As FRINGE WORLD 2020 starts up in Perth, set to run until the 16th of February, the annual festival of music and comedy finds itself beleaguered by protest over its principal partner, fossil fuel company Woodside Petroleum.

 

The opening night was overshadowed by an Extinction Rebellion (XRWA)-led demonstration, with the group planning to continue with an ongoing “unauthorised performance,” conducting a reading of the 2018 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report. In a media release, Adam Bennett, Perth performer and member of the XRWA Festival Rebels, said:

 

“We aim to challenge the social license of a main festival sponsor, Woodside Petroleum. We will be reading the most important document ever written on climate change, while a polluting corporation is paying to associate their business with the delights of the Fringe. We love the FRINGE WORLD Festival. The time has come for all Australians to hear and understand the science better, so that we can demand a safe and sustainable future.”

 

The well-known global movement is not alone in taking notice of FRINGE WORLD’s unfortunate sponsor. A local group, Art and Cultural Workers for Climate Action WA, has organised a lengthy statement of concern over the involvement of the business in the arts as a way to improve its public image:

 

“As artists we would like to declare a state of climate emergency and acknowledge that Woodside is a principal sponsor of Fringe Festival. Woodside are a major contributor to climate change and are planning a huge gas hub in WA that will be four times worse than the Adani coal mine. This is unacceptable in the middle of a climate emergency and while our country is on fire. We reject companies using the arts to make themselves look good. It is possible to fund the festival in ethical ways without relying on fossil fuels. This is not a call to boycott Fringe Festival, this is a call to reclaim fringe festival.”

 

The group also made reference to the achievements of other artistic institutions across the world, such as the Tate Modern and Edinburgh International Festival, in severing their ties with fossil fuel companies. In contrast to these steps, Pelican readers may be interested to know that the University of Western Australia continues to involve itself, perhaps even to an increasing degree, with such businesses.

 

It is worth noting that although FRINGE WORLD has announced various efforts to raise money for bushfire relief, including a flat donation of $10,000 from the festival as well as several charity events, the press release contains no mention of climate change as a contributing factor to the ongoing bushfire crisis. Furthermore, the Festival’s sustainability plan focuses on environmental impact solely in terms of waste and material management, with no mention of climate or energy issues.

 

To this author, a night out at Fringe is always enjoyable, and seeing the Woodside logo on the advertising by no means diminishes my awareness of the criminal damage being wreaked upon our planet by such unapologetically destructive corporations. That said, denying big polluters the social credit that the Festival might lend them to some observers is surely no bad thing. The arts is very often at the forefront of social change – doubtless, there will be more to follow.

 

 

Words by Elanor Leman