With Paul Rondin, Executive Director of the Festival d’Avignon

Upon your arrival, the Festival d’Avignon started moving more of its content online to pave the way for new modes of content production and new ways of dialoguing with its audience. What does this engagement mean to you?

The Festival is in high popular demand. This means that we cannot ever lower our guard when it comes to digital content and make sure it is available to everyone. As early as 2014, we started using and building digital tools to keep in touch with people who aren’t necessarily our main audience—I’m thinking of people aged 15 to 30 in particular. We did some active work on the ground with projects such as “young culture reporters,” which trained youths from all backgrounds and from all around Avignon in the use of digital tools, enabling them to speak up for themselves. This active immersion allows them to dive into a world next to which they live without having ever experienced it, and reminds them that the Festival exists every summer for them as well. As co-founders of the French Tech Culture, we created an innovative framework to make the Festival d’Avignon particularly attractive to the actors of digital production throughout the world. We also became a partner of the Micro-Folies project, a network of cultural and digital spaces headed by La Villette (Paris). We’re also trying to pass on an experience of the Festival d’Avignon by making shows and other audiovisual documents available to teachers and educators through the Canopé network. All this content, be it live recordings of shows or documents created specifically for the Internet, is aimed at lovers of the performing arts but also at all the people who can’t attend the Festival for financial, medical, or geographical reasons. With those projects, our teams are always studying, researching, and experimenting with the alliance between those very old art forms that are dance or theatre and new media, in order to broaden the Festival’s reach. This development of the digital has led the Festival to inventing a new way of working and a new tool, Festival Expériences, a new media broadcasting creative content and the memory of the Festival.

Why did you choose not to use the preexisting nonprofit model for this new project? Was finding investors to create this subsidiary of the Festival d’Avignon easy?

The Festival had neither the human nor the financial resources to create a new activity to showcase its savoir-faire and its brand beyond each individual edition. We therefore decided to create a complementary tool and to create a subsidiary company, FXP - Festival Expériences, to showcase our digital resources, with the added objective of raising our own revenue. Although we remain the majority shareholder, we are lucky to have two other trustworthy shareholders: the Caisse des dépôts et consignations—as part of its Investissements d’Avenir—and the real estate group Fiminco, very active on cultural questions. Was it easy? No. We spent two years negotiating with bankers and lawyers to show that this was a serious and realistic project. Our financial backers decided to invest in the Festival d’Avignon brand and in a simple idea: to make the contents of the Festival d’Avignon available and to provide a more diverse offer. They ended up deciding to trust us and to embark with us on this innovative entrepreneurial and cultural adventure. We also brought in two of the Festival’s public partners: the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, and the Minister of Culture. With them, we had to solve the problem of how a nonprofit association could have a subsidiary which would be a source of revenue while keeping in line with its mission of general interest and public service. Our partners, like us, think that we are creating something which didn’t exist before to reveal and make available an entirely unknown cultural heritage, while there is significant demand from the public for a different access to culture, including to the performing arts. They decided to invest in the idea that the reputation of the Festival d’Avignon could make spectators and non-spectators alike want to share an Art Class by a great choreographer or director, or experience live recordings, documentaries, rare archival footage, etc. This new proposition should allow us to overcome some obstacles such as distance, which should no longer prevent us from growing the audience of the Festival, particularly abroad.

The dematerialisation of creative contents, or decentralisation thanks to travelling shows and tours: the Festival has always tried to expand beyond its physical and digital borders. What would you say is the Festival’s territory today?

For the most part, the Festival still takes place within the walls of Avignon, and the question of its territory remains a problem. With Olivier Py and Agnès Troly, we immediately decided to perform as far away from the city’s walls as possible, to widen the physical territory of the Festival by performing in more venues and more neighbourhoods, but also more villages. We’ve also tried to reach people outside our usual audience through our educational and cultural action. With La FabricA, which deeply changed the Festival’s identity, we have a house from which we can build bridges with audiences of all ages. From now on, with those projects and thanks to our offer, the Festival also has a digital territory, that is, a space of dematerialisation and sharing of part of its practice through new forms of individual or collective experiences. What’s fascinating is the new fields this territory is opening. It allows us to enter into a different dialogue with audiences, by making unusual formats available. It also makes it so that the Festival has to adapt its ability to draw audiences, to imagine new forms of assembly, in order to grow its community and make its legacy accessible to all.

 Interview conducted by Francis Cossu, 2 April 2020