Arts festivals of all kinds attract those looking for new, extended experiences; as well as those who wish to immerse themselves in a known and well-loved cultural space.

Audiences crave an experience that they can share, it is all about creating memories

The level of spend that people are happy to commit to creating these memories is important to the rural communities that often host such events. In Dorset, initial research by The Arts Development Company into how the county’s many festivals contribute to place-making initiatives has also demonstrated the importance of cultural festivals as a focus for tourists, especially in off-peak seasons.  An integral part of the experience economy, arts festivals provide year-round entertainment in Dorset, a consistent driver for both high-spending cultural tourists; and those with disposable income who want an authentic ‘local’ experience.

Arts festivals and the Dorset landscape

Perhaps the ultimate Dorset case study is The Maritime Mix London 2012 Cultural Olympiad by the Sea, held in the small coastal towns of Weymouth and Portland.  This festival reached 30,000 people, and created collaborative partnerships across the county, including the local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Jurassic Coast Trust. The festival created work for artists, arts organisations and the creative industries across the south west, including 52 (temporary) full-time equivalent jobs; increased the Gross Value Added (GVA) for Dorset by £2.5m and increased the economic output of industries in the Bournemouth, Dorset and Poole sub-region by £5.75m. The project helped generate a minimum of £13m for the tourism economy of Weymouth & Portland in the year from September 2011.

Extraordinary events in extraordinary places

Of course, a Cultural Olympiad is a rare occurrence.  But in more recent times one of the biggest arts events in Dorset has been the 10-day biennial Inside Out Dorset Festival, produced by Activate. It is a mainly free open-air programme across rural Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole, that takes place in September.  In 2016 it attracted 23,000 attendances (and 1100 participants in education work); and generated £1.2 million of economic activity. Its mantra of ‘extraordinary events in extraordinary places’ drives festival-goers to specific parts of Dorset for new experiences, creating a positive economic impact.

Mobile Homme performing at Inside Out Dorset Festival, Poole Quay

Mobile Homme performing at Inside Out Dorset Festival, Poole Quay, produced by Activate

The hundreds of smaller festivals specialising in one art form can also make a significant impact in rural areas.  The 2017 Wimborne Minster Folk Festival boosted the local economy of the town (just 15,500 inhabitants) by an estimated £1.02m, according to a report commissioned by the town’s business improvement district (BID). Those who attended the event – around 20,000 – each spent, at a conservative estimate, £50 each.  The report was also quick to point out how local businesses and arts organisations would benefit from partnerships created during the event, laying foundations for longer-term relationships.

The economic impact of festivals of all kinds should not be underestimated

Such is the importance of these events to rural and coastal Dorset that The Arts Development Company is using Arts Council England and European funding to create 3 outdoor festival events in early summer 2019, to assess their economic impact with specific reference to tourism. These events will be free, held in 3 different Dorset locations and aim to reach an estimated 12,000 audience with an increase in tourist visitors, despite being outside the peak visitor season.

Arbonauts at Inside Out Dorset 2016 produced by Activate

Arbonauts at Inside Out Dorset 2016 produced by Activate

How fortunate then that such festivals are particularly suited to England’s beautiful rural areas, where the landscape forms part of the overall experience; and every type of visitor can make unforgettable memories.