Is it time to put down the family cat?

Resident advisor has just posted a short piece about artists pulling out of Resonate festival in Belgrade, Serbia. It doesn’t come as a great surprise. The emotion is closer to disappointment, but not in the artists.

Artists don’t become such for the big money. It’s a career choice that is a gamble on hopefully earning enough to be comfortable at best, survive at the very least. Along with that frail economy comes a certain amount of trust and mutual support. Digital arts are a small subset of the broader art world and as such, the community is smaller. Which is why the Serbian festival always had such potential as a community building space, and felt like it could do something different from, say, Ars Electronica or Transmediale.

Resonate has always been small enough that you could fall into discussions with artists at the edges of the festival, yet large enough that you could lose yourself for a couple of hours of contemplation in the reasonably large crowds attending the talks and performances. It felt like the kind of festival that was exactly the size that you needed it to be, depending on where you were in your creative practice.

Having attended five years of the festival, I’d grown to love it the way you love an old family cat that still likes a cuddle but won’t stop shitting all over your new furniture. At the core of every complaint from attendees was the organisational incontinence that resulted in chaos if you hadn’t reached the point where, like my group of fellow attendees, you could throw your hands up in the air and laughingly say, “Welcome to Serbia!” Which was how a box office official greeted us one year when we turned up in plenty of time to collect our passes, only to find they had closed an hour or so earlier for no apparent reason. But like the family pet, we persisted in trying to show it love, despite the shit getting everywhere.

Eventually, after the 2017 festival, rumours started to circulate about non-payment to artists and it became harder to ignore as time went on. Remember, this is a smallish coterie of artists across the globe. If you know say, five artists at a festival, then you’re probably only one removed from the rest of them. These are people who are often friends and, at the least, potential work colleagues of the future. Besides which, who wants to see workers not being paid for their hard graft? The rumours turned into conversations about whether it was right to attend or to show solidarity for those who hadn’t been paid. Eventually, many of us fell on the side of solidarity with colleagues and friends and agreed we weren’t attending this year. Personally, I was undecided until almost two weeks before when I had a conversation with an artist who I had attended the festival with every year (in fact, they were one of the two artists who had introduced me to the festival). I think we made the right decision to not attend this year.

Where does that leave the future for Resonate? Maybe, just maybe, they will remember where all those unpaid invoices were kept (in the same drawer as the British government keep the Windrush generation’s landing cards)? And maybe the organisers can turn things around and come back stronger next year with a cheque book, some solid event organisers and still find some artists who trust them. Personally, I’d happily go back to the festival. I’ve discovered some great artists and musicians, met some amazing people and had a great time at the various nightspots in the city. And yet. And yet, despite all the love and affection I have for the old family pet, sometimes you just have to take it out to the backyard and say your fond farewells.