XTRAX Global Conversations: FiraTàrrega and the Catalonia-UK Exchange

Following our recent collaboration with FiraTàrrega 2022, and in the framework of our Global Conversations series, Anna Giribet and Mike Ribalta shared their experiences of presenting a number of UK companies in a post-Brexit landscape, as well as facilitating key meetings and conversations, in the context of the wider Catalonia-UK Exchange programme.

Bona tarda, Anna and Mike and thank you for joining us in this conversation. To begin with, could you reflect on your relationship with XTRAX over the years and how we have worked together in the past?

The relationship between FiraTàrrega and XTRAX started a long time ago, with the participation of Fira in one of the early Streets Ahead Festival, organised by Manchester International Arts (MIA). There, we met with MIA Directors Anne Tucker and Jeremy Shine.
Their knowledge and vigour were an inspiration for the team of FiraTàrrega at a time when we were resuming our international collaborations. The work with MIA and, later, XTRAX and its director Maggie Clarke has been regular, based on an exchange of projects, ideas and wishes. Luckily, many of them have been successful and have strengthened a relationship based on trust, professionality and friendship, which continues today, more active and necessary than ever, in a time of new barriers to art exchanges between UK and Europe.

In September this year, we were thrilled to work with you as our first European partner to present a Spotlight UK programme post-pandemic and post-Brexit. Can you tell us about the programme and how the collaboration came about?

After two complicated years, this 2022 we proudly presented three UK companies in our official program: Kaleider, Hands Down Circus and Joseph Toonga. These three companies truly account for what UK creators master: large scale, quality entertainment and diversity.
The way we selected each one of these shows explains key strands for FiraTàrrega, namely: internationalisation, support for creation and a close relationship with the sector. Kaleider comes to us through the INSITU international network; from the Suport a la Creació 2020 programme and the relationship with Roundhouse we selected the emerging company Hands Down Circus, and from the relationship with XTRAX and UK distributors we selected the work by Joseph Toonga.

You have presented UK companies in the past. What were the main differences you have noticed this time around? Please outline some of the key challenges and how you addressed them, as well as your perceptions on the short and long-term impact you anticipate this having on artist mobility and touring.

The answer is clear: new economic barriers have appeared after Brexit. Taxes on fees have increased, we have to deal with extra costs like ATA carnets and other unexpected shipping costs. The UK companies have acknowledged themselves that it is quite difficult to keep up to date with what the final costs of the actions would be. In this sense, the presence and support of XTRAX has been indispensable. XTRAX has established itself as a consulting body, both for the touring companies and for the festivals that host these companies. I can’t imagine what would have happened without this help. This is the short-term picture and explanation of what has gone wrong. In the long term, I think the answer is also clear, if no
aid appears to reduce the costs of programming UK companies, it is very likely that the international presence of these companies will decrease. And that would be a shame.

What do you think the UK outdoor arts sector has to offer in an international context?

The UK outdoor arts sector has developed its own brand of festive celebratory acts, close to the community, that combine public entertainment with social claim, in a very distinctive way. This makes it unique and very interesting to show to audiences outside the UK. Their approach to accessibility, diversity and environmental sustainability is something to learn from. The increasing artistic standards of many of the companies make them key players in the international scene.
In addition to the artistic interest, the UK outdoor arts sector is a model of governance, cooperation and development. The work of networks and membership organisations such as OAUK or the Without Walls consortium is a guide of best practice. Their advocacy has been key to propel the creation and creators of the UK all over the world.

The Spotlight UK at FiraTàrrega was part of a wider programme of artistic and cultural exchange between Catalonia and the UK outdoor arts. What role did FiraTàrrega play in this programme and what do you think is the value of such collaborations based on reciprocity?

FiraTàrrega was interested to show the work of various companies from UK that we work with: Kaleider, Hands Down Circus, and a proposal that reached us through the open call (Joseph Toonga). This interest was the seed for a larger project of cultural exchange led by XTRAX. The close relationship with XTRAX made the project a reality, turning a simple booking of companies into a larger and more fruitful exchange project. The value of this model is clear, as it brings partners together (as we did with MAC in Barcelona and OUAK in the UK), it increases visibility of all participants and it multiplies the impact of the actions proposed. The collaboration of Catalan Arts UK was essential to this win-win scenario.

Catalan outdoor arts are highly respected and tend to be well represented at UK festivals.
What do you imagine international collaboration between the UK and Europe will look like in the coming years?

It is true that there has been a lot of presence of Catalan companies at UK festivals and vice versa, but we think it is time to go further than just simple presentations or spotlights.
International relations also happen to welcome creative processes and cause professional exchanges. We do not dare to say how we imagine the relationship between the UK companies and Europe, but with Catalonia, the relationship should focus on exchanges in artistic residencies, collaborations with artistic talents and co-productions. We are sure that this new model would bring more benefits in the long term. There is a historical relationship between festivals and now we need to continue this relationship with joint productions and artist support projects.

Can you share one final thought on how the outdoor arts as a sector can continue working across geographical, cultural and bureaucratic borders despite the challenges posed by the current global situation?

Luckily, what art is made of goes far beyond borders, and despite all adversities, artists continue to think, to create, to build, to express. Outdoors arts are, by default, inviting, inclusive, wide, open and inspiring, and may be the first point of contact with culture for many people. However, they face one major challenge: the control and privatisation of the public space. In that sense, we, agents of the outdoor arts, need to work to guarantee that outdoor spaces continue belonging to everybody as a common good, and in this sense, outdoor arts are a way to reclaim a lively public space for all.

Anna Giribet i Argilés – FiraTàrrega (Catalonia, Spain)
Graduate in Economics, Postgraduate in Management of Institutions, companies and cultural platforms and MA on Cultural Management. Between 2011 and 2018 she was the programme manager of FiraTàrrega and she has been the Artistic Director of FiraTàrrega since 2019.

Mike Ribalta – FiraTàrrega (Catalonia, Spain)
Graduate in History of Art and Master in Creation and Production of Fiction and Entertainment. He has been Head of the department of Professionals at FiraTàrrega since 2001. As such, he is also the coordinator of the Performing Arts Market La Llotja.

This project is supported by Platform 4:UK, XTRAX’s Arts Council of England funded project for international collaboration in outdoor arts.

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Image credits: Born To Protest by Just Us Dance Theatre and Joseph Tonga at FiraTàrrega 2022 © Nuria Boleda


To find out more about XTRAX Global Conversations contact Irene Segura at info@xtrax.org.uk