I once spent several years studying how communities assembled festival productions in the streets of their towns and cities. This includes almost three years in Kyoto, Japan, and other experiences from South India and the US. The impetus behind this (no, it wasn’t the beer, but that helped) was to see a form of cultural production that was forced to renew itself regularly, and to describe and explain how that cadence of activity could sustain an enormous volunteer effort every year. I was also interested in festivals as they often included activities and behaviors that were not available or advisable on the streets during the rest of the year (aspects of comedy, nudity, violence, politics, joy, and sex: stir together and stand back). The time and space of the festival did not just occur on the street, it transformed the street. Much the same could be said for the impact of the event on the lives of the participants.
I also saw a lot of festivals that failed to transform the street, that had been, somehow, reduced to parades and pageants, to a semblance of their former glory. In these events participation was simply another chore. As such, participants required payment. Volunteerism declined. The vestigial energy of the festival was provided by the music and the movement. But the ability to transform the lives of the participants was lost.
The craft and the logic of a festival event are in many ways similar to that of any virtual organization that hopes to engage its members. The face-to-face meetings or your organization may not achieve actual festivity, but the power of your organization to transform the capabilities and empower the hopes of its members should never be forgotten.
Several years ago I wrote a piece for the Kyoto Journal, “Imagine the festival as a building,” in which I asked readers to imagine their community-based organization (festival or virtual) as a building, a house that is rebuilt from scratch every year. The main messages of this article outlined how the process of designing and constructing the house each year supported the neighborhood in vital ways, and explored how this event would certainly be destroyed when its festival logic is violated, even if an event kept happening.
The essence of a festival logic is honest and free voluntary participation and expression. A radical form of intimacy emerges. Some scholars tie this back to ancient forms of human physicality (e.g., Cox 1969; Stallybrass and White 1986); however, Anthony Giddens (1992) anchors this form of intimacy also as a hallmark of current modernity. We all want to achieve more moments of intimacy.
Festival logic informs the whole process of design and performance. When you incorporate a similar festival logic into your community-led virtual organization you unleash new levels of member engagement. Street festivals generally focus this energy into artistic forms, while your organization might focus this on product development, creativity, and innovation. If you can imagine your VO as a street festival, you might discover its festival logic. If you cannot, then you might want to ask yourself how to add this logic to your organization.
Caron, Bruce. (2011) Imagine the festival as a building… [Internet]. Version 1. lightblueblog. 2011 Dec 25. Available from: http://lightblueblog.wordpress.com/article/imagine-the-festival-as-a-building-2l8t3cliewok9-48/ . From Caron 2003 http://junana.com/CDP/corpus/COMMENT20.html
Cox, Harvey (1969) The Feast of Fools. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Giddens, Anthony (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Stallybrass, Peter and Allon White (1986) The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: Methuen & Co.