By Yesim Tonga Uriarte, Robert DeFillippi, Massimo Riccaboni, Maria Luisa Catoni

How are festivals managed within their wide net of temporal, social and institutional relations? In search of answers, we provide the summary of a case study that features one of the biggest comic-cons in the world and we argue that understanding how festivals maintain themselves must focus on understanding how these temporary organizations are able to effect processes of persistence, stability and change in the context of upheaval, continuity and transformation.

Festivalization of culture has become a growing phenomenon in recent years, since “festivals have been increasing their prominence as a medium for endorsing local development, promoting tourism, and improving city image” (Tonga Uriarte et al., 2019, p. 817) along with their primary purposes, such as audience/participant outreach, cultural creativity and exchange. As a result, festivals are organized with the involvement of different actors at different levels and they are embedded in a wide net of temporal, social and institutional relations. Nevertheless, how this multi-layered embeddedness is shaped and in which ways festivals are managed as temporary organizations with a complex network of actors are questions that require further scholarly attention.

In a recent study, we investigated these questions by focusing on the importance of institutional entrepreneurs, and by categorising the principal actors involved in the festival organization and analysing their different institutional logics that might generate tensions for the festival management. To this end, we employed the institutional theory (particularly Thornton and Ocasio’s (1999) institutional logic framework and Lawrence and Suddaby’s (2006) institutional practices framework) and investigated how a festival’s institutional practices manage competing logics and shape the festival’s organizational setting for enabling project work and continuity.

Our case study, Lucca Comics & Games (LC&G), is the biggest cultural and commercial event in Italy dedicated to fantasy culture, which is a large umbrella of declinations that includes not only literature, games, comics, cinema and their transmedial convergences (Harvey, 2015), but also related forms of lifestyle narratives and socialization practices. Today, this festival has become also one of the biggest in the world, bringing around 500,000 attendees (Lucca Crea Srl, 2016) to the historic city of Lucca. In this regard, the festival embodies unique characteristics and challenges since it is a 100% public initiative with more than 50 years history and organized throughout various locations of a historic city. In our study, based on archival research, media coverage and interview data, we conducted historical and contextual analysis and empirically examined the forms of institutional logics of action and associated institutional work practices employed by the LC&G lead organization.

Our results reveal how dynamic changes in both macro and micro institutional factors have impacted the institutional work practices and choices made in organizing LC&G. At the macro institutional level, the fantasy sector of cartoons, comics and illustrations in the mid-1960s was primarily focused on the publishing industry in the form of paperback magazine and book (now categorized as graphic novel) offerings. However, over the succeeding decades, the fantasy heroes and mythic stories originally represented in paperback magazines and books became content platforms for an increasing diversity of media formats, including television, movies and video games. Moreover, the fantasy imagery of the original comics and graphic novels was supplemented by the integration of live actors and computer-generated imagery in movie and television program offerings that expanded the audience for these offerings beyond the original comics fan base. Our LC&G history documents how the expanding media base of fantasy culture is represented in the expanding scope of the festival’s thematic offerings with a substantial growth in the festival program and audience.

At the micro institutional level, tensions between the cultural/artistic and commercial logics are resolved through building transversality within the organizational structure that facilitates cross-functional collaboration, balancing artistic and commercial aspects within the event program. Furthermore, the relations built with external partners and exhibitors through collaborations, monitoring and policing practices facilitate programming the festival agenda while easing such tensions.

Secondly, enabling work, policing and deterrence practices are effective in resolving the tensions among public and private domains. The institutional identity prioritizes the public logic since the festival lead organization was built as a 100% public institution. The managerial autonomy obtained through defining the lead organization as a limited company provides higher flexibility and dynamism to execute the project administration and to address the needs of the private domain, while the link with the Lucca Holding involves ensuring compliance with public bodies principles, like the focus on public benefit, transparency and accountability through enforcement, auditing and monitoring mechanisms.

Another core challenge is to balance the tensions among festival traditions/core values coming from the past and improvements/changes to be adapted for present and future of the festival. To this end, strengthening unity through improved transversality within the lead organization along with the creation of new roles and responsibilities ensures the transfer of know-how from institutional entrepreneurs, who can be defined as the repositories of the festival memory, to the new members and cultivates common organizational culture, which is based on “the spirit of sacrifice, passion and competence” (Lucca Crea Srl, 2016).

Overall, our evidence testifies that institutional work devoted to maintaining the festival helps to keep a balance between these tensions and institutional logics, while bringing the project to the future through integrating change as constitutive of organizational reality. In many cases, the tensions between competing institutional logics occur as creative tensions that push for innovative solutions, which are experimented over the course of festival editions. As a result, this ‘temporary’ event changes the ‘stable’ institutional structure through project actions and institutional work practices, introduces dynamism to the public domain and even outlives several ‘permanent’ organizations that used to manage the festival.

Based on our results, we argue that the study of festivals is essential to understanding key aspects of project-based organizing more generally with important policy implications. In this regard, the maintaining of institutions must be distinguished from stability or the absence of change and consideration of historical and contextual analysis, and multiple tensions that occur due to competing institutional logics can open up new ways of thinking for prospective research and cultural policies.

About the authors:

Yesim Tonga Uriarte, Analysis and Management of Cultural Heritage, IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Robert DeFillippi, Strategy and International Business Department, Sawyer Business School, Suffolk University, USA.

Massimo Riccaboni, Analysis and Management of Cultural Heritage, IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Maria Luisa Catoni, Analysis and Management of Cultural Heritage, IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

The article is based on:

Uriarte, Y. T., DeFillippi, R., Riccaboni, M., & Catoni, M. L. (2019). Projects, institutional logics and institutional work practices: The case of the Lucca Comics & Games Festival. International Journal of Project Management, 37(2), 318-330.

About the image: Giacomo Bartalesi (2007) Maestro Joda

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