Q&A with Adelaide Fringe CEO Heather Croall

Heather Croall, CEO of one of Australia's biggest festivals, Adelaide Fringe, shares her insight.
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1. What in your opinion are the biggest challenges facing festivals today?

Adelaide Fringe is a huge ecosystem of over 500 venues. We have a challenge to service the vast number of artists, venues and many other stakeholders.

One of the challenges that Open Access festivals face is how to help all the different artists and venues to cut through the noise in the world and attract to audiences. In the Fringe ecosystem, venue programmers and producers play an important role, as do press and publicity agents in helping sell tickets. There’s a need for great producers to help artists put on shows. The Producer has to have a real grasp on the business side of the arts, they have to be able to raise funds, understand marketing and ticketing and how budgets and accounts work. The job of a producer is critical and can be a real slog – often it feels thankless, which can make some producers drop out of the industry. We urgently need more producers who can help artists do the business side of festivals. 

Festivals require many resilient, brave, visionary people to put on shows and be part of something life changing. 

Raising enough funds to put on any festival is always a challenge and any festival is always made up of a diverse set of income streams. At Adelaide Fringe we work year round to secure government funds, sponsors, donors, artist registrations, ticket buyers and more. Everything we do is aimed at helping all the participants of the Fringe to have a great experience – that includes artists, venues, sponsors, audience members and many more. 

2. What has been the biggest challenge to presenting AFF so far? How did you overcome this challenge?

When I first arrived at Adelaide Fringe there were many artists saying that the fees charged from their Box Office sales were making it hard to make a Fringe season financially viable. At the time, inside fees on tickets were approximately 10% of each ticket. With support from the state govt, we were able to abolish those inside fees to zero for the tickets under $35 and reduce to 4% the inside fees for tickets above $35.  It means that a much greater amount of money from Box Office Settlements ends up in the pockets of Artists after their Fringe season than ever before. We are extremely proud to have led the way in abolishing and reducing inside fees so that more money flows to the artists. 

3. What do you love about presenting AFF? 

Something we are committed to at Adelaide Fringe is to increase First Nations participation in our festival and that is across all areas of artists, staff and audiences. we have introduced a number of initiatives that help us achieve these goals and it’s so exciting to see the developments in this area. 

I also love is seeing the massive crowds of people on the streets of Adelaide for the month of Fringe. Last year we sold 825,000 tickets which makes us the biggest ticket selling arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere. People pour out into the streets during Fringe and to see the pure joy on their faces makes all the hard work worthwhile.

4. What do you want people to remember about Heather Croall? What is your legacy in the Arts?

My focus has been on a few new initiatives at Adelaide Fringe since I arrived in 2016;

One area that I have devoted huge time and effort to is increasing the Philanthropic activity at Adelaide Fringe. We have increased exponentially the donations we receive and in turn the grants we can give our to artists as a result of those donations. 

Another big focus of mine has been the revolutionary digital platform we have built and implemented in the last few years at Adelaide Fringe. The Digital Platform brought Adelaide Fringe into the new digital age and now delivers a vastly improved service to our artists and venues and it has ushered in enormous ticket sales growth for us. Thanks to the Digital Platform, we switched on eticketing in 2019, allowing audiences to choose paperless ticketing, a step we are happy to see reduces our carbon footprint as well as simplifying the ticket process for audiences.

 The third area I have focussed on during my time as Director of Adelaide Fringe is expanding the Adelaide Fringe industry marketplace (Honey Pot) – it occurs behind the scenes and is now attracting hundreds of delegates from around the world who come to scout for shows. Adelaide Fringe is now a thriving launch-pad for artists – each year, millions of dollars of future tour bookings are signed with artists thanks to the Honey Pot. Artists get to meet dozens of festival directors and venue curators from around Australia and the World when they come and do a show in the Adelaide Fringe. Many tours are booked from those meetings and it is making a big difference to the artists’ ability to carve out a living in the arts. 

5. How do you see ‘digital’ impacting festivals in the future? 

It’s absolutely imperative to get on top of it. Our digital platform has transformed our organisation in the last few years. Not only is our state of the art Artist and Venue system critical to our organisation but the new digital ticketing system has been key to our audience growth. Social Media is also critical – not only the socials driven by the festival but also the social media from the individual artists and shows 

Heather Croall is the Director and Chief Executive of Adelaide Fringe. Catch Heather at the inaugural Australian Festival Industry Conference (24-25 October, Coffs Harbour NSW) on Thursday 24th October where she’ll be delivering a presentation on Adelaide Fringe’s digital transformation. To view the program or to purchase tickets, visit www.australianfestivalconference.com.au

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