Dragan Klaic (1950-2011), RIP

dragan_klaic_by_robin_van_der_kaaVery sad news. The cultural analyst and theatre scholar Dragan Klaic has passed away at age 61. I knew him as a host with the most. He was also perhaps the most freakishly productive person I ever met. Yet he always had time to answer any silly questions that this Canadian boy had about ‘Europe’. During his memorial at Amsterdam’s Felix Meritis this past Sunday, a video compilation was screened. In one clip, he was particularly hilarious as he mocked populist politicians who imagine a loss of national identity through outside forces. ‘Identity is not something you can lose! It’s not like a wallet or a shoe!’ Below is an interview I did with him a few years back that aspired to capture his bouncy brain in action. It doesn’t do him justice.



The FSTVLisation of everyday life
Amsterdam Weekly, 31 May 2007
By Steve Korver, Illustration by Robin van der Kaa

There’s one incontrovertible explanation for the explosion in the number of festivals over recent years: festivals can be fun and people like to have fun.

Amsterdam-based cultural analyst and theatre scholar Dragan Klaic, however, has a deeper view. Among his many activities as a Central European intellectual type — lecturing here, leading discussion groups there — he is chairman of the European Festival Research Project (EFRP), and plans to lead a workgroup at the University of Leiden’s Faculty of Creative and Performing Arts to research what he calls the ‘festivalisation of everyday life’.

In short: he’s a festival professor.

‘While it may seem that a festival is running every weekend, it’s a bit of an illusion,’ observes Klaic. ‘Many are one-off affairs with no aim to achieve continuity. They are called “festivals” out of fundraising or marketing opportunism. They take, for example, four separate events in one week, and prop them up under the festival banner with an English-language name and go: “Look! We’re not business as usual!”

‘Of the true festivals—ones that seek a certain, usually annual, continuity—there are three basic types: very commercial ones, crowd-gathering events inspired by someone who wants to make a buck; then there are festivals as identity celebration, where a specific community wants to show that they are here, and will always be here, selling cookies, or showing off costumes or traditions; then there are festivals driven by an artistic agenda: they often have an international component, and inevitably need some sort of public support and funding. This is the type I concern myself with.’

Klaic’s findings may disappoint both organisers and politicians, who use festivals as a way of boosting image — and tourist numbers. ‘Cities increasingly see festivals as having a positive economic impact. But this is simply not true. Only very few artistic-based festivals can generate any real economic impact for a city. Edinburgh… yes. Avignon… yes. Holland Festival… perhaps. But most don’t. Politicians want to see money made and so the city festival organisers tell them that that is exactly what festivals are doing. A lot of these economic impact studies of specific festivals are pre-cooked and pre-determined in their conclusions—not exactly reliable in their methodology.’

The idea that festivals can promote a sense of community may also be partly a myth: ‘This is exactly what we must research more,’ says Klaic. ‘Just because different peoples are brought together in the same space for a few hours doesn’t mean that this adds anything to social cohesion. Of course, since politicians are always talking about social cohesion, the organisers say that festivals help in order to get funding. Like economic impact, this belongs in the wishful thinking department.

‘But we do know that festivals can achieve cohesion on another level and that’s very interesting. They can work as a platform of cooperation to create or strengthen ties between existing cultural operators who are usually too busy with their standard bickering and competition for public subsidy and exposure. A festival can allow them to see the advantages of cooperating as well.

‘In addition, these artistically driven festivals are enriching the European cultural space. While they are not a symbol of “European culture”—because that doesn’t exist—they are connecting different cultural expressions. They are enhancing this emerging European cultural space which is divergent, dynamic, polyphonic and, hopefully, inclusive. And in that sense, festivals are contributing to a sense of European citizenship — by enriching what we know and what we think about our fellow Europeans and thereby, hopefully, going beyond the usual prejudices, stereotypes and embarrassing ignorance.’

But Klaic remains disappointed about how few European cities and countries have actual festival policies. ‘Why do we want festivals? Which ones should be funded? And with what objective? Based on what criteria? A city might have ten festivals in a year and they will all ask for money, and then ask: “Why don’t I get more?” And what does the city base its generosity on? Habit? Tradition? Personal hobbies?’

Klaic pauses for effect before continuing: ‘So this must be articulated, and that is why the EFRP is coming up with recommendations on how public authorities can set up their own policy to deal with these competing demands for funding.’

And how does Amsterdam rate in the festival department? ‘Since Amsterdam has such a regular flow of cultural output throughout the year, it’s harder to say anything about the impact of festivals. But Amsterdam’s cultural operators can always more fully realise that festivals are an opportunity for collaboration. You can see now when cultural operators come together, like in Groningen, some interesting formulas can be developed that actually do change the position of the city. The number of visitors, type of visitor, economic impact have all changed in Groningen thanks to the Diaghilev Festival, a one-shot event taking this Russian impresario as the emblem for the avant-garde arts of the 1920s. And since the cultural organisations all worked together, they could get extra money, extra sponsors, money from both the city and the province and come up with a quite ambitious package. In a way, they actually improved Groningen’s image as a juicier, more appealing, city.’

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Posted in Uncategorized 9 years, 11 months ago at 1:45 pm.

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