Everyone’s talking about festivals. Carlina Ericson wants us to talk some more.

Ericson is the smarts and the strategist behind the inaugural Australian Festival Industry Conference, which will take place over two days this October in Coffs Harbour, an idyllic spot on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

If timing really is everything, the AFIC arrives right on cue. Over the past year, the festivals space has been a searing-hot talking point across the mainstream media and in the halls of power.

In 2019, everyone’s mum and dad is across the issues, from pill testing to drug-related deaths, the return of the touring juggernauts and premier Gladys Berejiklian’s festivals licensing regime, a sore point that triggered a campaign and a public march on central Sydney.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaking about the cancellation of Mountain Sounds
Gladys Berejiklian

Indeed, the NSW Coroners Courtis currently probing fatalities at music festivals as part of a week-long inquest. As Australians layer-up for winter, summer festivals are still very much on the agenda.

Ericson’s summit isn’t a reaction to any of these issues, and the many others bubbling away in the festivals space. “The idea purely came about because I was looking to attend a conference for professional development purposes.

When I looked into that space, nothing existed. It’s just pure coincidence,” she tells TIO. “A lot of things have happened this year, in a strange way it has worked in my favour because festivals is a hot topic of discussion in general.”

Ericson, an experienced content and event producer who has worked closely with Destination NSW, Sydney Festival, Screenwave International Film Festival and others in the past, surveyed the conference landscape and found festival management was typically only addressed in one session out of an entire program.

“I wanted something dedicated to Australia’s festivals industry. If you’re a festival director and you’re looking for some kind of professional development outlet, through a conference format and you’re wanting to go to a business event this year and what would that be,” she explains, “the choices are niche or way too broad and there’s nothing quite targeted that would jump out at me as a festival director.”

So why Coffs Harbour? It’s not just the beaches. For four years in a row, Coffs has been recognised as one of Australia’s leading events destinations, by taking out the International Festivals & Events Association (IFEA) 2017 World Festival and Event City Award.

“I saw it as an opportunity for Coffs Harbour to reinforce that destination branding, to be known as ‘festivals city,’ notes Ericson. “It made sense all round for the first year.”

And just maybe, the lure of the sea air and a road trip will entice the industry in much the same way Brighton’s The Great Escape has become an essential annual gathering from the U.K. music business.

phil tripp
Phil Tripp

Opal Cove Resort will host the industry from Oct. 24, with a programme featuring guest speakers Heather Croall (director and CEO, Adelaide Fringe), Jon Corbishley (director, The Safety Officer), Mike Hammond (CEO and director, EMS Event Medical) and others, while industry veteran Phil Tripp will deliver a keynote presentation on “the future of festivals.”

Topics open for discussion include Adelaide Fringe’s digital transformation, tracking attendance and visitation, crowd safety management and, of course, those regulatory changes to festivals operating in NSW.

Further details on the workshop presenters will be announced in the coming weeks. And expect elements from various festivals held in the region to be incorporated in “creative and quirky ways.”

The Australian Festival Association has been in discussion about its involvement in the new event, and the trade body, which launched in late 2018, has featured the conference in its newsletter to members.

“From my perspective,” says Ericson, “it’s a no-brainer that we work together.”

Flying solo across all organisational elements of the conference has been “an adventure, that’s for sure,” she says. “And I just seem to get positive feedback from all corners of the industry, regardless of whether they’re a council an organiser or supplier, everyone keeps saying that there’s a definite need and demand for this event.”

For more information and tickets, visit australianfestivalconference.com.au.