Urban rituals provide one measure of resistance to the never-ending consumer journey. But even they are subject to becomming more commerical. Day-to-day rituals abound. The evening passegiata in the Mediterranean, where you look and are looked at, you have an idle chatter and you check out who you fancy. Coffee in the café with a newspaper. Going to a pub in Ireland or a beer garden in Germany. Sunday dim sum in Hong Kong. A Sunday stroll in the park anywhere urban. The weekly supermarket visit or - better -browsing the markets. The Saturday football or baseball match. In addition, a raft of new rituals has emerged: urban fun runs, marathons, heaving Friday night pub crawls, karaoke. In warmer climes, this urbanity is easier to experience in the open. In the damper, colder north, however, it is more difficult to get that sense of alfresco urbanity; activity tends to be indoors (though places like Copenhagen manage with outdoor heaters and blankets).
Rituals serve a purpose. Rituals anchor individuals in time and place, they bond groups together, and they create an occasion and regularity. Even in an ordinary activity like drinking tea or coffee there can be ceremony which establishes, affirms or reaffirms social roles.
In fact, every aspect of life and every resource is or can be ritualized and can thus be turned into an asset. Think of any food, animal, flower, art form, sport, religious occasion, major historical battle or topic and there is likely to be a festival or ritualized event surrounding it. Rituals mark the calendar. They identify seasons and create formalized activities that mean something to those in the know. They assert the 'tribe', personal and place identity, awe, and submission to a higher authority. In religion, ritual is geared toward union with the divine; otherwise rituals can celebrate achievement or are just fun.
Celebrations after harvest or anniversaries of significant events are part of human history. Usually local in scale, in the past they helped form local identity and distinguished one city from the next. If anything was important to local life, it would be celebrated.
Think of the Italian sagre or feste, where there is simply acknowledging and indulging: chestnuts, mushroom, artichokes, olives and wine; pigs, sheep and fish. And the same is true for other cultures. The snail is celebrated in Lleida, Spain, Belfort, France and Pianello, Italy. The donkey in Otumba, Mexico, and Aleria, Spain. Sheep in the US in Cummington and Bighorn. The cat festival in Ypres, Belgium, broadens the scope to consider myths around that animal. More recently, as festivals have come into vogue, places have consciously fostered the bizarre to get name recognition, such as Keppel, Queensland with its crab leg-tying event. Or Gilroy in California, branded the world's garlic capital, which has been celebrating garlic since 1979 and whose festival attracts 125,000 people. The only problem is that now more and more of its garlic is imported from China.
Religious processions have formed part of the social fabric since the first human settlements were formed. Many early settlements, like Nineveh or Antioch in the Middle East or Teotihuacan in Mexico, were dominated by ritual. The Christian celebration of Easter in Rome or the famous New Orleans Easter Parade; Christmas celebrations nearly everywhere, even in non-Christian places (another opportunity to shop); feasts before fasting such as the Fasching carnival in German-speaking countries in the period before Lent; the Haj to Mecca; and the Hindu Diwali festival of light in many places. The Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai is a ten-
day festival of the elephant god where, on the last day, Ganesh's image is taken through the streets in a procession and immersed in water. The Esala perahera in Kandy, Sri Lanka, celebrates Buddha's tooth being brought to the country. The main elephant is preceded by a slowly prancing parade of dozens of elephants and a frenzied cast of thousands of Kandyan dancers and drummers. A bright white linen carpet is unfurled before him so that his feet do not touch the bare ground.
Other festivals had and have a different purpose. Carnivals often represented the few moments in the calendar where rank could be forgotten, rules broken, barriers overcome and norms transgressed. It was a way of creating social equilibrium and letting off steam. Carnivals in port of Spain and Rio and the New Orleans Mardi Gras are prime examples, as is the modern gay incarnation of the Mardi Gras in Sydney.
Arts festivals are the most common form of festival today and they come in every conceivable form, from the specialist to the general. In Germany alone there over 100 music festivals in the summer, showcasing a range of genres from opera and jazz to electronic music. Then there is the raft of theatre, ballet, literature and book events. Within these, any theme can be explored, from hope and sex to urban utopia.
The broader-scale festival and events culture which seeks to attract visitors as well as indigenous participation only took off in the post-war period. The Edinburgh, and later Adelaide, festivals were early prototypes. Since their inception, possibly tens of thousands have been conceived. The Notting Hill Carnival, now one of the biggest festival events in the world, seems to have been with us forever, but was only founded in 1964 on a small scale. It projects itself as multicultural, but in reality it is showcase for quite a narrow band of cultures. Its active participants are largely African-Caribbean. Today festivals are part of the urban regenerator's armoury. In the process, many of the traditional events are in danger of losing their qualities of authenticity as the balance of participants to tourists tips against the former.
Imagine anything and it can be turned into an event, ranging from Coventry's 'The virtual fringe: A festival of possibility' that you only know is in Coventry if you are on the net; the short filmmakers' frenzy in Newcastle, Australia, where people race through the night to finish a 24-hour shoot; Vancouver's 'Dancing on the Edge'; Marseille's 'Festival of the Wind'; the more sedate open-air painting festival in Geneva; to the surprisingly hectic 'Slow Food Festival' in Turin.
A story, a person, an accident, a victory, a local resource, a skill, a bizarre idea - cities scour their cultural resources and ideas bank to turn anything into something bigger, from the very local to the globally significant. At its apex stands the super league of big one-offs: Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. In the next division are the World Expos and European City of Culture celebrations. Below that are the 'cities of festivals' that build their reputations and city-marketing on putting on events, such as Cannes, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Salzburg and Istanbul.
They have different cycles, scales and purposes, but now the danger is that festivals are subservient to the overarching goal of marketing, of getting on the radar screen and breaking through the information clutter to create recognition. The regeneration agenda is another new objective, especially as cities which hold bigger events like the Olympics can use the prestige to do things that otherwise would be impossible. Typically this might be to renew the sporting or cultural infrastructure, extend a metro line, open out old port areas, reclaim derelict land, or extend the city. The special circumstances, the deadline and tight timetables make it possible to break through political obstacles, local resistance to development and red tape. It is possible to raise additional financial resources and to set up innovative, experimental delivery mechanisms, usually based on partnerships and a task force-based approach, which may then later become part of the mainstream.
Two cities which have used big events to good effect are Barcelona and Glasgow. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Glasgow's European City of Culture celebrations throughout 1990 pioneered a regeneration approach to big events. In Barcelona the Olympics was used to open out the port area and renew the sports infrastructure as well as to reposition the city globally. Equally, in Glasgow the building of the Royal Concert Hall was a by-product of the cultural year. Contrast this with the 'disposable Olympics' approach of Atlanta, tearing down the stadium as soon as the Games had finished.
With major events, especially arts initiatives, a series of conundrums and strategic dilemmas occur that require reflection. How do you combine political ambition and external marketing goals with, say, cultural or artistic objectives? How can projects and events balance celebrating a city's existing cultural status and its past history with seeking to reflect more deeply on how a city's culture could develop in the future? What is the respective importance of local residents' involvement and attracting visitors and tourists? How do you follow up and maintain momentum in the wake of events and projects? What level of commercialization or sponsorship do you invoke? Indeed, ever more frequently fringe festivals and rituals are created in response to commercial aims.
We learn too little about how these dilemmas are solved because evaluations are usually disappointing. They tend, with notable exceptions, not to go into depth and focus on a narrow range of issues, such as economic impacts.14 They are largely quantitatively driven, focusing on tourism figures and levels of participation rather than on the quality of the experience, its transformational effects on individuals or the social impacts of events, let alone the quality of the art or the nature of culture change and its meaning for the city in question. For the 'realists' these conceptual or philosophical evaluations appear too soft. But significant questions are not assessed: Who defines what culture is? Is the emphasis on city regeneration or the cultural development of art, creativity and identity? Is the priority to work with mainstream institutions or less formal entities?
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