How US Artists Can Take Advantage of European Arts Festivals

Did you know Europe provides about $30 million in commission fees every year to artists? Kurt Perschke, who has made a career out of touring his work across Europe, insists that you don’t have to live there to get access to commissions from European arts presenters. He teaches how to take advantage of art festivals in Europe in our online workshop, Unlocking Europe: Festival Commissions Revealed, happening November 7, 2019.

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“For years, I’ve been working as a commission-based artist throughout Europe,” Perschke told us recently, “and I rarely ever run into Americans.” Perschke has brought his RedBall Project to over 35 cities all over the world, and through his work, he has learned the ins and outs of working with programmers across Europe. Through this online workshop, he hopes to help more US artists bring their work there. “If you want to think of it as a market, it’s a very different world than what we know in the States. It’s not a fit for everybody, but for the artist who fits, it’s an amazing career opportunity to make and exhibit new work to diverse audiences.”

“I’ve seen work over there that I don’t even know who would pay for in the US, and I wasn’t always in big cities.”

Unlike the US, Europe has a unique model of city-wide international arts festivals that happen in both small towns and major metropolises. They usually start in the spring and last throughout the summer. The festivals vary in scale; they can be “massively funded because they essentially operate the cultural programming for the city.” Perschke pointed to the city of Antwerp, in Belgium, where he has presented his work with Zomer van Antwerpen. “They call it a festival but it runs for the full summer.” Other festivals operate on a smaller scale, for instance throughout a week or over a weekend. In either case, says Perschke, the programmers behind the festivals “are looking constantly to book artists. It’s a different model than visual artists are used to in terms of getting ‘booked’ as opposed to a curator selecting them for an exhibition.”

Ultimately, Perschke suggests becoming knowledgeable about the arts system before beginning to pitch project ideas. Arts festival programmers in Europe are typically looking for a certain kind of work that meets particular criteria. Rather than strictly visual or performing art projects, “festival artistic directors are looking for work that engages with audiences. They are often looking for work that can exist out on the street or outside, but some arts festivals do focus on ticketed performances in a theater.” Much of the programming in a festival will be free, and accessibility is a main concern: “the work must be immediately engaging, often without using language.” It’s important to consider, for instance, how a work functions if most of the audience isn’t fluent in English. Perschke discusses these criteria, as well as other things to consider, in his online workshop.

Once artists are aware of the festival circuit model in Europe, Perschke says that it can become very beneficial to artists looking to make ambitious, new work. “At the end of the day,” he says, “artists are looking for practical, concrete opportunities: they just want to make their stuff. Part of what was exciting about finding this world in Europe was that for certain projects it’s a tangible opportunity that’s very rare to find in the US.”

Perschke says this online workshop is perfect for artists working in any discipline who have a big, engaging, or visually spectacular project in mind and hope to tour it. He discusses preliminary steps to take in the US before pitching the idea in Europe. Alternatively, the workshop can also help inspire possibilities that will lead to project ideas—”I’ve seen work over there that I don’t even know who would pay for in the US, and I wasn’t always in big cities,” he said. He writes about working as in Europe and Asia for festivals on his blog.

The online workshop happens Nov 7. Interested in learning more? Sign up now.


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