As key actors and platforms in the production, distribution and consumption of arts and culture, festivals play an important role in society. Diverse and flexible, festivals are assigned with multiple roles in cultural policies, and expected to deliver manifold impacts. In recent festival research, social dimensions have received increasing interest. However, researchers have problems in translating the current knowledge of festivals and their potential to create social sustainability into concepts and recommendations that might assist policymakers.
Positioning festivals to their networked production context, the purpose of this study is to sketch an idea how to examine the social sustainability of festivals in their regions. Recognising the overall value of participation in the festival context, this study examines how and why social sustainability resulting from the interaction occurs in the mechanisms and practices of the networked festival productions. And moreover, how the observed social impacts might indicate social sustainability in terms of accessibility, inclusion and participation (see MinEdC Strategy for Cultural Policy 2025).
Our paper draws on a study commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture on the impacts of the 16 major festivals under its subsidy in 2018. We carried out a questionnaire on the festival organizers, and here we set the goal statements and self-evaluated impacts of festivals against the effectiveness target areas defined in the Strategy for Cultural Policy namely creative work and production, inclusion and participation in arts and culture, and cultural basis and continuity.
Our findings suggest, that as a way of producing arts, festivals can through their activities serve various goals of cultural policy in terms of accessibility, inclusion and participation with different emphases. From social sustainability perspective the events offer citizens ways to participate in arts and culture and access to the supply of arts and culture. Festivals involve audience to the festival productions by variety of methods as co-producers and as co-creators. Additionally, festivals provide job opportunities for artists and create conditions for local business due to their network-based production structures.