Also depends on individual personalities. I tend to be more reserved so not matter what I will be an observer. Observers are ok, as long as not bored. 12 Also be aware behavior of business community and locals not invested in the festival as you may have to be negotiating on behalf of the festival—or the surrounding neighborhood. As a cultural worker you remember that your job is the broader community: are locals welcoming, tolerant, hostile? There are ripple affects—positive or otherwise-- felt in unexpected places— While taking a bus back to center city Baltimore from Patterson Park in East Baltimore where several Kinetic Race events took place, the bus was delayed at an intersection so that the racers on their home stretch could pass. I expected some grumbling from fellow passengers who were pretty much just East Baltimore folks trying to get around town. But what I heard were comments like—Hey that one looks like a cow. I like the one with the flowers. That’s cute. Clearly tolerant and engaged by a short encounter that punctuated an otherwise normal day. Not a bad thing at all, but another example of unexpected festival behavior. 13 So, when you are looking at behavior at a festival, consider the context. Consider the the community culture and behavioral norms. Consider the mission of the festival—why does it exist?—is it calling on community voices (inward) or bringing others into the community (outward reaching)? What is ritual to one community may not apply to another. What is rebellious or trangressive to one community may not apply to another. You must be the interpreter.