Synergy Festival, a celebrated Tasmanian music and arts gathering, has recently found itself mired in financial hardship, leaving performers unpaid and First Nations artists feeling their contributions were treated as mere tokens. The festival, renowned for its family-friendly atmosphere celebrating arts, music, community, and culture, took place from November 30 to December 4, 2023, at Lake Repulse. However, despite its positive intentions, the aftermath has been marred by delayed payments and allegations of cultural insensitivity. Synergy Festival ran at a loss, organisers say, amid First Nations artist’s complaint about payment
Financial Woes and Unpaid Performers:
Synergy Festival organizers have cited higher running costs and an unmet late surge in ticket purchases as the reasons behind their financial struggles. Many artists, who poured their creativity into the event, have been left without compensation, drawing parallels to the Gathering of the Goddesses festival in March 2023, which faced similar accusations of mistreatment towards performers.
First Nations Artists Speak Out:
One of the festival’s most poignant moments involved Palawa educators Craig Everett and Trish Hodge, who conducted a smoking ceremony and welcomed attendees to the country. Despite offering discounted services due to the festival’s financial difficulties, their payment was delayed by over six weeks. Mr. Everett expressed that the delayed payment made him reconsider sharing his culture, feeling that their contribution was used as a mere checkbox for the festival.
In a heartfelt statement, Mr. Everett emphasized the gravity of sharing his cultural knowledge: “They were paying for knowledge that we have actually gathered from our people and our elders, which takes a lifetime.” This sentiment reflects a deeper issue than just financial struggles, as the festival is accused of exploiting and trivializing Indigenous culture.
Synergy Festival organizers acknowledged the delay in payments and issued a public apology on their Facebook page. They explained that the festival had run at a loss, anticipating a surge in ticket sales that never materialized. Additionally, they pointed to pending bond returns from Sustainable Timber Tasmania and promised that profits from an upcoming event would contribute to clearing outstanding payments.
Director Daniel Bower expressed regret over any perceived tokenism and emphasized their commitment to improving the festival’s business model, communication, and financial sustainability. Despite these assurances, the festival’s future remains uncertain, with the planned event in Hobart in February under review.
Synergy Festival, once hailed as a haven for artistic expression, now grapples with financial turmoil and accusations of cultural insensitivity. The delayed payments to performers, especially First Nations artists, highlight broader issues within the festival industry post-COVID. As the festival seeks to rectify its missteps and learn from its experiences, the broader community watches closely, hoping for a resolution that honors both artistic contributions and cultural integrity.
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