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Festival Management: From ravers to refugees

Festivals are in the news at the moment, and not just because of the music. Following on from scenes of abandoned tents and other ‘rubbish’ at Reading and….., we hear about participants being trapped at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert. By mud. Apparently there was no scenario planning for the event of rain, so now people are being told to conserve food and water to get them through the days stuck in the mud.

Festivals have always been expanding their roles as spaces for music and entertainment. Now they are also seen as an answer to a host of social, economic and cultural problems. Most attention is paid to their ability to attract spending and support jobs, but now attention is also being paid to the possibility of using festivals as flexible housing spaces. We have long been used to festival camping, and the more recent growth of glamping and mobile hostels.


Festival organisers have also been asked by organisations like the Red Cross to help out in disaster zones. The ability of festivals to create ‘mini-cities’ in a few days is a useful skill when thousands are made homeless by an earthquake or flooding. In Ireland, they have gone a step further by using the site of the country’s largest music festival as refugee housing. The Electric Picnic Festival, which attracted 70,000 festival-goers from 1 — 3 September, will become home for around 750 Ukrainian refugees for the next six weeks. The site in County Laois will help to deal with the continuing stream of refugees, now estimated to be around 500 a week. The advantage of using a festival site, of course, is that everything is already set up to deal with large numbers of people. For the owners it also makes sense to generate extended income from the site. At least

the re-use of the site should help to prevent scenes like those at Reading and Leeds festivals recently, where as usual thousands of tents and sleeping bags were simply left behind at the end of the event. With refugees turning up soon at the Electric Picnic site, there is a chance that such material will get recycled.


In the Netherlands Open House has been developing other ways to use festivals as testing grounds, offering opportunities to pilot new ideas in real life situations. They see a festival as a miniature city, “with its own infrastructure, people, energy sources, line of supplies and logistics, technology that is invented for the event industry can be adapted”. The adaptations include the refugee camps run by the Red Cross worldwide.

What on earth have a festival and a refugee camp in common? At first glance, presumably nothing. But if you think of it a bit longer, you will probably see that there are definitely similarities. Both are temporarily build to host a large amount of people. So both places need an infrastructure that support these people and logistics, sanitation, a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to charge a phone and maybe even a place to call home, even though it is transitory. Both a festival and a refugee camp are build to function as a miniature city. And therefore we believe that technology that’s invented for the event industry, can be easily adapted to work at a refugee camp as well.




Experiments with innovative energy solutions to replace diesel generators were carried out at the Mysteryland festival in 2016 and 2017, trialling the use of solar panels. These innovations can also be deployed in disaster zones, where a rapid roll-out is essential and where power supply is often an issue. Hopefully such programmes can increase the sustainability of such large scale events.

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