Fusebox Goes Free Range

Festival's 10th anniversary gift to you: No admission charge

Fusebox Goes Free Range

There may still be no such thing as a free lunch, but a free Fusebox Festival? That's coming your way next spring. So says Ron Berry, founder and guiding light of the annual hybrid arts celebration, who made the announcement Tuesday at the French Legation during a preview party for the 10th anniversary edition. In 2014, all shows will be free.

Fusebox has been headed in this direction for some time. It's hosted numerous free events – about a third of its programming, the company estimates – seeing them as a critical tool for providing access to the art it presents. With each one, Berry and company saw how much the lack of a price tag encouraged people to take a chance on an artist that might be unfamiliar to them or a performance that might be out of their comfort zone. More folks saw more work, and that engendered more conversations about art, ideas, and community – the Holy Grail for Berry and his festival. With ticket sales covering less than 15% of the fest's costs anyway, the Fuseboxers were eventually led to ask, "What if we just took the cash transaction out of the festival altogether?"

Berry notes that the decision wasn't made lightly. It came after a studious review of attendance figures for Fusebox's free events and those for which it charged admission; an examination of other cultural events/institutions that don't charge; conversations with, as Berry says, "a bunch of people"; and not a little soul-searching about the festival's mission. In the end, what persuaded them to go free were the ideas that "everyone should have access to the art we’re presenting. Period"; that more people would be likely to discover new work – and more new work – if the risk associated with paying to see it was removed; and that the relationship between the audience and artists would benefit if the former wasn't coming to the latter's work from a consumer perspective. And so Free Range Art, the moniker previously applied to those few Fusebox events that were presented without charge, will now be applied to the fest as a whole.

Berry is certainly aware of the argument that making art free – in essence, giving it away – will cheapen its value in our contemporary capitalist society. And, true to form, he wants to talk about that. In the Fusebox release announcing the change, Berry is quoted as saying, "We wanted to have a larger, national dialogue about the role that art and performance plays in our culture – a conversation about how we value art. How is it situated? Are there other strategies for making art more vital, more integrated into our daily lives? We wanted to have an open, transparent discussion about all of this."

How then, you may wonder, is Fusebox making up the revenue from ticket sales? Kickstarter is one answer. A campaign was launched last night to raise $20,000 over the next eight weeks. No doubt other funding sources will also be approached – the "access to all" philosophy is especially appealing to certain foundations and philanthropists – but crowdsourcing may be the best bellwether with regard to the audience's response to this idea. Are you willing to put up the cost of the tickets you would have bought to Fusebox next April to help the festival be free?

For more information, visit www.fuseboxfestival.com.

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