Festivals have the potential to take any of several forms, such as arts or heritage festivals. It is the artistic director and board of director's vision of a festival and its purposes that influences the form the festivals eventually take. Therefore, a look at the purposes behind the urge "to festival" will reveal a great deal about the festival itself as well as its relationship to its environment and creative sources.
Menotti's Festival Idea
If Charleston's dreamers started with an image of a festival as no more than a civic image builder or fundraiser, they soon found out, as Stern made clear, that Menotti had something else in mind that would introduce more diversity to their city than anyone could have imagined in their wildest civic dreaming. The unusual nature of this particular festival idea was noted by Stern:
Previously festival to me meant just trying to fundraise. When you talk Spoleto, they say you know that's a different kind of festival. Number one, it's an international festival; number two, we are not rushing to get Pavarotti, Domingo, or other luminaries--but Menotti has had the ability to select young people who are going to be the Pavarotti's and the Domingo's. People know that they can expect something unusual, different....
...And it's different; they don't know what opera is going to be shown but they know it's going to be different. He's very careful about who directs them, produces them, the designer. Dance, no one knows what's going to be there but they know it's going to be different. And that they most probably will never see it again.
The power of the festival imagined by Menotti demonstrated its gravitational field over arts critics, corporate executives, and performers. Charles Wadsworth, immersed in both festivals from their beginnings, focused on Menotti's original idea from the 1958 beginning in Italy:
When he invited me in 1959 to start a series of chamber music concerts in this delicious little seventeenth century theater, which seats about 300 to 350--same as this theater [Dock Street Theater, Charleston]--he said, "I want these concerts to be different. I want you to be sure that you only bring brilliant, gifted young talents to play here. And I want you to be sure to find some way that the concerts are informal in nature." He said to me, "Perhaps there won't be anybody there but myself and a few of the artists working for the festival, but I want to do it anyway. It'll be something in the middle of the day, one hour."
And it was true the first few days....The third summer we were already getting extraordinary acclaim from everyone and we were fighting them off....Along the way I developed what I think has been an important factor in my end of things in chamber concerts, which made them very different from concerts that went on anywhere else in the world. I communicated with the people verbally to try to get them into an even more relaxed mood than they might be ordinarily. You have a very important factor in summer festivals particularly in that people are free from work pressures, daily pressures. They're obviously somewhere to have a good time.
I wanted to add to that further by getting the people so relaxed that they could open themselves to the performers and to the music and that in turn would create a special feeling among the performers, that they would be able to give in a very free way and enjoy the act of performing.
Wadsworth's humorous hosting for the noonday concerts is part of the legend of the Spoletos, a radical contrast from the normal framing expected for chamber music. He was proud of this contribution to bringing music to festival audiences:
I don't care whether it's avant garde or early Baroque or the obvious romantics, I think music and the arts must communicate to people on a gut level. It is not an intellectual pursuit, the enjoyment of chamber music, which is considered by many an elitist form. If the people are uninhibited in their listening, then they are going to be able to take the message that the composer intended. The composer is not really interested in how appreciative people are of the devices they have used in getting their feelings down on paper. So this created a special atmosphere in a festival situation, which already gives you one hand up.
For me, it was an incredible opportunity to find artists who I thought were great and then I started combining things into very unusual ways with instruments, voice, percussion, and all sorts of things that would create stimulation in the listener.
|...we can see that without an audience there is no goal, no sense. What is an audience? In the French language amongst the different terms for those who watch, for public, for spectator, one word stands out, is different in quality from the rest. `Assistance'--I watch a play: `j' assiste à une pièce. To assist--the word is simple: it is the key. [Brook, The Empty Space 9.]|
Wadsworth explained the special purpose Menotti had in mind, which led directly to the combiningfunction of the Spoleto festivals, bringing to mind Brook's remark about the role of the audience as artists assisting in the performance, in the birth of meaning:
The festival is unique and different from almost all other festivals because from the very beginning Gian Carlo wanted all of the arts to be represented so that the musicians and the actors could all feed off each other's inspirations and it would bring a certain excitement to my work. One summer [in Spoleto] he had an extraordinary series of poetry readings, so you had Ferlingetti from the West Coast there, and Kerouac, and Ezra Pound on the same afternoon reading from his works. For me to have Ezra Pound coming in my concert--it can't help but create electricity, or to see Visconte there in the box. We all found we were exciting each other by what we did.
Wadsworth focused on the sameness/difference issue in pointing out the success of the tradition of single discipline festivals, suggesting the aesthetic backdrop against which the Spoleto festivals differentiate themselves:
The ones in this country which are the most successful are the ones which usually lean towards one discipline, rather than all the disciplines, as the Marlborough Festival is only chamber music....Tanglewood is a great festival but it's all orchestral stuff and it is repertoire they have been playing in the regular year; but it's a beautiful place to sit on the lawn and listen to the music. The place is terribly important in terms of summer festivals [emphasis mine].
In this country there are not other festivals like Spoleto, which really sets it apart....the Edinburgh Festival or some of the [is] more the kind of festival we are doing here. At Salzburg you have Karajan, who is an extraordinarily strong personality who has been guiding that one for a number of years. That is usually the case.
As a "place, an ideal, and a force," Spoleto Festival U.S.A. unquestionably is an exceptional success as a town festival, possibly a new form of festival that evolved in its habitat to meet the changing needs of a new era. Wadsworth stressed the high risk of failure associated with Menotti's idea of festival:
The idea of Gian Carlo to have an orchestra made up of young students or people who have just graduated--these hundred people have been called from student bodies all over the country, that to me is one of the exciting things about this festival. There is not that kind of chance taking in other places.
Colin Sturm's managerial perspective balanced the necessity of blending the aesthetic and economic ingredients involved in producing Menotti's unique vision of an artist's utopia. Sturm stressed knowing the purpose of a festival:
To start from the beginning you've got to make an assessment of the purposes of a festival. A festival has two important foundation stones. They're part of the total structure. Without them both being effective you haven't got a festival that will work. The first part of a festival structure is whether the community wants it. If it's not bubbling up from the community, it's going to automatically fail. You cannot impose something of this sort onto a community from above.
Spoleto was started by an idea from Gian Carlo Menotti, which came from his friend, the American composer Sam Barber, who said, when they were both young men, that art should not be just the froth on the top of the main soup, that it should have a concrete, measurable effect in a community. To test that as a premise, they both looked for a town in Italy and in the States--they were looking in both places, but they found quickest a town in Italy which was absolutely on its beam ends.
Its population consisted of very elderly and very young people. All the young, middle age groups had to leave because there was no work, no money. Unemployment was something like 60 percent. So they thought that if they were going to prove their premise, then the festival would have to do things that in a commercial sense were good.
So when they suggested this to the city fathers, they grabbed at the chance to try anything. Therefore, my first point was that the community wanted it, what community that was there. The end result is that Spoleto is a thriving little city as a direct input of the festival. It brings lots of tourism into the place. There's been a great deal of building and regeneration of the medieval buildings has been carried out with public money from taxes that the money has generated. So there has been a measurable effect. The improvement in beneficial life style through the arts is enormous.
[The other approach] is the sort of festival which is an area grouping of people who are going to put their hands into their own pockets, do a great deal of voluntary work themselves, and probably have a ball. But it'll stay at that particular level. In Australia, we think of this as the Scout All complex, you know. The Boy Scouts are a nice worthwhile community activity; the parents of the kids get together once a month or whatever--you've got an activity which brings the community together for that particular purpose.
|"A Conversation with Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Mayor of City of Charleston, SC" regarding the Spoleto Festival USA.|
The critical role of the local governmental structure, and its particular leadership, was, Sturm felt, much more important in creating the political environment in which a festival could flourish. Charleston Mayor Riley's key political role seems the only indispensable factor that explains why Menotti was given the power to shape a festival. Without Riley, Charleston would not have had a festival, or at least, as Stern's story makes clear, probably not with someone like Menotti in charge of the "imagination department."
The emergence of Piccolo Spoleto, the "little" festival produced by the cultural affairs department of the City of Charleston, two years after the first 1977 festival suggests that there were numerous needs that the main festival was not addressing. Piccolo, its several hundred events sponsored by the City of Charleston, probably could be moved to another time of year if it actually were meeting extremely different needs from the main festival. A difference greater than each festival's programming is the cost of both high and low art, more precisely, expensive or free performances, which are highly innovative in the Piccolo offerings. The big and little festivals appear to be complementary, each drawing their magic and power from their differing purposes, a difference contained within Menotti's aesthetic philosophy.
Finally, what is the basic purpose of Spoleto U.S.A. as seen by current management? Nigel Redden called attention to the basic artistic aim, where the mix was important; differences suffice for the idea that Menotti transported from Italy to America.
The thing that I think is crucial about the history of this festival is that it started from an artistic idea, which was basically to give Italian audiences a sense of what American artists were doing....He also wanted to create a kind of sort of artist's colony, that it very much was about artists, artists working together and artists seeing each other's work--that was very much an aspect of the festival. I think it left from that pretty quickly, that is, it became much more a festival about performances, a festival about doing specific events but always the mix was important....
There are advantages to the festival in Italy. Spoleto is a more compact town; it's also got a center, which this town doesn't have. There isn't a place as a tourist that you would go to; in Italy there definitely is.....There's magic in Spoleto--the cruise ship magic--that I think festivals bring [emphasis mine]. All these people descend on a place that is beautiful for a specific period of time and they all have these wonderful magical experiences together. And, they fall in love and they have affairs and they have fights and they meet people who become bosom buddies for two weeks and who they never see again. On a human level that's very important; it's extracting you from your daily life.... Artists [are] the key to the whole thing.
Redden saw a complex relationship between economic development and arts, between the confusion of the ends and means of art.
This is an arts festival and the arts come first in this festival. Not Charleston, not economic development, not even paying the bills, although obviously you have to pay the bills to keep going. But if the only reason we are keeping going is to pay the bills, then frankly we would all quit. There would be nothing here. All these things are very fragile; I mean this exists only in the mind. I mean this is a conceptual piece....in a way it's a performance art work....So our integrity in terms of artists has to be the founding supposition. Without that precondition, there's no point in talking about the other things.
|Redden announced at the festival's 1988 news conference that the festival was in the "black," meaning that sufficient unearned, or grant and donation revenues, had been raised to pay expenses. Considering the festival's early days of large deficits, it was a significant achievement. (More on Spoleto finances)|
He noted, as Tyrone Guthrie had pointed out, that a big city and a serious arts festival are incompatible, leading to a cultural tourism activity in which art is used to entice the tourists and generate money-making events:
The LA Olympic Arts Festival was very influential in the way people are thinking of festivals in this country. It's not our way of thinking of festivals; it is a big city way and I think it's the antithesis of what this festival is....Cultural tourism is a big issue right now and obviously cultural tourism is something that's gone on in Europe forever. People, Americans, have gone to Europe for cultural reasons and people have visited America for geographic reasons.
Spoleto Festival U.S.A.'s prime constituency, Redden said, is the larger arts community of critics and audiences, the argument being that if this higher goal is reached then the Charleston community will be pleased. Yet Redden intended to protect the festival's contextual intimacy from mass media demands:
I think it's extremely important that we do things that have a kind of intimacy and scale that is human; because I don't think two million has anything to do with the human scale at all. And I don't think it's a question of being elite or exclusive. I think its a question of doing something that is worthwhile. The kind of things we're doing are not things that should be looked at in five minute doses in between flipping channels, having dinner, having telephone calls. That's not what we should be doing because these are serious things that do need to be given serious attention that you can give when you are in the theater [emphasis mine].
In Redden's portrayal of the idea and purposes of Spoleto Festival U.S.A. and the Italian festival is found the heart of Menotti's theater festival of differences. It adds to the city's cultural treasures, to its citizens' knowledge and storehouse of images, to its place as a primary destination for critic and tourist alike, to a home for a "serious" encounter with the creations of artistic professionals in many fields.
Stern saw the main idea of the festival he helped create with the prevailing Aristotelian view of the theater as a "mirror of the times":
A festival reflects the culture of the times, particularly a comprehensive festival such as Spoleto. It reflects all of the different art forms in existence at that time. We have modern dance, classical dance, opera, chamber music, theater, mime--all the existing art forms.
Behind these forms are purposive, forceful individuals such as Menotti, Mayor Riley, and Stern himself. Stern quickly accepted the idea of a festival of diversity, as he put it, combined with a city that was an "art form in itself"--an empty space ready to be called a bare stage--and the show opened in May 1977. Stern recalled that extraordinary event:
The first festival was one of the most successful festivals. We had the Zulu Dancers, which had appeared at Spoleto, Italy, before, and they were a tremendous hit. We had a dance gala, which featured Alicia Alonzo and Gudenov. The Zulu dancers and the finale at Middleton Gardens, with fireworks, stand out in my mind as most memorable. At the finale we had the orchestra at the finger lakes. We had the 1812 Overture, and we had the Citadel cadets re-enact the final shelling of Moscow actually firing their cannon, which was followed by a magnificent fireworks display....
We had at the opening ceremonies a major speaker with the governor and the mayor always attending and some extraordinary event, surprising the audience. One of these was the Flying Wallenders, a circus tightrope group, and we had them go from City Hall over a tightrope to the Federal Building. We always have puppets, brass quintets, and also singing stars like Esther Hines singing the Star Spangled Banner.
We didn't know what would happen. We had the leading citizen of Charleston say it could never succeed. But Mayor Riley was just elected to his fourth term. His opposition ran against the festival and its costs to the local area, but Riley won decisively.
The interplay of place, ideal, and force created an unusual combination of effects, said David Rawle, who stressed the idea of diversity and differences in the festival's presentations:
The special economic significance of Spoleto to Charleston is it has in its nine years contributed about $350 million dollars spending directly and indirectly to this area. Secondly, it has attracted companies that wanted to move here because of the quality of life that Spoleto has helped catalyze. Thirdly, it has helped boost the economic vitality of the other arts organizations. Politically, it has opened up people's minds to a wide variety of ideas and cultural influences because it is so international in its presentation. Aesthetically, it is the perfect complement to Charleston because Charleston itself is an art form.
Whether these effects were planned from Spoleto U.S.A.'s inception or merely random but probable consequences from small changes is not knowable. Few Charlestonians would disagree that Menotti's avant garde festival of all the arts and the city's parallel Piccolo Festival have boosted the economy and the arts. That the festival has opened minds to broader ideas is an issue that would produce more debate within the community, judging from Mayor Riley's 1987 political opposition and its use of the festival as a major campaign issue.
Spoleto's creation and duration are bound together in a complexly woven web of place, idea and artistic force. Menotti chose the place because the place fit the idea Menotti already had in mind. In Chattanooga, the three are still interwoven, though the web looks sharply different. Rather than an idea and force descending on an appropriate place, the idea rose up first and was then shaped by its place. This concept is seen in this festival's story of origin and the original proposal documents.
Origin of the Chattanooga Riverbend Festival
Here is the July 2000 official web site version of Riverbend Festival's history:
In 1981, the Lyndhurst Foundation commissioned Gianni Longo to
study the Chattanooga community and to recommend strategies for
improvement in the downtown area. One idea became a project called
Five Nights in Chattanooga, a series of free public concerts
presenting star entertainers in the downtown block bordered by
Market Street, MLK Jr. Blvd., 10th Street and Broad Street. The
intent was to bring large crowds together joining in a celebration
to establish an annual festival for Chattanooga. This festival
would bring people from all communities together through the
common language of music and to 'showcase' the unrealized
potential of Chattanooga's riverside. It began with a single,
temporary, stage perched atop a barge moored near the shore at
Ross's Landing and was surrounded by vacant warehouses and a
declining school property. The first year drew a modest but
respectable crowd .
Now Riverbend draws more than 450,000 visitors during the nine day event, stretches more than a mile along Chattanooga's Riverwalk, and encompasses five stages. The landscaped Riverwalk itself is one of the triumphs of riverfront renovation, reclaiming the banks for walkers and offering unparalleled and leisurely sights of the river. The 'barge' has evolved into the Coca Cola Stage, a 200 foot, custom fitted, floating stage with a landmark arched white stage cover that has become a Riverbend symbol.
The vision of those first festival goers has become a reality. We think of Riverbend as Chattanooga's Family Reunion!"
The actual story is considerably different and its exclusion raises serious questions about the motives of those are responsible for such publications. In fact, the "vision of those festival goers" has not become a reality. However, it is doubtful anyone can present a story of origin agreeable to all parties involved in the founding of events such as Charleston's or Chattanooga's town festivals. What became the Riverbend Festival (there is also a Riverbend Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio) first surfaced at my farm home south of Chattanooga after I read about Spoleto USA and its urban effects in the Sunday Chattanooga Times in the presence of several visiting symphony musicians. After that stimulating trip in June and in July to Salzburg, Austria, I hosted a dinner meeting at my home in September 1980, when materials from Spoleto Festival U.S.A. and the Salzburg Festival were reviewed by about one dozen persons interested in the idea of a town festival for Chattanooga. The strongest encouragement came from Robert Austin, artistic director of the Chattanooga Opera, and Lynn Grimsley, executive director of the city's Allied Arts Fund. Later that fall the idea of a town arts festival like those I had seen were discussed at several gatherings, such as a party at Sam and Sally Robinson's home. Sally Robinson was director of the Chattanooga Arts Council, and several of us were on the board; she wrote a letter of introduction for me to use in my visit to Salzburg in July 1980. In a Chattanooga Times and News Free Press column during the Riverbend festival in June 2000, he was quoted as saying he and his wife had come up with the original idea for the festival; he denied to me and others he said this and wrote the reporter a correction, which she intended to consider including in a 20th anniversary article in the future. She also quoted him as saying that Five Nights in Chattanooga was not the origin of Chattanooga's festival. This confusion over the festival origins is typical of festival origins literature, and is most pronounced in the July 2000 Riverbend version (web link now connects to new Riverbend 2005 page, which has a significantly different and incorrect history but continues to ignores all the individual organizers and focuses on the Lyndhurst's consultant and Five Nights in Chattanooga.
After many discussions and much early official resistance, the collective group process of bounding the empty space was a formal plan submitted in November 23, 1981 to the Lyndhurst Foundation for administrative funding. For most who were involved in the festival's founding events, this was the key document that synthesized and defined the empty space of the festival theater. (In contrast to the formal plan, composer Doris Hays' alternative festival vision now appears as a valuable text that is the forgotten script of what a trained artist actually created in response to Chattanooga's empty space.) With the new festival group's proposed staffing and volunteer plan, budget, and action timetable, the first phase of the process of creating, or defining and bounding, the empty festival space, the unfilled theatrical space, was completed. These first documents were in effect a series of scripts and revisions for the social drama that would become the Riverbend Festival.
|It may be more than a coincidence that most of us--Mickey Robbins, Nelson Irvine, Lee Parham, Sam Robinson, and I, who were so active in providing the initial energy for the festival--were amateur musicians. Energized by the talents of versatile professional pianist and opera accompanist Deanne Werner (who later became Nelson Irvine's wife), we would play and sing at our 1980-82 social gatherings as much as we would debate the festival we imagined for the town. Music was a basic love of the group and it was natural to combine music-making and festival talk sessions with anyone who wanted to sit in and jam. This suggests a very close connection between the desire for a party and the desire for a festival.|
Those who signed the original grant application in May 1981 were Deanne Werner, Frank M. Robbins III, Nelson Irvine (attorney), and myself.
The following excerpt from that proposal shows clearly the ideal envisioned by the signers. It was to be based foremost on the high standards set by the Spoleto and Salzburg festival ideals.
[Purposes]: Learning from the precedents set by Charleston, South Carolina's Spoleto Festival, and Austria's Salzburg music festival, we see no reason not to create Chattanooga's own "celebration of togetherness with diversity" through a quality of first-rate artistic expression that pulls the community together and attracts substantial regional and possibly national interest. In addition to this idea, the celebration could bring together, both traditional and innovative, opera, symphony, dance, theater, film, visual exhibits, regional arts (such as story telling, gospel singing, bluegrass music, etc.)....
We prefer "celebration" rather than "festival" because the former term suggests a specific theme while the latter is more general. A "celebration of togetherness" focuses directly on our main goal, which is to create widespread community participation and to bring diverse ethnic, social, religious, and economic groups together. (author's Riverbend materials)
The May 5, 1981 proposal met with favorable reaction from the foundation. The organizing group met with the executive director and the foundation's consultant. It was decided to submit a planning grant proposal for approximately $25,000. This would include retaining the consultant to research a variety of arts festivals, to provide travel funds for local officials to visit Charleston's upcoming Spoleto Festival U.S.A., to prepare an audiovisual presentation to communicate the festival idea (which was not accomplished), and to provide funds for other consultants and expenses to generate broad based community understanding and support for a major arts festival.
|We had little choice in creating Friends of the Festival because none of the Allied Arts organizations would accept the foundation grant. This was a destructive step that could have been avoided if there had been more dialogue of all interested parties at the outset. However, several persons in the traditional arts organizations strongly resisted an independent festival at that time.--S. H.|
Following the meeting with the consultant it was agreed to organize a nonprofit corporation, Friends of the Festival, Inc. Although a small legal expense for incorporating was set aside in the planning grant, four individuals then took it upon themselves as volunteers to shepherd this fledgling idea through its early and tentative steps. The rapidly expanding group represented a mixture of liberal and conservative views, artists and non-artists, politicians and businessmen, blacks and whites, old and new families, city and country, etc. Over the following months, these intentional individual differences were reflected in the debates, and the basic aesthetic philosophy of the initial festivals.
The "Proposal for Funding to Establish a Chattanooga Festival," by Bruce Storey of Variety Services, was submitted to the Lyndhurst Foundation, Chattanooga, Tennessee, by Friends of the Festival, Inc., November 23, 1981. It was approved by some two dozen participants in the process during the summer and autumn of 1981, and it represented the collective preferences of the group.
Gianni Longo, the foundation's community development consultant, had worked with other cities and was an editor of Learning from Baltimore, a series that drew lessons from experiences of various cities.
Following a meeting for discussion and brain-storming, and preceding preparation of the planning grant, he met with me and explained his five-project community development concept, one item being a city fair. This was at a dinner meeting which the other three organizers could not attend. Longo said that his "approval of and recommendation of" the grant application was dependent on my taking the primary leadership position. Although I explained my other commitments, and argued that any of the other three organizers or others were better qualified for this project, Longo insisted.
I agreed to take that responsibility until artistic and administrative directors could be appointed under a new board. He accepted this stipulation, but when it developed that an artistic director would not be included in the early stages we had to devise new leadership arrangements. The other three organizers could not or would not take the full responsibility. We did not want to expand the board until new leadership was in place. After a few months of discussing the interest and qualifications of influential civic leaders, I was very pleased that we agreed on a popular local university music professor who would take my place and who also could serve in the combined role of president and artistic director. Dr. Walker Breland, who inspired us all by believing that Chattanooga could have just as fine an arts festival as Charleston, took office in early 1982. He and the new board, especially Mrs. Lee Parham, vice-president, performed herculean tasks in creating the first festival by mid-1982.
This partial solution resolved the functional, and by then obvious, need for the knowledge of an artistic director. The two festivals Parham and Breland created had an aesthetic quality which the later commercialized productions lacked. However, it now appears that the policies and decisions that led to this step demanded far too much of this combination artistic/leadership structure just as they did of the promotional firm contracted to manage the festival.
Breland was paid as artistic director the second year in addition to serving as president of Friends of the Festival, Inc. His scholarly analysis of that period would provide a very useful insight into the fundamental issues of art and power, power and art, associated with Chattanooga's new town festival. No doubt a collection of his and other related documents generated by the Lyndhurst Foundation's continuing interest and research grants would provide a valuable anthology for others interested in the creation of a town arts festival, or in the making of any kind of festival.
It was not until 1986 that some of the foundation director's private views were accidentally revealed to me in some of the old file notes of Robbins' initial telephone conversation with Montague in early April 1981. The foundation director's responses to Robbins' suggestions during the initial telephone inquiry, based on the actual notes of that conversation, were that the "idea of a festival was great" and that they "were interested in something similar and maybe could tie in."
He said he did not "want to put words in our mouths," but that "something should be submitted with no local sponsorship." "Aim high, go first class, do it right, be comprehensive" were the phrases used. The foundation director was concerned that the community spirit seemed to stop with contributions to the Allied Arts Fund and felt that Chattanooga now had mature arts organizations. He saw Spoleto as "a little of a rip-off" [emphasis mine].
He was intrigued with the "economics of amenities" and urged the group to focus on the economic benefits of a festival. He urged us to get wide ranging, diverse people who could start the ball rolling by the summer of 1982, if we could get the community's support. He was concerned with the fractured community and felt the need for a project to pull everybody together.
I still am puzzled by a leadership philosophy that would view Spoleto Festival U.S.A. as a "rip-off" when that was the primary model we proposed and visited; this seems less tolerance of differing views than secret political manipulation. A healthy debate that included the foundation director and his associates would have been far more useful to the community than such behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
The officers and new board members assumed office in February and planning proceeded. The festival was held in August 1982. It was preceded by in-home chamber music fundraising events and by three concerts at the local baseball stadium. These included three expensive entertainment groups--the Beachboys, the Commodores, and Rick Springfield--and festival officials expected adequate profits to finance the actual festival at the riverfront. Springfield alone cost $65,000. Even with the efforts of professional promoters, the Riverbend went into its first actual festival with a $100,000 deficit. But the deficit bought an enthusiastic and excited community; the festival had been born and had taken its first step.
Festival Planning Seminars
Probably the festival founding process's most innovative activity were the July-August seminars arranged for the new festival board and prospective board members, persons who, regardless of their particular job titles, wealth, or beliefs, were thought by the four organizers to be receptive generally to new ideas. The idea in inviting participants was that you are who you present yourself to be. This was a departure from the usual Chattanooga way of classifying individuals by mountain or ridge altitude level, wealth, neighborhood, and job title. This practice has continued with subsequent appointments to the Riverbend board, excepting black representation. It brought many new persons to leadership positions in the city's performing arts. It was a step in creating a new arts structure in the city, which the foundation's executive director and our group agreed was needed.
Four seminars for the new Friends of the Festival group were held for approximately thirty interested persons. Festival experts from Baltimore, Boston, and New York spoke, and the process concluded with a goal-setting workshop and party. The seminars were open, and the group was encouraged when the county executive, the mayor, and several influential commissioners participated at the beginning and ending of the seminars.
All the seminar speakers stressed the importance of clarifying a festival's purposes. At the final session the group voted not to choose between a high arts and a popular festival, which was to prove a false opposition in theory and practice. The consultant's report, "The Making of the Festival," concluded that in America there were two types of festivals, arts and urban:
1. Arts Festivals, a majority of which are strictly focused on music and created with the purpose of presenting unusual high-quality programs in an informal setting. They are usually designed to attract a broad local, national, and sometimes international audience;
2. Urban Festivals, which are created with broad grass-roots support and aimed at celebrating the ethnic, cultural and artistic heritage of the city.
These two forms are analyzed separately.
Here was one source of the warring ideologies of arts and heritage distinctions. By forcing the issue into separate category status, the fundamental flaw in the emerging creative process developed into a "this or that" series of choices. That is to say, the group was being asked to choose a category that was the same in either respect, a practice that did not embrace the possibility of different and even contrasting programming in the same festival. Although this was not the original idea proposed on May 5, in our uncertainty it seemed logical at the time to be asked to select a festival that was "all of one kind" aimed at either special musical offerings or local heritage. Eventually the seminar participants voted that there was no need to exclude and to be one exclusive type of festival. They decided the festival should be both popular and elitist, at times expressing dislike for the terms themselves and their connotations.
|The original idea of juxtaposing artistic elements can be seen in the name of the concluding party for all seminar participants held at one of the member's (Sharon Mills) home. It was called "Bar-B-Q, Beer, Blue Jeans, and Bach" and featured a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chamber trio and faculty pianist Arthur Rivituso. The spirit of the party led naturally to the spirit of the first Riverbend arts festival (which the Olan Mills company has supported consistently with funds and staff).|
This was an issue discussed in materials from Charleston and Salzburg. The extreme position of a high art orientation was expressed in a quotation from Menotti in a New York Times article on May 26, 1981, "I'm not very sympathetic to the tendency to bring art to the people." This is a seeming contradiction in view of his goal of creating a festival in 1958 "for the joy of it" and of making arts the main course, but his comment can be taken within the context of Tyrone Guthrie's definition of a serious festival, in which artistic expression is goal, not means.
High and low art programming was not mutually exclusive at this beginning phase of the Riverbend Festival, which was funded by the Lyndhurst Foundation planning grant in part as a demonstration of use of the performing arts to generate funds for the festival. Several of these musicales were hosted but were discontinued due in part to lack of staff support.
The consultant's report on festivals in America was not as extensive as the organizers had hoped, but it did outline much that was not available to us in any other source, although it reflected language and material contained in festival studies by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (which was brought to my attention at a later date). Its most significant feature was the classification of the purposes of an arts as opposed to an urban festival. This language reflected, among other matters, the foundation director's attitude that inhibited our search for an artistic director:
At the onset of forming a new festival, the issue of an artistic director should be secondary to managerial and promotional aspects, unless one is readily available to the area. The artistic director can come later to the scene, once the festival has established itself. In the meantime, artistic decisions can be made by individuals drawn from the local community. [Gianni Longo, The Making of the Festival, (New York: The Institute for Environmental Action, 1981) 22.]
[Note: All marks of emphasis are by the author].
This report confused most of the group, some of whom noted that it contradicted itself in several places, especially in its recommendations on artistic leadership, where the greatest need for direction and guidance was experienced. In the second section describing an urban fair, which was the consultant's original idea, the report recommended the following in regard to the arts festival form:
There are three seats of power in the management of festivals, the artistic director, the chairman and board directors, and the executive director.
The artistic director of the music festival should be a natural choice, an individual with ties into the community and with the expertise to cover such a position. In the absence of a natural choice artistic advisors can be used. Selected from the community and/or outside, the artistic advisors will help in the formulation of the program and in the selection of the artists. The advisors should be invited in the early stages of planning and should be selected to conform with the thematic requirements of the festival.
On the other hand, for an urban fair the report advised:
Artistic direction is not a requirement for the urban festival. The sponsors may, however, want to keep a distance from the process of selecting performers and artists to avoid recrimations. This is normally done through the creation of a number of art committees each devoted to a specific art form. Selection of programs can then be done through auditions and competitions. [Longo, The Making of the Festival, 37-38.]
The impending emphasis on riverfront economic development, a natural evolution from this particular empty space that soon became nearly an exclusive focus (even the specific river-related name later adopted was suggested), was described in the study's emphasis on location as a theme:
Spoleto Festival U.S.A. was selected as "the best example of this new generation of [arts] festivals." In the arts section, under the purpose category, the report explained:
A theme should be derived from the objective of the Urban Festival and should reflect the natural attributes, personality and reputation of the city itself. Geographical features could play a great role in Chattanooga. The Riverbend Festival (link to current year's festival) could be a celebration of the history of the community through the role played by the river and could focus on the existing unexploited potential of the river, and its recreational value. [Longo, The Making of The Festival, 33.]
Economic and community considerations are today the two most important objectives set forth in the creation of new festivals.
In the past, music festivals have been implemented for the fulfillment of the aesthetic and musical needs of small groups of musicians determined to look for new musical challenges and the enlargement of their professional boundaries. It did not take long, however, for the people involved to discover their cultural and economic potential and the beneficial impact that festivals were having on the cities hosting them.
Today, new festivals are designed and promoted to fully realize the economic potential and impact on the community. The Spoleto Festival is probably the best example of this new generation of festivals. Spoleto is strongly supported by the city leadership because of its boost to the tourism industry. Tourism is today Charleston's fastest growing industry....
Gian Carlo Menotti and the other festival founders recognized from the beginning the essential importance of involving the tourism industry in the planning and promotion of the festival. Articles about Spoleto talk as much about Charleston as the festival.
Applying the intent, function, and effect concepts, one can see in this report's premises about art the relationship of the difference in intent and effect, and a sense of how quickly the creations of artists can be exploited and appropriated. Yet Menotti created a festival for the joy of it, as a brief utopia for artists, as a haven for old and new world differences--not as a commercial Disney world of the arts. That Spoleto was cited by the foundation's own consultant as the best example of an American festival is a powerful comment on what should have evolved in Chattanooga but was inhibited.
But did it make any difference whether Menotti created a festival for the joy of it or solely to attract tourists? As Redden explained, in Charleston the original integrity of the artistic idea was preserved and all else was a consequence of a serious town arts festival, which can be an economic bonanza but as a by-product and not as a main goal.
The idea of embedded meanings suggests the hidden functions of festivals, which can be illustrated with two stories of Riverbend's several true stories of origin. One such meaning can be seen in an analysis of the downtown entertainment event, "Five Nights in Chattanooga." Another is shown in an analysis of an alternative festival proposal from Doris Hays, a musician and composer who grew up in Chattanooga and now lives in New York City but who has not lost interest in the welfare of her Southern hometown.
During the mid-1981 planning and research for a festival, the Lyndhurst Foundation directly sponsored through the city an event called "Five Nights in Chattanooga." This was a series of free downtown concerts sponsored by the city and funded by the foundation, apparently at Longo's suggestion as an urban animation project he had developed for other cities. The $100,000 "musical gift to the city" drew an estimated several hundred thousand persons to the city's heart, a vacant parking lot, in the late afternoon and early evening over a period of five weeks. One stated purpose, according to the consultant's assistant, was to attract different types of people to each show and to persuade a diverse group to remain in or return to downtown to have a good time. Performers included blues singer B.B. King, Sarah Vaughn, Hank Williams Jr., a well-known bluegrass performer, and a rock group.
|My convictions about the sameness/difference issue spring indirectly from civil rights events in Boston and Chattanooga in 1968, about which I have written in a 1973 Boston University Master's thesis, "The Feedback Factor in the Communication Process." To my former Boston University instructors and later colleagues, Albert J. Sullivan and Otto Lerbinger, I acknowledge a debt that I am repaying in a small way by attempting to transmit portions of their communication philosophies in this work and in everyday living.|
The public agenda of the concerts was to learn whether anyone would come in to the city at the end of the work day, when normally the central city is emptied by 6 p.m. The hidden agenda of "Five Nights in Chattanooga" was to see whether members of both races ("Race" is a problematic, useless term but it reflects the reality of that period, and it remains an active mental category today. It is used reluctantly.) could coexist in the same space and to what extent audiences would differ as the entertainers differed. Predictably, the races coexisted; predictably, too, audiences differed.
In view of the city's past history, there was fear of racial violence. Also there was a desire to show other city leaders that this type activity was a positive model for festivals. No one knew what might happen when Chattanoogans of all categories of skin color, income groups, and ethnic and religious origin came together and were free to interact on a mass scale. In fact, the only fight reported or that I noticed was between two "black leather jacket" white men arguing about a woman accompanying one of them.
Five Nights was not presented as carnival, but it had overtones of carnival in the popular sense, especially its "bread-and-circus" rationale. Its purpose, however, was completely that of the power structure's agenda for community change. The paranoia of certain leaders was not justified; this model of festivaling proved valuable in reducing fears of the crowd. Yet it failed to show the extent and range of what the town arts festival can be and could accomplish. And it may have reinforced the arts patron system oriented to the donor's needs rather than to the desires of audiences and performers.
This "segregation by musical taste" approach continues in the Riverbend; each night is sold to a local corporation, which receives the advertising benefits from that evening and is named in the program. Five Nights had some positive effects in placing emphasis on the performing arts, and on the music form of art power to attract very large audiences and to create more community interaction in unused downtown space.
|Tennessee Aquarium, developed as part of the riverfront area.|
Yet this model may collapse of its own commercial weight as an advertising medium when the festival public park is converted into real estate projects, developments described in the August 1988 comprehensive study as having great impact on the festival's site. These real estate plans have become the primary goal of the festival. One local businessman, Jack McDonald, told me in 1986 he expected to make at least a million dollars from his investments in the riverfront area. With such an incentive he has been from the early years a strong supporter of the festival in organizing sales to employers of the inexpensive admission pins. It "takes all kinds" to make a festival; however, it is doubtful the festival would have continued if McDonald had not developed our original idea of one pass for all events into the successful revenue source it has become.
The second story reveals the repression of an innovative artist's response to Chattanooga's empty but scenic spaces. At our request, the former Chattanoogan and internationally known composer and musician Sorrel Hays offered her idea for a particularly imaginative type of arts festival, "Southern Voices."
Key excerpts from the proposal (author's Riverbend files and mentioned earlier in association with a festival's place) indicate the power of the physical environment and the idea evoked:
...A Festival is a creature which needs to fit its habitat. And, since it is a creature we make, I think of what kind of creature will be nurtured by the locals--be supported by citizens and in return, full grown, give pleasure to those who make and support it. My creature Festival then, is one which has characteristics of the local scene. It sings. And how! This Festival, then, should always have a chance to sing! Hymn sings, sacred harp sings, blues sings, country music sings, gospel sings, massed chorus sings, special avant garde performance events sings (my kind of singing), orchestra-chorus sings. One of the first and strongest reasons to call this festival "Southern Voices."
...This festival-creature goes to all parts of the city as I see it--to insurance companies and factories, to the courthouse lawn, to the river bridge, to the mountain parks, to the university campus, to the senior citizen center, and sings, too, with the people where they are. The creature not only sings, of course, it dances and rhymes and paints pretty pictures and makes marvelous, outlandish sculptures and reads outrageously wonderful poems. This festival is of the city and of the region, not laid on it from the outside. It has the accent of many voices of the region. It's not an adopted creature, but one born of the existing cultural institutions: a fifty-year-old orchestra, a vital opera company, and tons of singers, lots of fiddlers, and more composers, writers, performers of all kinds than the majority of the population would know except for the festival celebrating their existence.
...Star performers come and go. They are naturally a part of this festival but the underpinning for that which is already there needs spotlight, aid, support, and moral uplift. Past and present, the existing, and that new to be added to it, all are part of this creature. The past in the form of a living mountain tradition, such as sacred harp and fiddling. The present in the form of commissioned art works.
Hays' provocative, but to some frightening, proposal briefly opened another kind of empty space where differences not only coexist but thrive. Her October proposal, had it been followed, would have led to a very different festival theater in which the work of artists would have been celebrated. Copies of this proposal were read by several in the group, but her ideas generally evoked fear of something foreign to community experience. Some urged support for her approach as a part of a festival, but without success. Also, no one knew how to produce "Southern Voices" without passing some degree of control to the artist; all knew by then the foundation's opposition to that direction. The proposal's poetic quality evoked powerful images of originality seen in Charleston and Salzburg, images now part of the forgotten meanings of the "Southern Voices Festival."
Hays is an extraordinarily successful avant-garde composer and performer. A sample of her credentials can be seen in a review of the performances at Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in 1981. Allan Kozinn wrote in the Charleston News & Courier on May 30, 1981: "Miss Hays was raised in Tennessee and moved to New York in 1969. There, she has made a considerable career as a pianist specializing in difficult music that uses "cluster" effects, often produced by taking elbows or full arms to the keyboard....She has also earned a reputation as a composer with a flair for multi-media musical and theatrical events, and at Thursday's [Piccolo Spoleto] concert she was featured as a composer, pianist, birdcall blower, synthesist, photographer and water pourer....For the most part, this concert was the first chunk of music I've heard here that was not only composed in the last half of the 20th century, but sounded like it....The Thursday concert, by the way, was well-attended, and it seemed that old and young alike enjoyed the strange variety of things they saw and heard."
A more recent review in the Village Voice (August 16, 1989) by Kyle Gann of Hays' folk opera-in-production, The Glass Woman, contrasted her work to Philip Glass's Fall of the House of Usher, presented July 14-16, 1989, at Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Center complex. "...the future of this one is worth keeping an ear out for. If musically conservative, The Glass Woman was 150 times as enjoyable as the Glass House heard two weeks earlier....Hays' fledgling work is a better bet even if she's a woman, even if they've never heard of her, than these assembly-line famous-name extravaganzas that seem to have no artistic impulse behind them whatsoever....Opera America, by investing time, resources, and faith in artists more serious than fashionable, is taking brave steps in that direction."
No other phrases so well capture the essence of the commercial Riverbend Festival that has evolved than "assembly-line famous-name extravaganzas that seem to have no artistic impulse behind them whatsoever."
Meanings and Messages
One indication of the general reaction to the Riverbend (and simultaneous Miller Park and Fort Wood festivals), even with its various difficulties and problems, came from an editorial by Pat Wilcox in the Chattanooga Times:
After a week of music and fun, the Riverbend Festival is over, and Chattanooga can luxuriate in the afterglow of success. Sponsoring foundations and corporations, particularly the Krystal Co., took a bet on Chattanooga--and won. But the volunteers who spent countless hours planning and organizing the festival often worked against the odds of disbelief. Surveying the crowds of festival-goers, one such organizer recalled many requests for help turned down simply because "they didn't think this thing would ever happen." But happen it did--and in a big way. Over the weekend the Downtown Arts Festival and the Fort Wood neighborhood celebration added to the festive fair. Together, the crowds they drew brought all downtown to life. Congratulations are in order for the believers. They've made believers of a lot more folks--and that bodes well for next year.
"Next year" meant the festival would become ritual, repeating its magical time and space--and making more believers-- but believers in what ideas? The three festivals did not coincide again; such a "celebration of togetherness" was not desired by the various groups involved.
Like Gargantua, after its birth the Riverbend Festival grew, and grew, and grew, and appeared likely to outgrow its cradle. In 1987 nearly 100,000 persons gathered "down by the riverside" to hear the "Chicago" jazz group perform, where most of the huge crowd could enjoy the performance only from giant loudspeakers and videoscreens. The few dozen who gathered to hear three visiting chamber musicians at the new Miller Park open-air pavilion at noon and sunset strained to hear over the traffic noise. Riverbend officials could not put the musicians in any one of several nearby acoustic space because of "politics," the chamber music committee had been told at its first and only meeting several months before.
By 1986, the Riverbend Festival was shifting almost exclusively toward support of riverfront development tasks, as the 1988 evaluation confirmed--away from the original objectives. A rigidity had settled on the programming. There were no more premier works, such as a 1985 commissioned work for fiddle and orchestra by New England composer Marie Rhines, played on the river barge. The physical nature of the empty space is a critical element in the art of the festival. Sarah Vaughn had noted in a 1981 newspaper interview during "Five Nights" that "music is not an outdoor sport," suggesting that a proper acoustic space like the Tivoli Theater would have been far more appropriate for such a subtle combination of fiddle and orchestra. A year earlier, Rhines had been sponsored by the Lyndhurst Foundation as an artist-in-residence at Baylor School, a private college preparatory high school in Chattanooga. Rhines' work expressed her scholarly interest in fiddling and in Apalachian folk tunes pased down from the area's British musical heritage. After the Riverbend premier, apparently neither Rhines nor any other composer was invited to prepare new compositions. Later that year, another composer from Chattanooga asked the foundation for production support of a new work that possibly could have premiered at the Riverbend Festival. The Lyndhurst Foundation representative responded that it no longer funded such grants to artists (it does have a program of individual artist grants, "Lyndhurst Fellows," but applications are not accepted).
This added to the signs that the Riverbend and its primary sponsor finally had turned away from any attempt to follow Spoleto Festival U.S.A.'s serious programming that introduces the new, different, and unknown to the community. It was a complete reversal from the limited multi-arts efforts of the 1982 through 1985 programs. It could be written in May 1986:
The extreme range of favorable and unfavorable responses to these thoughts indicated that negative interpretations of a town festival can generate highly emotional reactions to what a Lyndhurst foundation official viewed as the city's "annual image-making set of activities."
The community has not welcomed nor encouraged new ideas and ways of expressing them by its artists, whose existence seemingly serves to promote economic growth and attract new business. Our leaders talk of arts, not artists. The campaign slogan is a pitch for jobs, not joy. The pledge is for more of the same, not the new, the different, the stimulating. The new is not well received in Chattanooga, and it may be that the absence of community leaders, with a few exceptions, at these artistic events speaks eloquently....
It is Sunday's announcement of the Riverbend Festival schedule that makes this "fear of the new" so clear--the commercial artists, the motor boat races, the events that are fun and that sell pins but that say "more of the same" and "why bother" to some known or unknown artistic talent with a new, untested message or medium. Why does the Riverbend not merit a listing in the New York Times summer music festival section? What is nearly a million dollars buying for our town? It is an expensive summer block party, to use one festival president's term. If a Rick Montague had the power six years ago to specify a promoter rather than an artistic director to shape the Riverbend Festival, then he also has the power to help foster a climate of innovation and support for the new sources of artistic energy without which communities stagnate and decline....["What's New in the Arts." Sidney N. Hetzler, Jr. Chattanooga Times, May 19, 1986.]
The Lyndhurst Foundation funded a comprehensive Riverbend evaluation in 1988. From the perspective of an essential empty space, the report noted that the economic development of the Riverfront Park where the festival is located would displace Riverbend for several years. Such self-destructive evolution of this commercial festival would be predictable, based on an idea of empty space that becomes filled and no longer functions as a theatrical empty space where the new can emerge, where the different has its first breath of life, where even conflicting voices can sing their songs and play their works. The $100,000 study reinforced the idea that concluded the discussion of Spoleto Festival U.S.A. and that is this work's main idea: difference embraces sameness but sameness rejects difference.
Difference embraces sameness but sameness rejects difference.
In summary, a broader context appropriate for a larger study would show the kind of urban home into which the evolving meanings of festival were invited in 1981, and would show specifically how the various civic forces underlying the festival bounded a newly constructed empty space in the organizers' collective thinking. A 1981 Allied Arts fund raising study contained detailed documentation of the thinking behind the move toward centralized control of the museum, symphony, opera, and other member organizations, an environment that opposed the idea of a festival at that time. The written corpus of material, as opposed to anecdotes, rumor and gossip, accessible for this study--that is, the contextual, ideological boundaries in which most debate and argument occurred--points toward the strong possibility that these meanings of Riverbend are a microcosm of meanings of the larger community and regional and national society. Although two different ideas of a festival had surfaced, one called fine arts or elitist and one called popular or social, in the final actual grant proposal the group had attempted to retain both elements. It is the Hays document that most vividly illustrates the difference in intended festival meanings, ranging from a social objective of "celebrating togetherness" to aesthetic aims of "celebrating the existence of local artists."
Analysis of Riverbend Festival Objectives
Though the several stories of origin, seen together, may seem to conflict and collide, the written objectives of the Riverbend organizing group are a concrete place to look for the ideas on which the festival was founded. Examining the change and shift in objectives over time provides a further window for watching the festival grow and mature into its current form.
The information from consultants, trips, speakers, and other documents was summarized by a volunteer seminar member, Bruce Storey (soon to become the first and long-time executive director of the festival, in the November 23, 1981 report. In that report are its list of objectives, which can be seen in contrast to the purposes stated and implied by the Charleston and Salzburg models. Those original objectives, which were heatedly debated during the seminars and evaluation session, included the following:
1. show how arts projects can be self-supporting and add significant new arts
2. provide a varied series of high quality arts performances and activities in a
3. serve as a cohesive force;
4. promote artistic activity and aesthetically pleasing events;
5. act to catalyze downtown and riverfront revitalization;
6. enhance benefits from tourism from the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair;
7. provide opportunities for various elements of the community to interact;
8. gain national publicity for the city and its fine arts support;
9. improve community self-image and help residents feel good about the city;
10. provide opportunities for central city business economic development;
11. showcase local fine arts performers and groups.
The foundation consultant's extensive report had urged the group to select between two choices, an urban fair or a music festival. The group rejected this binary proposal and voted to combine these types into one festival. The following analysis of these objectives suggests that the arts were gradually moved off the city stage while leaders pretended otherwise.
These written aims provide a beginning point in searching for a dominant meaning expressed by a festival and in creating a semiotic of festival. Written objectives, if they exist, are one valuable source of intended, if not received, meanings. These formal words define the intended nature of the empty space of a festival theater within the chronological sequence of actions by which a festival space is defined ideologically and physically.
The meanings of Chattanooga's new festival theatrical space were bounded by these statements that were a result of cooperative group action. These texts are productive for study because they reflect not an individual but a group vision of an imagined destination, a desired future state, a fantasy not yet reality, a dream of images to come, a wish to be fulfilled, hopes, values, purpose, expectations, intended results; in short, future. They reflect the collective intentions of the particular social group, often thought of as the founders of the original festival idea.
Simultaneously, goal statements are refracting powerful institutional and individual ideologies, sources of funding, public and private interests. Taken as a whole, they represent highly compressed meaning symbols of the entire community of interests, not only the thoughts of those few who actually drafted the text but also of the image of the intended audience of financial and political supporters. Goal texts can be traced in their evolution over a period of years or they can be arranged through various schematic categories to bring out underlying functions that generate critical insight.
In 1984 or 1985, the above goals were re-coded under three headings:(1) to draw the community together (3,7,9); (2) to present the arts (11,2,4); and (3) to promote economic development (1, 5, 10, 8, 6). Only goal six, related to the Knoxville World's Fair was changed, although the central idea was retained, to read "To enhance tourism in Chattanooga." Using only key words, the new classification was:
Draw the community together
Present the arts
Promote economic development
In the comprehensive 1988 evaluation of Riverbend, funded I believe by the Lyndhurst Foundation, these three primary categories were unchanged. An appendix briefly summarized the objectives as used by the study team:
To draw the community together by serving as a cohesive force for the Chattanooga community, by providing opportunities for the various elements of the community to interact, and by improving the city's self-image and helping residents to feel good about the city;
To present the arts by providing a showcase for local fine arts performers and groups, by providing a varied series of high quality arts performances and activities in a Festival setting, and by promoting artistic activity and offering aesthetically pleasing events; and finally,
To promote economic development by demonstrating ways in which arts projects can be self-supporting through innovative entrepreneurial efforts. And, as a result, to add significant new arts events for Chattanooga with a minimum drain on existing business and charitable resources; by acting as a catalyst for downtown and riverfront revitalization; by providing opportunities for economic development, particularly central city businesses; by achieving noteworthy national publicity for the city and its activities in support of the fine arts; and by enhancing tourism in Chattanooga.
These objectives have remained largely unchanged in their actual wording since they were taken from the 1981 "Making of the Festival" study and incorporated into the final proposal for the Lyndhurst Foundation.
However, the 1988 evaluation recommended several additions that would fine tune these objectives: increase minority participation (lack of black involvement has been a major problem from the first days of the festival seminars), recognize the volunteer role, provide new opportunities for local performing artists and institutions at the festival, program the renovated Tivoli Theater and the proposed Bessie Smith Hall, work with the RiverCity development company and program events on the river before, during, and after developments are completed, help RiverCity educate and excite residents about specific projects such as the Tennessee Aquarium, assist RiverCity in marketing Chattanooga, package the Bessie Smith Jazz Strut for national television, balance attendance levels during the ten days of the festival, improve the comfort level of crowds by improving the site appearance, and by becoming actively involved in the process of planning the new Riverpark.
These additions, in light of the views advanced in this study, reflect the structural flaws of what is essentially the heritage festival dominated by the RiverCity company and Lyndhurst Foundation. No mention is made of finding qualified artistic leadership at any point in the study. Only in contrast to a Spoleto Festival U.S.A. does the lack of such leadership become noticeable.
The festival's modified, three-part classification scheme resembles the first cut of a structural coding not unlike Propp's grid of functions in folktales. As with his folk tales, it is possible to arrange the categories so that elements in them illustrate other patterns, such as function, intent, and effect. Near the end of his analysis, Propp observed:
The constancy of functions endures, permitting us to also introduce into our system those elements which become grouped around the functions. How does one create this system? The best method is to make up tables. [Propp, V. Morphology of the Folktale. Second Edition, revised and edited by Louis A. Wagner. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968, 87-88.]
Propp's table of functions are the actions of a tale, separated from who acts. The table resembles the Riverbend Festival's unintended but apparently necessary reductionism from eleven categories to three. These three objectives further abstracted and classified the purpose, or intentions, of the festival and defined the ideological boundaries of the imagined festival space.
Although the words were unchanged, this 1984 or 1985 realignment, upon closer scrutiny, reveals significant differences. For example, references to art and artists appear just as often, five times. But the original text refers to these terms in the first two, and in three of the first four, objectives. The first list ended by eventually mentioning fine arts performers.
In the second version social functions come first, arts second, and the economy last. Two of the arts projects now fall under economic development rather than presenting the arts. It can be concluded that the arts have a lowered priority in the second goal statement. This repetitive element--role of arts and artists --signifies a changed view of the artist in the Riverbend Festival. Evidently that original dream was modified and the semiotic relationships of elements within the festival shifted positions. When the analysis moves from text to the context created by the objectives, several reasons for the changed function of the artist are suggested.
By 1988 it appears to have been recognized that local performing artists (no mention of visual artists) and institutions should be provided new opportunities at the festival. But there is no mention of the vital element--an artistic director or directors--that virtually every significant festival that respects the serious arts, which the Riverbend Festival objectives purport to do, includes.
The second list of objectives re-codes the art element, which was nearly one-half of the original eleven objectives. A defensible conclusion is that the festival's intended meaning has changed in this one aspect, the value of art and artists--not in simplistic terms of "art for art's sake" but in terms of the larger issue of the actual work of the artist in this community.
The separation of terms of purpose, function, and effect is one method of clarifying this re-coding of objectives and shifting of priorities. Language of purpose appears to be the concrete intellectual act that defines the particular character of any new empty space, a process observable within Chattanooga's well-documented making of its festival. Purposive terms describe the direction of a journey and not the mode of traveling or description of the expected destination. The following key terms were selected from both the original and revised list of objectives. Re-coded in the categorical grouping below, the terms reveal some underlying distinctions about the nature of this festival theater:
|Intent (purpose)||Function (how)||Effect (result)|
|draw together||cohesive force||improve self-image|
|present arts||elements interact||feel good|
|economic growth||performances||showcase artists|
|festival setting||artistic activity|
|central city publicity|
One conclusion from the positioning of the revised three categories is that a higher level of abstraction is needed to express the purpose, or why the festival is desired, suggesting the possibility of unconscious drives not easily articulated. Second, the re-coded context modifies the original meanings, contradicting festival officials' recurring statements that the objectives were not changed, only the sequence. Third, most objectives reflect results, not process; to specify only effects is to risk unacceptable methods of achieving them. Fourth, the functions describe the theatrical space in which the journey is made without reference to intent or effect. Fifth, a chronological view of these unfolding events reveals the festival's shifting dominant purposes through repeated presence or absence of signifiers. Finally, if, as Bakhtin said, "every meaning will have its homecoming festival," which is a highly visual expression of the forms of meanings, then it is possible to ask: To what kind of home have the meanings of this festival come? Were they welcomed? Were they rejected? Why?
The Element of Purpose
Having examined the intent, ideas, and objectives of two festivals, one originally to be based on the idea of the other, there are some larger conclusions that can be made about festival ideas in general.
The physical nature of the festival theater and the imaginative human mind and will that chooses and fills the empty stage, although important elements in circumscribing its particular empty space, appear to be only two primary forms of several classification systems. The intentions of its creators form another classification category. From this view the theater has been labeled one of "cruelty," absurdity," "essence," "alienation," and so on, generally based on the dramatist's apparent intention. A close examination of the written record from the creative process followed by the Charleston and Chattanooga festival organizers reveals a misunderstanding, often a source of tension, about the subtle differences of goals, methods, and ends--or, in other terms, intentions, functions, and effects.
Brook's view of the "deadly, holy, rough, immediate" theater is grounded on the effect, not just on audience response but on active participation. He says near his conclusion:
...we can see that without an audience there is no goal, no sense. What is an audience? In the French language amongst the different terms for those who watch, for public, for spectator, one word stands out, is different in quality from the rest. `Assistance'--I watch a play: `j' assiste à une pièce. To assist--the word is simple: it is the key. [Brook, The Empty Space 9.]
From this perspective Brook's empty space has not only the three primary elements of director, stage, and actor but also a fourth, an audience of watchers, or, in his precise sense, assisters. For the festival "without an audience there is no goal, no sense."
Festivals can be defined provisionally as an essentially theatrical genre of artistic multi-functional structures composed of context, text, and subtext--artistic in terms of the medium and effect if not necessarily in terms of a more political or social intention. Most traditional literary, semiotic, and structural analyses of artistic works have focused on these three dimensions as separate entities, with the written text receiving emphasis as the primary meaning-making code. However, less attention has been given to the problem posed by the possibility that contexts, such as the court itself, can be the product of the artistic imagination as much as texts, such as the actual masques, and their underlying structural subcodes, or subtexts, such as Prospero's masque. What is most noticeable is that the festival operates, or functions, whether consciously intended or not by its creators and administrators, as a container of signifiers from which any traditional unity of action is often absent at the programming textual level but appears upon careful examination to be present at the contextual level. Within this frame, the founders' intentions shape a signifying practice with a clear unity of action, where the essential structural logic springs from the range of textual differences.
The logic of seemingly incompatible features can be noted in complaints about a festival. A recent history, for example, has reported two seemingly inappropriate elements in Austria's elitist Salzburg Festival, one a carnival atmosphere and the other an anti-festival protest:
In past decades many critics decried Salzburg snobbishness; now they moan about the city's carnival atmosphere brought about by the advent of mass tourism....Most of these tourists will never set foot in a concert--anywhere--but they make life uncomfortable for those who will, and destroy the intimacy and charm which are Salzburg's trump cards....
In Salzburg this protest [in 1971] against the older generation took the form of the creation of an anti-Festival, Die Szene de Jugend, which as its title implies, was aimed at the youth of Salzburg who loved art and despised the bourgeoisie who paid a fortune for their tickets. The anti-Festival took to the streets, put on outdoor plays, operas, dances and poetic recitations...As time went on, the anger of the locals subsided, the Szene became more organized--and inevitably less shocking--and the city began to grant it small subsidies. Ironically, it is now advertised in the brochure of the Festival which it was created to mock.[Steven Gallup, A History of the Salzburg Festival (London: Weidenfeld and Niclolson, 1987) 175, 176-7.]
The idea of an anti-festival, a term some Austrian sources dispute, [Elizabeth Mortimer, "The Salzburg Festival," Austria Today (1979).] emerging within this elitist summer music festival and then becoming advertised in the main festival's brochure makes less aesthetic sense when the festival is seen as a collection of discrete performances than when a larger contextual aesthetic logic is assumed in which the contextual trump cards of charm and intimacy are juxtaposed within a carnivalesque atmosphere.
The possibility of isolating three levels of context, text, and subtext can lead to a new textual interpretation of the many meanings created by emerging, conflicting voices within encrusted performance categories and traditions. The extent of the presence or absence of these voices of difference appears to be the key code determining when a social practice becomes a festival.
Even the word festival itself has powerful meaning. This is seen in its many commercial appropriations for shopping malls, newspaper advertising sections, a used car lot's "festival of values," and even by extremist "festivals of racial, ethnic, and religious heritage." Of deeper interest for this study are the specific elements of the festival theatrical practice that possess such borrowing power. Commercial users may not appreciate the significance of the idea of encouragement of differences that provides the foundation of their commercial exploitation of the practice.
As with any powerful technology, we can wish at times that its nature were a better kept secret; the evidence is clear that Nazi propagandists understood the belief-making power of art and festive spectacle as a form of political theater--a frightenly effective modern "theater of power" when its purpose is revealed:
Without in any way restricting the artistic concept, we may refer to stage and screen as effective instruments of nationalist education. In so doing, we transcend the colorless concept of the "moral institution," which permits extremely free interpretations of esthetics and substance, and depend entirely on the objective to be achieved, because the concepts and principles of ethics are open to argument as long as these ethics are concealed within the folds of a meaningless creation of such concepts. The problem is clearly defined, however, as soon as we designate as good everything which serves the interest of the nation and as harmful everything that is detrimental to that interest.
Dramatic art within its various forms grew out of political needs as in the Greek City State (Polis) or out of devotional needs as in the case of the Greek tragedy, and finally it developed through the desire of the masses for entertainment (comedy). Today, the devotional need of the masses is no longer satisfied by the theater but finds expression in the great devotional mass demonstrations of revolutionary National-Socialism which dominates the picture of our day....
It is certain that under present conditions the theater will continue to depend on financial support and government subsidies. This fact alone opens the way for complete control and planned direction, thereby eliminating the need for actual censorship....
Such achievements place the artist above the politician....He is endowed with the power of awakening, quickening, and actually forming those profound forces which constitute the nation's soul, whereas the calculating politician is merely left to act as guide and leader. [Eugen Hadamaovsky, "Propaganda and National Power," International Propaganda and Communications, introduction by Wilbur Schramm, trans. Alice Mavrogordato and Ilse DeWitt. (New York: Arno Press, 1972) 173-182. First published Oldenburg, Germany, 1933, as a master's thesis.]
|Hadamaovsky was a deputy to Goebbels and dedicated his work "To the master of Political propaganda Dr. Joseph Goebbels whose brilliant leadership transformed the discredited weapon of German politics into a creative art." This document also explains the strategy and tactics of discrediting "liberalism" in such detail that it could have been the "intellectual" basis of George Bush's 1988 campaign battle plan. This thesis deserves new consideration for its insights into the fascist mentality and its goals of unity and sameness and opposition to "differences."|
Images from actual footage of Nazi "devotional mass demonstrations" in Triumph of the Will reach most persons at some deep emotional level. Only by questioning the purpose of such "demonstrations of unity and sameness" can their true functioning be revealed for critical inquiry. It is of more than passing interest to note that the word festival does not appear in this early Nazi document. It was not until the late 1930s that the Nazis appropriated the Salzburg Festival and paraded its "openness" before the world, a dramatic story told in the Sound of Music film and in Gallup's A History of the Salzburg Festival.
Essence of a Festival of Difference
The three crucial elements present in a festival appear to be as fundamental as the red, yellow, and blue that are the primary colors of the visible spectrum. In Charleston, they were:
Purpose: avant-garde showcase of new art, principally performance works
Theaters/stages: Galliard city auditorium, seventeenth- century Dock St. Theater, many other downtown locations--even vacant buildings, some out-of-doors at the College of Charleston, concluding at nearby Middleton Plantation
Artistic director: composer Gian Carlo Menotti
The difference from Chattanooga in purpose, in locations, in the perceived value of an artistic director--all suggest that the initial presence or absence of these particular elements carry the encoded potential for the social construction that could evolve if those energies remained joined to enable the essential imaginative free play associated with festival. The first Chattanooga festival proposal on May 5, 1981, included statements about the city as well as ideas for a festival. It expressed the basic empty space of the community. It is the central (but repressed) document that probably would have led to a festival of differences had it not been for the foundation's intervention in pursuit of its private agenda for community change. The following excerpts from the complete document (author's Riverbend materials) illustrate the relationship of the three elements that even at that time seemed central to the emergence of any significant festival:
[Empty Space]: One of Chattanooga's principal problems is its sociality. Unlike the citizens of many other picturesque cities, Chattanoogans begin a mass exodus from downtown at 3:30 every afternoon. By 6 p.m. the center of the city is virtually deserted. Why? Because very little is happening of interest. The resulting loss of retail and tax dollars is considerable. But beyond the loss in dollars is a loss in community spirit and pride and the loss of a cohesive urban life style and shared interest. By one definition a city is a focus of shared interests and common concerns. A deserted city center is a tangible sign of a citizenry alienated from its city. In short, the potential inherent in Chattanooga's new physical improvements may never take hold if the city remains a social desert. Some have described the Chattanooga community as divided, dispirited, and lacking in broad based social vitality. We think there is some truth to this view. A key missing ingredient is a set of community activities which physically pull people of different stations in life together....
[Purposes]: Learning from the precedents set by Charleston, South Carolina's Spoleto Festival, and Austria's Salzburg music festival, we see no reason not to create Chattanooga's own "celebration of togetherness with diversity" through a quality of first-rate artistic expression that pulls the community together and attracts substantial regional and possibly national interest. In addition to this idea, the celebration could bring together, both traditional and innovative, opera, symphony, dance, theater, film, visual exhibits, regional arts (such as story telling, gospel singing, bluegrass music, etc.)....
We prefer "celebration" rather than "festival" because the former term suggests a specific theme while the latter is more general. A "celebration of togetherness" focuses directly on our main goal, which is to create widespread community participation and to bring diverse ethnic, social, religious, and economic groups together.
[Artistic Director]: Much will depend on the personality and vision of the artistic director. The selection of this individual is the key factor in achieving artistic and financial success. We suggest someone equal in stature to Gian Carlo Menotti, artistic director of Spoleto Festival in Charleston....Rather than attempting to do the work of the artistic director, which involves balancing appropriate programming, availability of guest artists and groups, and budgetary realities, we are attaching a copy of the Spoleto calendar as an example of what is working well now in Charleston and with modification could work here. (Author's Riverbend materials.)
This proposal represents many of the ideas reflected in Charleston's festival that were attempted in Chattanooga's first 1982 festival. It caught the idea of difference, of juxtaposition of genres, of contrasting styles, of the role of the arts as an energy source--not only as an after-dinner mint.
Signs of Festival
Comparative studies are needed to determine the obvious as well as subtle differences in the major arts festivals of the day and their functions performed. A table of such a comparison of the Charleston and Chattanooga festivals, based on many of the points presented in the preceding chapters, suggests a variety of potential conceptual categories, in addition to the three selected for consideration in this analysis. Very few similarities can be noticed (through 1988):
|Leadership||Strong mayor||Weak mayor|
|City Hall role||Active||Passive|
|Funding||More tax dollars||Few tax dollars|
|Revenues||Seat tickets||Outdoor, pins|
|Commercial ads||Low visibility||High visibility|
|Primary goal||Energize city with arts||Cohesiveness|
|Previous festivals||No information||A few efforts|
|Resistance||Private, failed||Private, failed|
|Defense of festival||Mayor, College president||Foundation|
|Crowds||None, last day 6,000||Up to 100,000|
|Programming||Comprehensive, new classical, avant-garde music||Popular, rock, country, some classical music|
|Set formula||Yes in 1988||No in 1988|
|Primary funding||Tickets, grants||Advertisements, pins, donations|
|Emphasis||New art work||Fun, interaction|
|Tourism||High priority||Low priority|
|Popular music role||Balance offerings||Attract crowds|
|Critics reaction||Extremely important||Disregarded|
|Key effect desired||Aesthetic||Social, economic|
|Replace key person||Difficult||Not difficult|
|Overall purpose||Artistic excellence||Riverfront boost|
|Source of vision||Gian Carlo Menotti||Conflicting|
|Estimated 1988 budget||$4 million||$1.6 million|
|Policy dominance||Board, artistic director||Board, foundation|
|Other art forms||All||Token of types|
|Chamber music||Major; sponsored||Minor|
|Symbol of town||Yes||Yes|
|Future changes||Artistic leadership||New locations|
|Previous model||Spoleto, Italy||Spoleto, U.S.A.|
|Poster type||Different each year||Basically the same|
The poster category generated the greatest contrast of meanings between Spoleto Festival U.S.A. and the Riverbend Festival. Differences in the two cities' festival poster philosophy signifies a dramatic example of the meaning intended by difference and sameness in these two festivals. On the wall of the Riverbend office in 1988 were all the posters from the beginning--all a similar basic graphic design of stars and sweeping curves, somewhat modified each year but constant in their graphic symbolism of sameness. It was not until 1989 that a new poster theme of mountain and river evolved.
Spoleto Festival U.S.A., on the other hand, has had a different artist each year, an artist of international reputation, create a poster. Most have been nonrepresentational, and no two are alike except that they are all different and unpredictable. An exhibition of works of the chosen artist is presented during each festival in Charleston's fine arts museum. No other element signifies the idea of diversity more vividly than this. It is not that the Riverbend posters are unattractive; rather that until 1989 they were predictable and unlikely to differ, a significant variation from the spirit of differences found in typical festival practice. It is highly probable, however, that with the graphic pattern now broken, a continuing variation of the mountain and river symbolism could evolve toward original art works that express the uniqueness of the Chattanooga topography as well as the focus on riverfront development.
A second key signifier is the "token for admission to the magical space," which, if it were a device in a folktale, might have been Propp's way of describing the Riverbend pin's function. The Riverbend office has all the pins, and the varieties of official pins, from their first use in the 1983 festival, mounted on an inner office wall. About one-half of the mounting board is filled, leaving room for many years of pins. The pins also are virtually the same, somewhat modified so they can not be used again, but lacking any sign of imaginative design.
This pin collection, like the poster collection, represents an idea of festival dramatically different from the Spoleto pin that "pilgrims" purchase in the Dock Street Theater lobby as a reminder of the Charleston festival experience. This 1988 pin has a metal treble clef signature sign over the Spoleto name; it is an interesting piece of art.
The Riverbend pin is the most significant signifier in this very complex semiotic web. It is the device by which an increasingly important percentage of the budget is being exploited for psychological effect. When the organizers were discussing alternative methods for financing the festival, they were confronted with a short-term as well as a three-year deadline on funding assistance from the Lyndhurst Foundation. It did not seem fair to begin something with no more than slight hope of its continuation if no more grant money were available. They searched for an alternative to the model of the expensive, limited seating observed in the examples of Charleston and Salzburg.
While we were searching in 1981 for alternative revenue sources, it occurred to me that in an outdoor festival one has a basically unlimited commodity in that the same product, seats--places for viewing--can be sold again and again in varying densities during a festival of several days. With aggressive marketing, a ticket card for the entire period could be sold for perhaps $10 to a hundred thousand people. This could create a budget of a million dollars, and much innovative, original work in indoor and unique venues could be fostered without dependence on the unpredictable whims of wealthy patrons or advertising.
The Riverbend pin signifies more than a mere pass for cheap entertainment and a week of beer and wine drinking and motorboat racing. One of my pins is ceramic instead of plastic; it was given to me by a board member, Sam Robinson, who was one of the early "dreamers." Robinson has been active and valuable as legal council and political adviser since the festival's beginning; he has in fact kept parts of the original dream alive, although we have had long arguments about the particular parts, such as cohesion, that he supported by ranking them uppermost during our small group session at the final seminar in 1981. He explained that only VIPs, staff, and board members are given the more costly pin, and that it was inexcusable that I had not been given one every year.
The gesture was appreciated, and when I used the official ceramic entrance pin in 1988, my experience of feeling set off from ordinary pin wearers was much like the first day of wearing the gold bars of an Air Force second lieutenant. Feeling like one of the in-group again, I ran into the new festival president, Margaret Culpepper, one afternoon on the crowded promenade and introduced myself, saying I was happy to see the festival had solved some of the location problems from its early years and that I had never imagined when I was the president of the organizing group that the city's river park would attract so many people. She said she was glad to meet me, but said that the only name she knew from the beginning was a Walker Breland who had been the first president. The shiny official pin lost some of its luster after that encounter; time quickly erases the tracks of pilgrims to its festivals, and I sense that regular festival devotionals are obligatory for the select.
This idea was not accepted by the organizers the first year, although considerable private discussion was held concerning the concept and its implications. However, the second year the new board decided to sell plastic lapel pins for approximately $5 each. The remarkable nature of that choice is that these were not placed in every possible outlet for sale. The board, led by a former conservative politician and successful businessman (Jack McDonald), decided to persuade local companies to buy quantities of these pins at a reduced rate. These employers, as a good will gesture, could in turn donate the pins to their employees or sell them at a reduced rate. According to the announcement in the May 24, 1986, Chattanooga Times: "Promoters, announcing the schedule for this year's riverfront festival has been finalized, said more than 300 Chattanooga-area companies are expected to purchase admission pins for employees before corporate sales end May 29."
What Chattanooga had was a potentially free and open semiotic entity once again captured by the patron approach to the arts, as opposed to a consumer arts orientation. The Riverbend pin is a prime symbol of the deep structure Southern plantation mentality that retains control of the workforce. No more powerful signifier of the ordering of social relationships exists than the three-starred plastic pins that grateful employees wear to the ten-day festival.
The donation of pins by employers to Chattanooga festival goers can be seen as an aesthetically repressive device in its effects if not in its intentions. If point-of-purchase pin containers, similar to the cardboard holders seen in supermarkets, were located in the many purchasing locations throughout the community and region, revenues could double or triple the festival's budget. Possibly the festival would not have required heavy commercial advertising, foundation funding, or even tax dollars. The additional income could extend Riverbend's time by several weeks or even months as in some summer-long festivals. It could generate several million dollars flowing through the community, a significant economic multiplier effect greater than those mentioned by Colin Sturm.
This is the effect that could create more work for artists, if the festival sponsors and leaders were interested in attaining that objective. Yet the solution of one problem often creates new problems; careful research in simultaneous scheduling should be conducted before such a policy is undertaken. Excessive attendance at some events would be one danger, as has occurred at one Riverbend Festival during the Pointer Sisters' appearance, which was attended by a crowd estimated at 50,000 in a fenced area much too small for safety. The area was enlarged after that episode.
2001, the pins had become collectors items, according to a story
about a collector in the June 15, 2001 Chattanooga Times News-Free Press.
Jan Galleta's article noted that Irby Park, a Riverbend regular from the first
one and former reporter, "never considered himself a collector of Riverbend kitsch until, in a fit of spring cleaning, he was making his drawers neat as a pin and found -- pins. There was one for every year from 1983, when festival organizers initiated the little fasten-on admission badges. He had duplicates of most.
...Mounted and framed, the array runs the gamut from the earliest pins with swirling, river-wave designs to later circle-shaped emblems with fireworks and stars. Among the most eye-catching is a collection within the collection: The four different-colored triangles that were used in 1985.
"This year's design, which boasts a guitar with comet detail, includes a commemorative message reminding wearers that this is Riverbend's "20th Anniversary.'' It's the creative handiwork of Lee Heidel, who has been the festival's official pin-and-poster designer since 1986....
"The Riverbend pins are mere plastic. But with time, they have earned a niche in the collectors market, according to Mr. Park.
"They (the Friends of the Festival organizers) had a pin-valuation chart a couple of years ago, and I wrote down the estimated prices,'' he said. According to his chart, the first Riverbend pin fetches from $80-$100. At $60, second-priciest is 1984's triple-wave pin in red, blue and white. But the chart suggests that even the most recent year's renditions are worth $20, if only a buyer can be found....Mr. Park said he isn't interested in selling his souvenir pins either. What's more, he doesn't plan on displaying any beyond next year's model. "I'm stopping the pin display in 2002,'' he said. "Twenty is plenty.'''
The cover of Riverbend's first program pictured the fantasy of local sculptor James Collins, an air sculpture called "Confetti Fingers." Its helium-filled slender balloon fingers swirled and gyrated hundreds of feet above the riverfront festival site--like an open hand welcoming everything in the universe--waiting to be cut loose at the final ceremonies. Fearing a flight safety hazard, the Federal Aviation Authority refused permission for it be cut from its moorings and let loose into the sky, and no amount of persuading would change their ruling. "Confetti Fingers," like later Riverbends, did not "fly," but, as often happened, the organizers turned another problem into an opportunity. The giant air sculpture was cut up into pieces for children to carry home as reminders of the first Riverbend.
After that theatrical chimera that was the first Riverbend, the spirit of aesthetic risk-taking diminished, although belief in the power of the festival to achieve commercial effects increased. Recent Riverbends have included little of those exciting first two years--no experimental sculpture, new drama, original ballet, film festivals, juried arts exhibits, or related fringe activities. The last original musical composition apparently was in 1985.
Fourth, the spatial arrangement of theatrical spaces are semiotic markers that differentiate Charleston's and Chattanooga's festival philosophies. After its first year, Chattanooga's Riverbend expanded its activities to include motorboat races on the river (against strong objections by several of the original organizers). Any popular event, such as a triathlon and charity runs, could be included under the Riverbend sponsorship umbrella if it promoted riverfront development.
From the beginning, this focus on the riverfront took a peculiar course. The first year the symphony played several water theme compositions (such as Handel's "Water Music") for the tired spectators waiting on the final night to hear pop singer Roberta Flack. The orchestra, however, was located about 50 feet away from the nearest listener, on a barge tied to the riverpark bank, and the audience could not hear the mostly soft music because of a failed sound system. Another event proposed by horse lovers in 1983 was a three-day event: equitation, cross-country, and stadium jumping. This was rejected because there was no room for it at the river park site and because it would diffuse the riverfront focus. That was the same argument several leaders of the traditional arts establishment had used against having the festival when the idea first surfaced the previous spring.
Meaning through spatial arrangement, therefore, is communicated on a variety of levels in these festivals and the multi-sensory models of relationships that they present to participants. To participate with an audience of 100,000 jammed and packed into the relatively small space at the Riverfront Park is to feel the crowd, the diminishment of the individual. To be in a small acoustic space, such as the Charleston's Dock Street Theater or Chattanooga's Tivoli Theater lobby or Chattanooga Choo Choo convention theater entrance hall, with a chamber quartet playing classical or jazz music, is to be in intimate contact with the artists and other members of the audience. Such use of space is a "world" of "difference."
Chattanooga's festival is young by the standards of significant town festivals. It grew out of the private leadership's belief in an organic heritage versus an imported arts festival in a narrow logic that concluded the city's town festival should be no more than what local people could create or buy. What happened from the original vision of the Riverbend Festival to its evolvement over seven years was that a formula of popular entertainers on each night, much like the Five Nights event, had been found successful in drawing massive crowds to the riverfront, where intense economic development was planned by investors. This created a commercial medium for advertisers and sponsors. It met the goals of commercial development for individual property owners while neglecting other aesthetic possibilities.
In contrast with Charleston and Salzburg, which certainly experienced increased property values, Chattanooga's festival practice represents an excessive subordination of arts and artists to the needs of industrial development. The international festival models that could have been expected, on a smaller scale, to open up Chattanooga to change, and to a climate in which new forms of art would be welcomed and encouraged, were lost in the "rush to the bank" in an overemphasis on the commercial objective originally set forth. The lack of an artistic director to offset these natural capitalistic tendencies to focus on financial growth, given the market-creating power of the festival medium, can be offered as one explanation. At a deeper structural level is an exploitative pattern of the way in which the arts and artists are regarded in this and probably other similar communities.
In Chattanooga, the work of the artist--instead of being respected as an end, a peak of human achievement, a pinnacle of success for civilization--is regarded as a means to the ends of the business structure. It is expected that the presence of a local ballet company, for example, will help bring a Japanese bulldozer manufacturer, such as Komatsu, to town. Apparently, it is not in the community leadership's consciousness or awareness that, if a Japanese bulldozer firm, or any other new business, opens a manufacturing plant in the city, then the added human and financial resources could contribute to more and better ballet. That is to say, Chattanooga's current leaders believe in ballet for bulldozers, not bulldozers for ballet; music for money, not money for music; art for work, not work for art. The present conception of the Riverbend Festival may very well be a necessary stage through which a town arts festival passes, although the example of Charleston suggests otherwise if visionary outside intervention occurs and if a broader view of art and artists is presented to the community by its public and private leaders.
A festival's function as a distorting mirror in times past, and now in modern towns and cities, can be paramount if not consciously checked and guarded against. One justified fear is that the current model of the arts that Riverbend now represents in relationship to the community is unlikely to receive any further innovative direction or restructuring without the presence of an influential and strong artistic director along with a board more sensitive to broader aspects of a town arts festival. However, there continue to be within the festival, depending on one's viewpoint, small signs of new growth, or tokenism, such as the continuing chamber music series that receives modest funding (it lacked a commercial sponsor in 1988). Such seeds from Charleston's festival of differences remain within Chattanooga's festival, waiting for a nurturing environment.
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