Azores Fringe Festival: Putting Pico and Azorean Artists on the Map

There's room for all art expressions at the Azores Fringe Festival
There's room for all art expressions at the Azores Fringe Festival

On the morning of the day I left for Pico, I received a message from Terry letting me know he would pick me up from the airport. It was around 7 am in Lisbon, 6 am local time in the Azores. I was about to realize later that day that I had no idea when he slept if he slept at all. No, the Azores Fringe Festival is not a one-man-show. Nor do I want to put Terry on a pedestal. But, damn it, I can’t write this post without saying that if it wasn’t for MiratecArts there wouldn’t be an Azores Fringe Festival going on its sixth edition in 2018.

Enter Terry Costa, the Director of MiratecArts

Between picking us up from the airport and driving us to CELLA Bar to toast the 5th edition of the Azores Fringe Festival, Terry had already made two calls, sent messages, put out fires, and juggled the needs and requests of the 20 artists staying in Pico for the first artist residency on the island, Once Upon Water, a partnership between Arts Unfold and MiratecArts.

If I had to describe him in a few words, I’d say he sways between having the energy of a dozen five year-olds jumping on a trampoline and the soothing type that assures you everything is going to work out fine.

As anyone else with an entrepreneurial drive that I know, Terry never stops. Because things need to get done. Because things need to happen. Because, most of the times, the success of the events rests on his shoulders. If anything was on the verge of failing, he readjusted.

Body Painting by Vitor Oliveira

Body Painting by Vitor Oliveira

Challenging Art as We (Think We) Know It

As we were driving around the town of Madalena, Terry pointed out all the street art works that were made during previous editions. Bringing urban art to a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, one where art is celebrated in its most traditional forms, is a bigger deal than you think. Locals aren’t used to accepting art that, well, fades. Carlos Farinha, a Portuguese French-born artist based in Lisbon, traveled to Pico that weekend to retouch one of his previous works. Terry is a shrewd diplomatic and he agreed to the local requests of retouching work that’s not meant to be retouched, never without explaining the concept of street art first.

Carlos Farinha retouching his work at the Azores Fringe Festival 2017

Carlos Farinha retouching his work at the Azores Fringe Festival 2017

Fringe Festivals are born because there’s a group of artists who do not conform or who can’t find their place in the artistic community. If you can’t find your place, then you make your place. It’s that simple.

The Azores Fringe Festival came to be for the same reasons through MiratecArts. What happens if you want to do something different, unexpected, uncomfortable even? You don’t wait for the moment to be just right and for people to have your back, you start your own organization.

Since 2012, the year MiratecArts was born, a cultural and artistic revolution swept the Portuguese archipelago. It’s like an experiment. People don’t come running at first, especially if your artistic program is odd to them. It takes time for it to grow on them, but it’s slowly happening.

Terry’s boldness, let’s call it like that, proved me two things: that the Azoreans are some of the most creative people I’ve ever met (and I dare to say this is a trait that is common to all Islanders) and that if you pour your heart and soul and passion into it, you can make things happen.

I’m sorry, am I focusing too much on the man and not the event again? It’s hard to dissociate the two. Especially when I was there, felt all that energy, watched the people take time off their Saturday to attend the performances under a scorching sun and witnessed Holly Lombardo (the director of World Fringe, the Association of Fringe Festivals worldwide) handing Terry a well-deserved award for five consecutive years of Fringe Festivals. The number of things Terry has achieved with a budget far behind the festival’s needs is truly remarkable.

Sure, all Fringe Festivals probably struggle with budgets and support. But this one, dear readers, is a festival happening on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with all the geographic limitations you can imagine.

*standing ovation*

Art in Pico by the Numbers

Recently Terry showed me the updated map of Galeria Costa, the same that I had the pleasure to write about for Lonely Planet. I compared it with the last map I had seen and was amazed at the growth. I told him it was a good sign that he was running out of blank space on that map.

Map of Galeria Costa in 2017

Map of Galeria Costa in 2017

In 2017, there were 150 events across the 9 islands, during the 5 weeks of the Azores Fringe Festival. From the 3.800 proposals from 107 different countries, the Festival was able to present the works of 302 artists from 52 countries. So far, the fifth edition was the biggest and the most sought out of all festivals. I believe in 2018 it will be even bigger.

A total of 40 works is now part of the Madalena Street Art Guide.

There are 24 art installations at Galeria Costa and it will continue to grow.

At DiscoverAzores, a website specifically built to list Azorean artists, there are, at the moment, 687 artists listed from all kinds of art forms.

Azores Fringe Festival, from the Islands to the World

All Fringe Festivals are flexible, as art can shift according to the moods of its creators or what attracts people the most. The sixth edition of the Azores Fringe Festival (happening in June 2018) will focus more on performance art.

Until January 1st, 2018, the Azores Fringe Festival is open to proposals from all artists, from anywhere in the world. Just follow this link and go for it.

If all I’ve written before isn’t enough to convince you that this is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity, the location alone should.

Wishful Thinking (Or a Plea from Me, the Eternal Optimistic)

I tried hard to not make this blog post political. But, screw it, everything is political.

I’ve thought about how to address it without burning bridges, more for Terry than myself. Then again, Terry didn’t commission me a blog post. In the name of fringe festivals and performance arts, I envisioned a couple of paragraphs written around a circus metaphor and clowns.

Yesterday, I was answering questions for an upcoming interview in an Azorean newspaper, most of them around my work and my experience as a travel writer. My mind wanders a lot when I write (to the point that it’s sometimes scary where it takes me) and I kept thinking what else could I do for art in the Azores. The purpose of having an independent online platform is that I’m the one calling the shots, so I can write about what I want when I want.

The circus metaphor and clowns approach was a bit too strong, so I ditched it.

However, I want to say this to the people who should be going out of their way to support culture. Don’t blame the lack of support on budget restraints. And don’t justify your lack of interest in supporting something that is the government’s job to support. That’s a big load of BS. Where there is a will, there is a way. While you’re all deciding who should be doing what, a whole Festival is happening, artists from Slovenia, Bulgaria, Canada, Austria, Belgium, New Zealand, USA were sharing their work with the locals, practically every day I was (and still am) receiving updates of what MiratecArts is doing.

I wholeheartedly wish for things to pick up the pace from now on because you are sitting on a cultural tourism gold mine. If my coverage helps the event to get the attention it deserves, my mission is accomplished.

The Azores are undeniably beautiful and unique, but there is more happening here than content cows grazing on emerald-green pastures, wild dolphins chasing tourist-filled boats, and traditional folklore dancing.

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