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Small and local

Chloe Goodyear describes a touring program that recognises and builds on local arts infrastructure...

The Festival of Small Halls Australia is based on an idea from Prince Edward Island, Canada, where communities host traditional musicians in halls during Summer. The galvanization of one of their less ‘industrial’ industries (music, rather than fishing or farming) has helped to inject new life into these old buildings and the communities who own them, and become a key event in their tourism calendar.

The commonalities of abandoned infrastructure, quality music and community spirit prompted Queensland Folk Federation (producers of the Woodford Folk Festival) to adapt the model to work in territory with our remote communities which are set across a territory some 1000 times larger than Prince Edward Island. We want to do our part in ensuring quality music makes its way beyond the Great Divide and to work with communities to demonstrate that their venues are viable  venues for presenting music.

One local and one international artist are sent on a month long regional tour bookended by two major festivals, travelling with a tour and production manager and all gear so that they can present in any Hall. We partner with the local community via Councils or other local groups to deliver the event on the ground. A local group hosts a supper (and bar, if desired) from which they retain all earnings; there are workshops on offer and the locals can add other activities to support the evening – night markets, children’s events, local talent on the bill, etc. – which many did in their first year.

In planning, we undertook a solid recce tour and workshopped the model with Queensland Music Festival and Local Government Association of Queensland and chatted with local Councils. Our inaugural tour rolled out in 2013 between Mullumbimby Music Festival (NSW) and Woodford and visited 16 towns in Queensland. A great strength of the model is that communities invite us in, and our commitment to sending the tours through annually makes the work that goes into breaking ground on that first event worthwhile for all of us.

The feedback from towns we visited has been really wonderful. 77% of patrons said that they would definitely attend the next Small Halls event held in their region, 90% said that they would be likely to attend more than one Small Halls event in their region in a year, 80% said that they would recommend the event to others in their community, and, of definite interest to other presenters and producers, 80% said that the Festival of Small Halls had made them interested in attending other musical events held in the region.

However, we have come out with a few new mottos – ‘enthusiasm is not a contract’, ‘don’t pit yourself against time’, ‘don’t modify the model’. Newspaper advertising is still essential in regional areas. There’s heavy consultation and communication in the placement and delivery of the shows, which means that the contact is key.

The tours will roll out in most areas of Australia over the next three years with support we’ve received from funding bodies and philanthropic organisations, our partner festivals, and the huge amount of work put in by communities in our first tour to make it work so beautifully.  Folks in our new locations have been enthusiastic supporters  and we look forward to a long association with the Halls and their communities.

Chloe Goodyear is Head of Programming for the Woodford Folk Festival, and the Producer of the Festival of Small Halls within the Festival’s Creative Partnerships programs.