I love This Is Not Art. Way more than you do. (You can see previous love letters here and here.) I haven’t missed a year since I came for the first time in 2003. I worked on the festival in 2004 and 2005. It was super fun and having it on my CV has gotten me a couple of excellent jobs that, like, paid me money and everything. This year, the panels and performances I’ve been to have been uniformly outstanding. The programming this year is really interesting and engaging. I’m having a great, thought-provoking, inspiring time.
A few things about this year’s festival are bothering me though.
There are a couple of things threatening the cohesion of the event. Firstly, the festivals that make up TINA started being called “sub-festivals” in the last year or two. I don’t know why and I don’t know who started it but I think it’s destructive. TINA was created to bring people with different interests together to accidentally get interested in each other’s stuff. Cross pollination is harder when you start segregating the breeds of plants.
Originally, the parts of TINA—which are currently the National Young Writers Festival, Electrofringe, Critical Animals and Crack Theatre Festival—were called “festivals” and TINA was the umbrella term for the collective. Now TINA is the festival and the festivals are subordinate. It might sound like hair splitting, but I think it reflects that a hierarchical mindset has appeared behind a festival that was born out of and has always been run by a collective; a subjugation and somehow lessening of the importance of each festival; and a desire to isolate the festivals from each other.
You can also see a move towards isolation in this year’s printed program. Artist bios are split into sections for the different festivals. So each artist or speaker who is here is only here for one part of the festival. It shows a lack of cross-over which is completely artificial compared with the way artists actually work. It could also point to a lack of coordination between the festivals.
It also sits oddly next to the events section of the program where, as always, the events are just shown as events with no identifiers for which of the festivals they are part of. This is in keeping with half of the point of TINA which is to make it easy for people to experience art and ideas they would be unlikely to seek out on their own. I will be crossing my fingers all year that next year’s program won’t have segregated events as well.
TINA is supposed to be messy. Punters aren’t really supposed to know what they’re getting themselves into. So someone might come because they’re interested in NYWF and find themselves reading the program and finding a whole bunch of events that they’re interested in that are actually part of Critical Animals or Electrofringe. They engage with things they would never be drawn to unless they co-existed seamlessly with a writers’ festival. Gradual festival apartheid won’t be doing anyone any favours.
I don’t think I’m just some old hack croaking “back in my day we did things proper-like”. I have no opinion on specific events or themes for programming or whatever. But there are some central ideas that are the reason for TINA existing and some of them are being lost.
And I don’t mean to denigrate the work of the festival coordinators. Programming and running a festival is an epic job and not one that I can ever see myself signing up to do. TINA coordinating is a volunteer gig which makes it even tougher. I’d just like my next decade of TINA to be as awesome as the first.