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FestForward Magazine: back to the future

Creative Informatics researcher Vikki Jones reflects on the July 2030 edition of the fictional, speculative FestForward Magazine, published last year as part of a Creative Horizon research project

In August 2022, Creative Informatics published the output from our Creative Horizon 3 research project, FestForward Magazine, a fictional, speculative cultural magazine, which is envisioned as Scotland’s leading cultural publication in 2030. Our aim and our hope was, and is, that the magazine and the methods we used to make it offer a creative and engaging way to start conversations about possible and preferable festival futures – for festivals and those who work with them, but also for policymakers, funders and other academics in this space.

A ticket with the words 'festival futures now'

The magazine was developed by Creative Informatics researchers Vikki Jones, Chris Elsden and Ingi Helgason, and designed in partnership with Glasgow-based futures design researchers, Andthen. All the content was based on interviews and workshops with people working in the festivals sector in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland region and explored the question of how digital technologies and data-driven innovation might support equitable and sustainable festivals in 2030.

Reflecting on the making and the content of the magazine one year on, some of the technologies we envisioned would be in use by 2030 are in fact very much with us. Our AI-powered scriptwriting software – Culture.ai – imaginary in particular is very much in the world of 2023. And Creative AI is rapidly becoming a developing tool in the creative industries, as reflected in Creative Informatics’ AHRC-funded Creative AI Demonstrator project, which explores the potential of AI – the opportunities, as well as the challenges.

Other ideas developed align with ongoing public conversations about data – what we are prepared to or left with little option not to give away, and the value we receive as a result. Or is there, and could there ever be, an algorithm that could account for the opportunity festivals offer to attend an event that is outside what you might usually choose? What data from other areas of your life would you be comfortable providing to a data-driven system to find it?

Exploring the opportunities and value of data-driven innovation for the creative industries is at the heart of the Creative Informatics programme and FestForward explores the possibilities for the principles and practices of data collection, sharing and analysis. Through the lens of cultural work, which is one of the key themes of this research, we envisioned the role of an independent Festivals Data Custodian and considered the impact of a collaborative data-driven approach for festivals in the region.

By 2030, FestForward imagines, cultural work will become more and more mediated and performed through platforms. The magazine explores a ‘day in the life’ of a freelance festival platform worker, and a cultural influencer, to highlight the nature of platform work in the festivals and performance sector that, in a contemporary context, is perhaps more closely associated with other digital media. This trend, we envision in FestForward, has led to a collective response from workers to form the Cultural Platform Labourers Union, which tracks the working time and conditions of its members. A planned strike in July and August 2030 seeks to expose unequal opportunities and access to cultural work in the sector. This idea reflects research and public discourse around this issue happening now, as discussed at Creative Informatics’ Festival Futures Lab event based on this research in April 2023, and Morvern Cunningham’s recent pamphlet, Back to the Future.

Digital technologies and data don’t just support festivals and events, they are ways to produce, present and mediate performance. In a contemporary context, festival programmes have begun to return to formats and sizes that resemble pre-pandemic norms, and it can feel as though some of the expanded notions of the potential of digital and data-driven performances that COVID-19 lockdowns necessitated have been set aside. However, the near future scenarios laid out in FestForward imagine a steadier evolution of perceptions of the value of digital and hybrid performances in the run-up to 2030 that bring back more of these experiences, as well as new and nuanced concepts of digital liveness, which are also discussed during the Festival Futures Lab.

Thinking about economic value and value exchange at and through festivals, FestForward imagines a festivals currency, Fe$toons, which offers users rewards for joining and using the currency platform to support local and independent businesses. In this imaginary, we explored the idea of a creative transaction beyond the ticket and through the multiple intersecting experiences and economies that operate in a festival landscape. Using Fe$toons at festivals in 2030 offers rewards in economic terms, through discounted tickets and other offers, but also explores experiential transactions where holders can earn Fe$toons for certain types of participation, from making carbon savings in their travel, to sharing content about a show on social media.

FestForward is still available to download at festforward.org and the team at Creative Informatics would still love to hear about the equitable and sustainable digital festival futures you want to see!