Festivals and COVID-19

Moving, modifying or cancelling? That is the choice many festivals that would take place in the coming months have come to face, as a result of the measures to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. We spoke to the organisers of two festivals supported by the Creative Industries Fund NL about the decision they made, the alternative they developed and about the future.

9 April 2020

From 1 to 5 April 2020, Plokta festival would have fully focused on issues of online identity, privacy, desire, technological progress and social happiness. Founder and director Jurian Strik and his team spent a lot of time developing the festival's multidisciplinary programme, in which films are the binding factor. ‘That Plokta needed to be postponed was a slowly growing realisation,‘ he says. ‘But when measures were announced that would initially apply until 1 April, but as it's turned out will take much longer, it was clear to me. 1 April was the starting date of the festival. Although some people were still optimistic, we felt it was too much of a gamble as an organization and we decided to move Plokta.‘

Director Ton van Gool also postponed his festival. STRP, the Eindhoven festival around the relationship between man, experimental technology, society and the future, would've also taken place in the first week of April. Ton van Gool: ‘On 12 March 2020, immediately after the Prime Minister's press conference, we decided to move STRP. We had set up a corona team internally a week earlier, a team that collected all the information and thought about safety, measures and possible consequences in advance. We had to decide quickly because we were three weeks away from the start of STRP Festival and a large team of freelancers was working for us. In Brabant we had seen the enormous impact of the virus earlier in than in the rest of the Netherlands. Because of this, we were able to make a clear decision quickly.‘


But moving a festival is easier said than done. Organisationally, substantively, financially and mentally, such a decision has a big impact. Ton van Gool: 'Following our decision, all the people involved, i.e. artists, staff and relations, were informed and after that we sent out a press release. A day later we started to draw up an action plan and we quickly regrouped and focused our gaze forward.

Jurian Strik mainly dealt with the situation in a constructive manner. ‘We have a problem and we are going to fix it, was my reasoning. We immediately focused on what was still possible. Fortunately, the funds that support Plokta and our partners were very benevolent. A number of acts and locations also agreed to be moved, for which I am very grateful.‘
Ton van Gool explains how he took action with the ‘corona team‘: ‘We focused on three things: How can we work safely and efficiently in the coming period, what are the financial, substantive and organisational consequences, and what does our plan B look like? It was immediately clear that we would no longer be meeting live at the office. Everyone installed Teams so that we could have discussions and plan everyone's activities effectively. Initially we spent some time looking at how we could make discussions effective, but also at how we could be social and compassionate from a distance. Nobody doubted the correctness of the decision, but of course there was a lot of disappointment, frustration, powerlessness and sometimes anger, and we also had to find a way for that.‘

online programme

STRP Festival‘s Plan B focused on both the short and the long term, up to summer and starting summer, respectively. ‘Within a few days we knew that we could and wanted to offer an online programme until the summer. The main question was: What (in our opinion)works online and what doesn‘t work?‘, says Ton van Gool. ‘Switching energy was very difficult: the high and positive adrenaline level of three weeks before the festival gave way to hard work on damage control, quickly scaling down the organisation and uncertainty about the near future. That is why it was nice to set up the online festival simultaneously. We did that with enthusiasm and it also gave renewed energy. It offered the opportunity to still have contact with our audience and provided a fresh look at the future, in which more possibilities unfolded besides 'physical' programming.‘


For Plokta online programming was developed as well. Jurian Strik: ‘Doing nothing would have been very skimpy. And in the development phase we had already wondered whether Plokta could be more than a festival. I was able to fall back on an idea we had already played with, namely a TV channel. Still, it was a gamble to develop alternative programming. Would the makers feel like doing that? And was the audience asking for that? Via a chain mail and social media, we called for films to be submitted that we could show on our channel from 1 to 5 April 2020. I had modest expectations; I would have been very happy with 18 entries, but we received 48. Organizationally we were able to take good care of it. Technically, the implementation was manageable and everyone in the team was able to contribute.‘

Besides the enthusiasm of the participants, Jurian Strik was also surprised by the interest of the audience. ‘The responses we received were very positive. People watched Plotka TV on several days, for several hours. The combination of films, an atypical selection, was very much appreciated. We showed films from different genres, both new and old. I also think that our extensive preparation paid off here. We spent a lot of time thinking about the programming of the festival. But in this open call, the curatorial view had to be switched off, there was not enough time for that. We were surprised that all but one of the entries fit very well within the theme; we could also conclude from this that the profile we outlined had been understood.‘

Ton van Gool also has a positive view. On 2 April 2020, STRP started the live stream STRP Scenario #6 and on 3 April, the audience was able to participate in a four-hour audio live stream that was produced together with Ja Ja Ja Nee Nee Nee. Six artists / musicians made special compositions for this radio broadcast. Analysing the range, he can conclude the following: ‘The online programming shows that we have a larger (national and international) reach than with offline programming. We now reached participants from 33 countries, something that has never happened before with offline programming. For two lengthy live productions, we scored above average on the socials. The engagement was high, and a wide audience has been actively involved in the content we have shared.‘


Ton van Gool sees online programming mainly as added value. ‘It is a very good and interesting addition to the physical festival but can never completely replace it. What is possible is to develop a programme that is 100% geared to online use. For such an online programme, you develop a different concept, a different form in which you adjust the moderation and perhaps opt for a different length, and in which you use more custom-made videos.‘ Ton van Gool is currently examining which parts of the programme may still be presented later this year. The STRP Scenarios will be partly realized online and partly offered physically as part of the STRP annual programme. The music and performance programme is cancelled.

Jurian Strik sees online programming as an intermediate step that has been taken with the use of minimal resources. ‘As for the audience, followers and contacts that it yields, it will not achieve the form that was intended for the festival. But the fact that we have done this gives a good feeling we are taking with us into the puzzle that we still have to piece together for the new edition.‘

response Creative Industries Fund NL

‘The Fund wants to continue thinking with festivals about the future,‘ says director of the Creative Industries Fund NL, Syb Groeneveld. ‘It is great to see that many festivals show so much resilience in this crisis and are so occupied with the future. Right away on 12 March 2020, the Creative Industries Fund NL introduced a grace policy for the festivals we support that were affected by COVID-19. We are now in dialogue with all of them about how we look at all the substantive, organizational and financial changes to the festival and if possible, how we can offer continuity for the organization. That is quite a challenge in which, as a fund with the limited resources we have, we will endeavour to minimise the negative impact of COVID-19.‘

Read more about the Creative Industries Fund NL's measures regarding the COVID-19 outbreak here.