Jennifer Aaron

Nurturing Social Cohesion Through Public Festivals

Nurturing Social Cohesion Through Public Festivals

Festivals, or public events such as Vivid and TropFest, are popping up every year all around Australia in the hundreds. They come in all shapes and sizes, from one-day events to month-long celebrations, such as the world-renowned Sydney Festival.

They can be highly curated, such as the Sydney Lights of Christmas Festival, or simply an expression of communal joy in the form of a community-organised laneway party.

Indeed, from famous literary events to boutique wine tasting festivals, for comic fanatics or jazz aficionados, the lived and shared experience of a festival is the perfect antidote against society’s materialism and individualism. And the more time we spend online, and less connected we are, the more important and greater the need for such festivals.

Although traditionally religious, folkloric or agricultural in origin, such as Harvest, or a mixture, such as Halloween and Easter, festivals go back in history as far as human civilization does. Traditional festivals throughout the world still play an essential role in strengthening community harmony and knowledge by observing rituals that celebrate life, commemorate death or simply give thanks.

Festivals provide a sense of social connection and cohesion, which leads to a feeling of belonging and a sense of place, all of which are crucial to our well-being. For many, they can also be deeply intense and transformative experiences.

It is therefore no coincidence that they are particularly popular among millennials, aged 18-35, who, according to an Eventbrite study, are increasingly favouring real-life experience over material goods.

The study’s analysis highlights how “For this group, happiness isn’t as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life’s opportunities.”

More than 8 in 10 millennials attended or participated in a variety of live experiences in 2018, ranging from parties, concerts, festivals, performing arts and races and themed sports—and more so than other older generations.

Ironically, the study also found much of this is driven by a side-effect of our digital lives: FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, which incites people to actually “show up, share and engage”.

But, as festival expert Chip Conley argues, “what we need are IRL (In Real Life) experiences, while we drown in a sea of URLs.”

“The truth is, most people in the world see their happiness and victories in the context of the group or village experience – what sociologist Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence” 100 years ago,” says Conley. He advises people to “Make a pact with yourself to witness and experience some communal joy and attend at least one festival a year.”

The reality though is we have social media to thank for the success of festivals and their increasing number. Festival organisers can now use social media algorithms to track our preferences for music, food, and more, while also of course using facebook, twitter, instagramyoutube and snapchat to promote the event and capitalize on FOMO.

Meanwhile, participants use social media to enhance, curate and share with their online friends their own experience of festivals, which in turn helps further promote the events.

And while Australians might travel in drove to international festivals such as Burning Man or Coachella, Sydney stands on the world stage with an abundance of international and local festivals all year-round. There is no excuse not to experience that communal joy more than once a year.

Marrickville for instance is inaugurating Canguru in Folia, a new two-day Brazilian and Portuguese Carnival for all tribes, combining live music, performances and food from both countries. Radliving in Waterloo is also a new, hipster, one-day boutique event that shows promise, while Parramasala will no doubt yet again delight the senses of many thousands of people, young and old.

Human beings are sophisticated, albeit social animals, and with so much fantastic music, dancing, food, writing and more out there to be explored and experienced, festivals can provide us with the perfect dose of communal spirit and immersion in beauty and knowledge. This is particularly important as our busy lives, and focus on social media mean we are increasingly antisocial. Festivals allow us to reconnect with our fellow human beings and experience the joy of sharing the same inspiration and passions.

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