THE LAST ST KILDA FESTIVAL?

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By: Gregoire Molle

St Kilda Festival has been operating for more than thirty years, and will again in two months animate this entertainment precinct of Melbourne. Yet, some fear its possible demise as it has become increasingly difficult to attract sponsorship to fund the event. For Dick Gross, a former Mayor of Port Phillip, this would be “a tragedy” for businesses and residents.

St Kilda Festival was first held in 1980. It was to become, more than thirty years later, “one of Australia’s oldest and the Southern hemisphere’s largest free street festival”, according to the operators. This festival attracts between 200.000 and 400.000 people each year, and features a lot of artists, whose performances delight in the typically beautiful February weather. A lot of activities are offered during St Kilda Festival, among which are extreme sports trials, visual arts exhibitions, comedy and dance classes, and a lot of street performers. Since 1980, more than 1,000 bands have played at the festival.

However, this festival, which animates the streets of St Kilda over several days in February, could soon be facing its demise. Being free for attendees, the funding of the festival used to rely mainly on sponsorship. Yet, Port Phillip Council seems to struggle to garner enough to continue running the festival. Some large sponsors have decreased their contribution significantly or even stopped supporting the event all together.

According to Deputy Mayor Serge Thomann, who represents Port Phillip Council on the St Kilda Tourism Board, the current and difficult economic environment makes companies cautious about their advertising spending. Moreover, one of the difficulties regarding sponsoring the St Kilda Festival is that we cannot provide exclusivity to a brand as all traders in St Kilda have various yearly arrangements with suppliers. Like Coca Cola v.s. Pepsi!

Because of this lack of sponsorship, the City of Port Phillip decided to contribute one million dollars so the festival could go ahead. Hundreds of thousands of people attend the festival each year, which translates into costs to ensure the safety of such big crowds, as well as entertaining them for eight days. However, the current model in which the City of Port Phillip contributes up to one million dollars each year to keep the festival running is hardly sustainable, according to Cr Thomann.

Neither Cr Serge Thomann, nor Dick Gross want to abandon St Kilda Festival. “This festival is part of this city, it reminds us of the importance of St Kilda as a place of leisure each year, not just a celebration of music”, Cr Thomann said. For Dick Gross, giving up St Kilda Festival would be “a tragedy” for businesses and residents, who “overwhelmingly appreciate this event”. Moreover, Dick Gross affirms that if St Kilda Festival was to be discontinued, it would be incredibly hard to replace it, “I have seen many Council festivals and events that have been fizzers. A success is always hard to create, and St Kilda Festival has been a great success”.

Cr Thomann explained, “The previous Council decided to keep the festival for 2013”, and went on to say, “St Kilda Festival is now such a part of the landscape of this city that it belongs to everyone. I don’t think it is just up to the Council alone to decide on the future of the festival and all stakeholders should be part of the decision making about its future.” This includes residents, arts organisations, musicians, traders, St Kilda Tourism Association, etc.  In the discussions that will start soon, new models will be canvassed, including new ways of funding it. “So far, the festival is entirely free. Maybe part of it could be a paid event. We are also investigating crowd funding as an option.”

The future of the St Kilda Festival seems unclear, yet far from hopeless.

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