Taken from The List (May 02, 2019)
How WOMAD built a global community around its festival
WOMAD Festival Director explains how their community has grown and evolved over nearly four decades
by Sofia Matias
Credit: Victor Frankowski
With summer comes the height of the festival season, and in many cases it is a fleeting affair. People travel to the festival location, they enjoy themselves, and then they go back home, phones and minds filled with memories to look back on. As much as attending a festival can be a great idea for a holiday and experience, some festivals aim to create a tight-knit community around them, to last throughout the years.
WOMAD: The World's Festival has been doing exactly that for nearly 40 years. More than just your typical commercial music festival, WOMAD brings together talent from all over the world to share their passions, whether they be music, art, spoken word, or even food. In its goal of uniting people over shared interests, regardless of race or nationality, WOMAD runs festivals across 27 countries, but its soul remains the same wherever it goes. Chris Smith, WOMAD Festival Director, tells us about their work towards global inclusivity and cultural exchange.
WOMAD has iterations as far as Chile and New Zealand. How do the different communities you nurture across the world vary, and how do they come together?
Over 37 years, WOMAD has produced over 150 festivals in 27 countries; during this time we have worked with many different communities which all have their own similarities and differences. However, what we all have in common is a sense of inclusivity and tolerance which is a core principle of the WOMAD movement. It's these values which bring us together and give each WOMAD a cohesiveness, regardless of the country.
WOMAD has been running since 1982. How has your community grown since then?
WOMAD has become a huge family across the world which we are very proud of. Especially at the UK festival, we now have an amazing intergenerational mix from audience members that were there at the start and now bring their children and often grandchildren to the festival. Having families at the festival across three or even four generations creates a very special vibe which is hard to find anywhere else.
How do you approach nurturing your community and helping it flourish?
We do not provide a full production team for all of our festivals around the world and instead work with local teams. This creates strong communities that are in tune to the local environment, so that we can offer the best festival we can for the area it's in.
Your festival focuses on 'promoting cultural awareness and tolerance'. Does having a close-knit community built around the festival make that easier to achieve? What challenges to that are you still facing?
It does help that we have a very loyal following, although when your key goal is to facilitate cultural exchange and foster tolerance and inclusivity, it speaks for itself. The job is never finished however, and especially in recent years with an emergence of far-right politics, we have never felt so relevant. In the words of our founder Peter Gabriel, 'WOMAD, the World music festival that I founded with some friends in 1980, was established to celebrate the richness and magic of all our cultural differences and to demonstrate the stupidity of racism.'
How does using Eventbrite help you manage your festival and provide your community with a quality service?
Our partnership with Eventbrite has been great and we love using their ticketing software. We are a very data-driven company and alongside lots of useful functions, Eventbrite offer a great analytics dashboard. We use this with other digital statistics to make sure we are offering the best service we can to our customers.
Has Eventbrite helped with the growth of your festival, and/or with the way in which you interact with festival goers?
We used to handle all of our own ticketing which was a big task. As the festival has grown organically we love having a leading expert looking after our ticketing needs.
WOMAD: The World's Festival, Charlton Park, Thu 25-Sun 28 Jul.
WOMAD: The World's Festival
A four-day event of world music, workshops, stalls, comedy, art and talks. 2019's lineup includes Ziggy Marley, Macy Gray, Anna Calvi, Salif Keita and many, many more.