Perth’s Fringe World festival parts way with mining giant Woodside

Uncomfortable alliance between arts festival and fossil fuel giant appears to have run its course

Perth’s Fringe World appears to have wound up its controversial partnership with the mining giant Woodside after a series of complaints from artists.

The move ends a decade-long, rocky relationship between the fossil fuel giant and the edgy annual multi-arts festival, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Protests have been staged by artists for the past three years over Woodside’s ongoing involvement, which included the naming rights for the festival’s central hub, The Pleasure Garden.

In January protests were ramped up after artists and producers accused the not-for-profit organisation Artrage, which runs the festival, of enforcing gag orders in performance contracts, requiring all participants to agree not to criticise any of the festival’s sponsors. At the time an Artrage spokesperson said: “We respect the right for peaceful protests … we respect the voices that artists have, in fact we encourage them, so it wasn’t meant to be a gagging order or any kind.”

On Thursday Artrage would not confirm it had dumped its major sponsor, saying only that Fringe World was now “out of contract” with Woodside and that all negotiations with potential partners were confidential.

Woodside declined to comment.

The change was revealed in an online survey inviting festival participants to provide feedback. In the survey’s preamble, Artrage suggested it had heard the protesters’ message loud and clear, and consequently would not be inviting respondents to comment on Woodside’s continuing involvement because the sponsorship contract had expired.

“Fringe World is currently out of contract with Woodside and as such, The Pleasure Garden will revert back to its original name,” the survey statement said.

“We are currently working on all partner relationships and will provide updates as/when there are more developments.”

One of the protest movement’s organisers, the Perth-based 350 campaigner Anthony Collins, said the arts community was taking the end of the festival’s relationship with Woodside as a sign of victory.

“By accepting Woodside’s sponsorship [Fringe World] was not just promoting the company’s name, they were promoting its actions, including the [potential] destruction of Indigenous rock art on the Burrup Peninsula, its terrible Scarborough gas project and the go-ahead with all manner of other nefarious activities,” he said.

“It’s an important win and we’re really grateful to [Artrage CEO] Sharon Burgess and the Artrage board for having listened to its own stakeholders, done the right thing and refused to promote Woodside any longer.”

Burgess declined to speak to Guardian Australia, instead providing a written statement acknowledging Woodside’s contribution to the festival over the past decade.

“Woodside has supported Fringe World festival since 2012 and the partnership has enabled the festival to build its capacity as an open-access platform for artists and the community,” the statement said.

“Over the years the partnership has resulted in the delivery of innovative artist-support initiatives like the Woodside Homegrown Heroes and Fringefeed. Woodside was also the instigator in conceiving and funding the first Fringe World app, which was launched in 2021.”

The statement added: “Fringe World is currently out of contract with Woodside. All negotiations with potential partners are confidential.”


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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