It was with a sense of anticipation that Access departed London’s Paddington station on Monday 30 October and headed west for the last AIF Festival Congress to take place in Cardiff (at least for the moment).

If there was a thread that ran through the fourth edition of the conference put on by the Association of Independent Festivals (other than the central ‘Pseudoscience’ theme) it was a sense that the AIF was continuing to shake up the traditional conference format.

With 10-minute talks, panels of varying length and scope, extensive interactive workshops and forward-thinking topics, the conference was clearly an event designed for some of the UK’s most innovative festival organisers.

The two-day congress began in Cardiff’s National Museum with a welcome from AIF general manager Paul Reed, who announced that the 2018 edition of the event would be taking place in Sheffield. Although Cardiff has been a fantastic host of the first four years of the event, the move is sure to further shake up the format and keep the congress new and fresh.

Hot topics

A wide range of subjects were tackled throughout the first day of the conference, including topics as diverse as Brexit, event safety and planning in 2017, and ‘the science of hedonism’.

Of particular interest to Access was an update on the progress made by the FanFair Alliance – presented by MMF chief exec Anna Coldrick – in tackling issues around secondary ticketing and the legislative changes that have been happening in the sector. While secondary ticketing remains a controversial topic in the industry the FanFair Alliance has been invaluable in driving change and debate at the highest levels.

The headline debate of the day covered one of the most serious topics faced both by festival and event organisers in general: sexual violence and assault.

Panellists reflected on how to deal with a case of alleged assault and how to best help someone who has come forward with an allegation

Renae Brown (AIF, chairing), Kate Lloyd (journalist), Rebecca Hitchen (Rape Crisis), Tracey Wise (Safe Gigs for Women) and Ami Lord (Standon Calling) very eloquently debated the challenges faced by both visitors to events and the people who organise them.

Brown headed up the 2017 ‘Safer Spaces‘ campaign by the AIF to raise awareness of sexual assault in the industry, which the other panellists were also involved in.

There was an emphasis on education; not just educating the general public about what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable but also educating everyone involved with an event – throughout the chain of command – on how to deal with a case of alleged assault and how to best help someone who has come forward with an allegation.

Independent Festival Awards The panel also covered potential ways to make festival sites safer and more welcoming, and how organisers who might be worried about the negative nature of the topic can change the discussion into a positive marketing message – making potential visitors feel safer.

Independent Festival Awards

As the first day of the conference drew to a close it was time to head to DEPOT Cardiff for the annual Independent Festival Awards.

One of the big winners of the evening was Greenbelt Festival, which won the much-coveted ‘Act of Independence’ Award for its showcasing of Muslim art and culture in partnership with Said Foundation project Amal.

Another highlight of the evening came when Freddie Fellowes, Secret Garden Party founder, was honoured with the newly created Pioneer Award for his work on the festival and impact on the wider industry.

Freddie Fellowes, Secret Garden Party founder, received the inaugural Pioneer Award

Day two of the AIF Festival Congress, now at Millennium Centre Cardiff, took a deep dive into the science of festivals, with in-depth workshops on counter-terrorism training, digital marketing, crisis management and a three-hour workshop on sexual violence training by Jane Bullough of Rape Crisis South London.

Among the day’s panel discussions was ‘Brave New Worlds’, where Phil Smith (Coalescence Collective), Joanna Mountain (MAMA) and Cara Kane (Bestival) looked beyond the music to the creative production, visual arts and experiences that make each festival unique.

In an era when there are more festivals than ever, and less than 10 per cent of the audience are attending predominantly for the headline acts, it’s more important than ever for festivals to provide an artistic, immersive and imaginative experience for their guests.

After a hugely stimulating two days of debate, networking and celebration of the industry, Access set off back on the train to London, already looking forward to the next edition of this innovative congress.

AIF Awards 2017

AIF Award winners 2017

AIF Independent Festival Awards winners 2017:

Unique Festival Arena – Womb With A View at Shambala

Best Smart Marketing – Secret Garden Party’s VIP/Celebrity Obsession Theme

Live Act of the Year – IDLES

Mind Blowing Spectacle Nozstock – The Hidden Valley’s Closing Festival Fire Show

Festival Caterer of the Year (in association with NCASS) – Happy Maki

New Festival on the Block – Aespia

Act of Independence – Greenbelt Festival

Pioneer Award – Freddie Fellowes of Secret Garden Party