The Brag Media
exclusive Features October 8, 2019

AFIC Hot Seat: Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall

AFIC Hot Seat: Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall

Heather Croall is the chief executive and director of Adelaide Fringe Festival.

In 2019, Adelaide Fringe sold over 820,000 tickets, making it the largest fringe festival in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also Australia’s biggest ticket selling, open-access arts festival.

2020 will make the Festival’s 60th birthday, making it the second-longest-running fringe festival in the world, with music totalling 21% of the Adelaide Fringe program.

Croall will be appearing at this year’s inaugural Australian Festival Industry Conference to talk about Adelaide Fringe’s digital transformation.

It is held October 24-25 at Opal Cove Resort in Coffs Harbour, NSW. Tickets are on sale now.

TMN spoke with Croall about what draws her to be involved in this year’s inaugural AFIC and how she sees the industry developing over the next five years.

What are you most looking forward to at the inaugural Australian Festival Industry Conference?

While I am looking forward to presenting the outcomes we have experienced at Adelaide Fringe’s recent digital transition as part of my presentation at Australian Festival Event conference, I am also eager to hear from other presenters, particularly those working on increasing Aboriginal participation in the arts.

This is a focus at the Adelaide Fringe – we are committed to creating opportunities for Aboriginal artists to present their work and stories in our program and also to use the Adelaide Fringe platform to have their work picked up for other festivals, events and venues.

Another area I’m excited to discuss with other festivals at the conference is our marketplace – the Honey Pot – a thriving arts market in the Adelaide Fringe that attracts almost 300 other festivals and venue curators from around the world who descend on Adelaide Fringe scouting for shows and artists to book in the future.

We have seen exponential growth in the touring deals out of Honey Pot in the last few years and I would love to see if there are more festival directors at the conference who would like to come to Adelaide Fringe in 2020 and make the most of our amazing marketplace that is buzzing behind the scenes.

What presentations are on your ‘must-see’ list for this year?

In terms of the AFIC, I’m looking forward to meeting all the other delegates and speakers and hearing details about their festivals.

In terms of must-see events at Adelaide Fringe 2020, Yabarra is a project I can’t wait to see – it is an immersive First Nations storytelling experience involving large–scale light and sound artworks – it was first presented along the Torrens River in Adelaide Fringe 2019, and for 2020, Yabarra is being developed as an indoor immersive project at Tandanya, the Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide.

How important are events like AFIC to the continuing development of our industry?

Knowledge exchange is an important thing to contribute to and take from – we are forever learning and continuously improving so it’s always an honour to share stories and hear from others.

Platforms like AFIC allow for free-flowing information, bringing people from aligning industries together can spark interesting and important conversations.

It’s invaluable to understand the commonalities between organisations, especially surrounding issues and barriers, because then, we as a collective can start a conversation about change.

What are the biggest challenges facing Australian festivals today?

Sustainability and environment are key considerations for the festival industry moving forward, making sure that a festival doesn’t impact negatively on a landscape or have negative environmental repercussions should be a top priority.

It’s not just about making sure your drink comes in an eco-cup. It’s about an event’s entire carbon footprint.

Global warming is an issue for us all to deal with, pollution and the single-use mentality has got to change, the festival industry should be setting the example, implementing this change and understanding how to be effective in this space will be a huge challenge for the festival industry as a whole.

Improving access at festivals is also a challenge we all need to take on – it is so important that we all make our festivals as accessible as possible to everyone.

How can we future-proof the Aussie festival industry?

Artists and audiences will always dictate the need or want for a festival. I think innovation and creative thinking is the way to continue engaging our people and remaining relevant.

Keeping up with digital innovations and audience expectations in digital platforms is a big challenge for us all. We need to make sure the user journey is seamless when it comes to searching through our programs to buying tickets and requesting special access needs.

I hope the experience of the Adelaide Fringe digital transformation of recent years will be useful for other delegates at the conference. Even though we have done a huge amount, we have only begun and there’s so much more to do!

What new technologies or innovations should we be celebrating or looking forward to?

Technology has opened up a whole new way of conducting business in recent years, not to mention how it’s impacted creative industries in general. There are literally new art forms that have stemmed from new technology from virtual reality, and projections to light manipulation.

We are seeing conventional art forms hybridise with new technologies, multi-disciplinary collaborations and co-creations are delivering exciting new innovations – the outcomes are taking immersive forms that we haven’t seen before.

Advancements in communication technologies are a big contributor to elevating the festival industry; thereby giving us the ability to communicate a feeling or experience with global audiences like never before. The way we engage with this type of tech is still changing and evolving so I’m watching closely to see how things change next.

What are your big predictions for the festival industry over the next 3-5 years?

The public response to festivals seems louder and more enthusiastic than ever; I think we will see even higher levels of engagement in festivals in the next few years.

In Australia in particular, I suspect we will see more international engagement from overseas visitors specifically seeking out festival-based experiences.

In recent years Adelaide Fringe has recognised an increase in overseas attendance and we are also seeing this trend attached strongly to events like Edinburgh Fringe, Coachella and Glastonbury.

To view the full AFIC program or to purchase tickets, visit

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