Festival City: The Ecology of Urban Events and the Festivalization Hypothesis
Jenn Lena, assistant professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt and Jonathan Wynn, Lecturer in Sociology at Smith College, note that European and U.S. municipal governments have increasingly pinned their hopes for economic growth, global name recognition, and success in interurban competition on cultural tourism. Festivals have played an increased role in these cultural policies, leading European scholars to posit the rise of “festivalization;” a process by which festivals and public celebrations are used to attract visitors and locals into city spaces and “brand” a city.
Few festivals are as significant in their effect on a city brand as Nashville, TN’s summer Fan Fair (now CMA) Festival–an event that has played a major role in transforming the city’s identity from the “Athens of the South” to “Music City, U.S.A.” While there are festivals that valorize homegrown, regional, artistic or ethnic identity, Fan Fair is an event designed by the Country Music Association for its fans and is, therefore, marked by the ‘institutional logic’ of that organization, and the industry it serves.
The industry’s own hierarchies, priorities, and market interests are transposed onto the city’s image and brand through the municipal embrace of this ‘signature event.’ For this project, Lena and Wynn aim to supply an historical and qualitative analysis of the festival, illustrating how frictions and cooperation between the country music industry and the city of Nashville have produced an exemplar of festivalization. Their analysis is based on a month of intensive data collection including: 17 formal and 23 informal interviews; 120+ hours of participant-observation at the five-day festival and preliminary research at local music venues; and material artifacts including programs, photographs, biographies of high-visibility respondents to our interviews, and articles in the popular and mass press.
To examine the festival ecology, they study the relationships between the festival’s organizational structure and the use and experience of urban space. Additionally, insights from this case study will be used in a comparative analysis of “second city” festivals in the United States, including the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and the Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. Results from the comparative study are expected in 2008. Current Working Paper: “Festival City: Corporate Sponsorships and the Branding of Nashville, TN.”