Lost and Found Festival

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There is a little idea running around in my head and I need to let it go for a little walk inside your heads. Sorry for the trouble this may cause you.

Here is the question.

Is a truly zero-cost, zero-emission, big arts festival possible?

Could we make a festival that is literally made from only "lost and found" items?

Here's the breakdown in friendly bullet points:

  • No money can be spent on the festival, so everything including venues, equipment, etc has to be "found".
  • No money can be spent on the artists, so no transportation costs (hitch), no food costs (dumpster) and absolutely no lodging cost (hospex)*.
  • All art has to be "found" (CC) or created free. I'm thinking music, visual arts, theatre, etc, but see my next point.
  • Self-organisational. You know the drill: wiki's, world café's and similar techniques to avoid having anyone "in charge". This of course implies that what is defined as art might get a bit exciting.

But, here's the catch: I would want it to look good. You can probably imagine the kind of messy thing it could become without the proper attitude. As a guideline, I would say it has to be for the truly general audience, not just our peers. Ideally, a typical visitor shouldn't realize everything was "found" until it is pointed out. From a volunteer/artist point of view, it's pretty hard work, so workaholics only?

It would be a statement about waste and recycling, about free culture, about self-organisational possibilities and last but not least about the possibility of beauty in such an environment.

Thoughts on practical issues (I'm sure I'm missing something):

  • Location? I'd say a city with a lot of "abundance" and a relative tolerance for free culture. Not too big, definitely not too small. Antwerp is a possibility (of course!), as is Brussels, Amsterdam or Paris. We need to look for a "vacuum", a place where there is no big festival for the preferred period? Think of an "anti-burning man" place: where everything is already theoretically present and nothing needs to be dragged in.
  • Timing? My guestimation is that you'd need 3 weeks to get things together on location (especially theatre and visual arts need that kind of time), with about a week of performances after. Keep in mind we definitely need people that can hold a job and therefor would need to take time off. Summer period is better? This year or next year? Next year would provide quite a "ramp-up" period, which might result in a bigger bang.

In theory, once the project is defined and people agree to it, it should be virtually unstoppable (unless nobody shows up of course).

Disclaimer: some of us have been kicking the idea of an arts festival around for a while already, I believe to just have added some missing megalomania. As far as I could find, there is nothing truly like this in the world. And, as far as I know, we are the people that could pull this off.

Whaddayathink? Thomas

  • Of course the usual caveat applies, meaning volunteers may of course spend money should they feel like it. Forcing dogma is never a good option and beer is difficult to find for free.

Let me see if I can tie some threads together here.

Zero-cost is indeed an interesting thing to define, but... I believe the main point is not so much to not use money, but to only use the "left-overs", by-products of our society. Think of empty buildings, empty passenger seats, thrown away food, equipment that is not being used, time that people sit in front of TV, etc. In theory, if we truly find left-over money (hah!), I guess that's fine to use ;-) In effect, it would indeed be a "less than zero" operation, because we would be addressing waste. In theory, this implies that any company that we approach should really look at their left-overs, which we then use, instead of hunting for specific things. Think of it this way: the same way what you find in a dumpster defines your meal, the same way the person who stops defines the car you'll be driving in, in this same way we could create a festival, purely guided by what we find. I agree that growing food, etc would be an interesting proposition, but we have to be very careful about creating new waste. Also, where do you "find" things like windmills or solar panels? If it can be constructed from trash, great! (In fact, it probably can be...) What about "left luggage" from the airport? Could you make a film using just security camera footage (it's being taped anyway)? What about using "wasted light" like street lamps in combination with mirrors, etc? As always, having to work within strict bounds can truly make one creative. I don't think "left-over" funding exists that would otherwise go to waste, so I guess that's where we'd have to draw the line. If we can get office workers that are sitting idle in their cubicle to participate, now that would be awesome.

P2P is often about abundance: an extra place to sleep, an extra seat in the car. This is the interesting "soft" spot of western society to aim for and an interesting creative starting point.

"combine it with a next version of a p2p/oekonux/gift economics/hospitality art/synthesis convergence event ?" I don't know what half of that means... However, the pitch is specifically for a "(public) arts festival", not really for a conference. Personally, I'm interested in the general audience, not just the "in-crowd" for whom we wouldn't really be saying anything new. That implies using simple terms (e.g. "lost and found", "left-overs", "festival", etc) that a general audience will understand.

Timing. I like the 9/9/9 meme and think there are interesting arguments to be made both for a nearby date and a far away planning. However, there are a few factors here:

  • Left-overs almost always have a sense of immediacy to them: you either pick them up straight away or they're gone. That implies that an extremely long preparation period doesn't really give us anything extra: we can't "reserve" venues, we can't keep food, we can't have people offer their homes years in advance, etc etc. I believe the true hunting period would only need to start about a month and a half before the festival, not much more.
  • A lot of interesting public places (parks, squares, even roads) in Belgium can be had for free, but require a permit. This implies a natural buffer period which we have to keep in mind. I'd have to check for Brussels, but half a year is typically a safe bet. This is the only case where government involvement/goodwill really would help, so maybe we shouldn't avoid this typical aspect.
  • The biggest issue I see with timing is people (organisers and artists). Here, a proper buffer period would actually help people to make arrangements: save some money (having really nothing is simply counter-productive), arrange for free time, contact friends, etc.

So, the more I think about it, the more I see a window of opportunity between a year and a year-and-a-half from now. Is 10/10/10 a good compromise? (a Sunday, the left-over day!) A benefit of October is having higher than average economic activity, which is always less in the summer. We could have a planning meeting on 9/9/9, in Brussels or at my house.

We seem to have some convergence towards Brussels, great! Yes, the weather may suck, but who knows where global warming will be by then?

As far as a license goes: I don't know if it's applicable. At best you could have a template document/letter of intent for the festival, which other people could use to make a similar "lost and found" festival. Something like Dogma 95, but for festivals? To be discussed in september?

Of course the exact size of the festival is difficult to predict and usually festivals grow with the years (if we even want to repeat it!). My guess is that it has a natural growth path built in: the more people participate, the bigger it will be. Since we're not tied to a location, my guess is that the upper limit for organisers/artists is around the number of available free places to sleep (which is a hell of a lot). In other words: what happens is the only thing that could happen.

Pfew. Ok, maybe it's time to start putting this in a wiki somewhere? I am confident that this will happen almost magically ;-)