Have Art, Will Travel: Unlocking Europe’s Festival Circuit with Kurt Perschke

“I came up, like a lot of visual artists, assuming I would be attempting to have the default gallery career that all visual artists try to move towards…”  – Kurt Peschke

In the American art world, especially for visual artists,  there is often an idealized career path — graduate with an arts degree, connect with a dealer or curator and show (and hopefully sell) work in the “white box world.” What visual artist Kurt Perschke has discovered, through a career that has taken him from Chicago to South Korea (and to dozens of other international locales across the globe), is that there is another way.
On March 9th, join Creative Capital and Kurt Perschke for the premiere of a brand new course, “Unlocking Europe: Commissions and Festivals Revealed,” a 90-minute interactive webinar session where artists will learn how to successfully find, pitch and negotiate European festivals. Artists in performance, street theater, dance, temporary public art, projection, audio and immersive installation all have potentially untapped markets for their work in Europe. Take your practice to the next level and RSVP today.

Ahead of the course’s debut, Kurt was kind enough to share some of his experiences working in the European market and what artists should keep in mind when deciding if the festival circuit is for them.
Holly Ajala: What is the European art festival circuit?
Kurt Perschke: Most people don’t really understand what the European festival environment and ecosystem is. The things it’s not: these are not music festivals. This is not Lollapalooza. These are annual, integrated art festivals that run from three days to two weeks or three months that have both ticketed and free work going up. Some work will last a day, some work will last for months, but across the board it tends to be very open-sourced, audience based and impactful. It combines street theater or temporary public art, but also includes installation based work. It’s a really broad spectrum and the mediums are all over the map, but what’s consistent is that the work all has a relationship to audience in a live way. Examples of some festivals I’ve participated in the past include: the Galway International Arts Festival in Ireland and the Lieux Publics Marseille in France.
One thing that’s really exciting for me is understanding that the budgets can be really different, and there exists the ability to fund a project that might cost $50,000, be free to the public, and happen five times over the course of the week — and that this programming happens on a regular basis. In fact, it’s happening all across Europe, all summer long and it’s not just two or three grants across a country.
Holly: How does the European festival presenter model compare to the gallery or museum model?
Kurt: There’s often a lot of lip service given to the “globalization of the art world,” but I think sometimes, especially for visual or performing artists, that idea often just describes the same set of people and the same set of opportunities and networks but just in different countries.
With the European festival presenter model it’s a completely different network and a completely different set of people. It can be hard to get your head around it if you haven’t seen it first hand, but I think there are artists in the States who could swim in those waters and really could find an audience for their work, whether or not they found it here.
However, the learning curve can be steep. Where a gallery curator is usually  focused on a single artist or small group of artists, a festival could be working with 100 artists over two months — and everyone has needs.
I think the gallery world and the museum curatorial world in the U.S. treats artists a little more delicately. In the festival world they’ll bring you in and they’ll be excited about what’s going to happen, but you really have to understand how to deliver your work to an audience — as opposed to delivering your boxes and having someone else set up your show. When I work in Europe, it’s obviously my work, but I have 3-5 people on the production crew. It’s a team effort.
Holly: What information can webinar participants expect to walk away with?
Kurt: For the webinar, there are a few key things I want to focus on. First is laying the landscape so people can self-evaluate and see what fits. This model won’t fit everyone’s work obviously, but what’s interesting to me is that I think it can be a match for modes of working and modalities and explorations that are actually hard to fund in the U.S. For example, I know from having done public art in the States, that it can be incredibly difficult to get temporary works funded.
In contrast, one of the institutions I worked with in Marseille is the National Center for Street Art in France — a national institution with satellite branches around the country, and the only thing they do is develop artists working on the streets. So in a few ways, it’s really a totally different world.
The second focus of the course is the mindset of how these things operate. This is really closer to touring, not in the sense that you are on the road constantly, but you are necessarily traveling frequently for the work. It’s also an audience based model, so that in and of itself is different.
Finally, I want to give artists some concrete tools that I’ve developed over time, getting into details like why everyone needs a tech rider and why that’s important — things that I learned after years and years of doing things the hard way.
If you are interested in learning more about the European festival circuit, Kurt Perschke has collected some key insights on his page “How to Work Abroad as an Artist”, and be sure to RSVP today for the Monday, November 6th premiere of Creative Capital’s newest webinar: “Unlocking Europe: Commissions and Festivals Revealed.”
Register Now

More Interviews

More Online Resources