Festivals

Many universities are involved in festivals, which can be a fun and effective opportunity to engage with the public, making the most of the knowledge and talents of staff and students.

There are a few different ways that you can get involved in festivals:

  • Universities can organise their own festivals in which the whole organisation gets involved with activities happening across multiple venues, both within the university and further afield. This requires a lots of resources, but can make a big impact within the local community.
  • Smaller teams from universities (e.g. a research group or department) can take a hands-on activity or workshop to other festivals, or might be invited to participate as speakers in the festival programme. This gives a great opportunity to get involved in a large, well-publicised event without having to commit a large amount of time or resources.
  • Finally, students can apply to work with other organisations, such as Oxfam, at larger festivals such as Glastonbury.

Purpose 

There are many purposes that can be served by working with festivals, including:

  • To give staff and students the chance to talk to large numbers of publics face-to-face
  • To inspire people with new discoveries and ideas
  • To encourage new conversations with new audiences
  • To gain public support for research, developments, discoveries and ideas

Process

Thinking about what you want to achieve will help you decide how to work with a festival. Different activities will have different audiences and outcomes:

  • Speaking or performing at the festival will give you a large amount of publicity, but will likely result in a very low-level interaction with a large audience.
  • Creating a workshop or hands-on activity will give you the chance to engage smaller groups with hands-on activities, and will give you more of an opportunity to have meaningful interactions with the audience.

Commonly used approaches

Workshops

Workshops usually feature in the school or family programme of a festival, and give you the opportunity to do fun, hands-on activities with this audience. A workshop tends to be well structured and take around an hour.

Hands-on activities

Festivals will usually have a large area where many people are doing hands-on activities. These activities will need to be attractive and engaging enough to capture people as they walk past. These interactions will be much less structured and lead by the person who has stopped to take part, so need to be adaptable to cater for all ages and level of understanding.

Performances

Many festivals have performance spaces, and hold a variety of shows from cabarets to dance acts. Creating engaging performances will take a lot of time, practice, and may require collaborating with different artists, however these acts can be hugely entertaining and may capture a much wider audience.

Talks

Talks can be a great way to tell a large audience about your research, but can be a very one-way interaction. Use a question and answer session to hear from the audience, or try capturing their opinions through a voting system.

Resources

University Engagement in Festivals: Top Tips and Case Studies

University Engagement in Festivals: Top Tips and Case Studies is a practical guide to some of the different aspects of engaging with festivals. The top tips cover:

  • Involving Student Volunteers in Festivals
  • Effective Co-operations between Universities and Festivals
  • Organising Stands / Drop-in Events at Festivals
  • Marketing Educational Festivals to the Public
  • Evaluating Educational Festivals

These are then illustrated by five case studies of university student engagement in festivals.

The Role of University Student Volunteers in Festival-based Public Engagement

The Role of University Student Volunteers in Festival-based Public Engagement presents our research exploring the role of university students in festival-based public engagement. It finds that University student volunteers play a key role in making festivals effective spaces for public engagement. Not only do they bring enthusiasm - which was identified as invaluable for enhancing visitor experiences - but they provide crucial human resource without which many cash-strapped festivals could not successfully operate.