Using Expertise Beyond the Festival Site — The Case of Roskilde Festival

By Yoko Inoue

The largest music festival in Denmark, Roskilde Festival, maybe one of the businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the event’s cancellation made fans and volunteers hang their heads, the organizers had to find a way to keep a thousand volunteers engaged and also find a way to use their expertise outside of the festival.

On September 16, Dorthe Hove Olesen, Deputy director at Roskilde Festival, appeared as the third guest of “Republikken Talk,” a series of talks where ten people share how they responded to the pandemic by rethinking their business in order to survive the crisis.

Photo: Oskar Cornelius

New job started under the lockdown

I started my job at Roskilde Festival in April 2020, and I signed my contract on March 5, right before the first lockdown and approximately one month before the cancellation of our festival. So my story with Roskilde Festival is very much a Corona love story.

Roskilde Festival is the biggest musical festival in Denmark and has been a non-profit organization since 1972. We earn 15–20 million DKK from the festival and donate the money to support children and young people in Denmark and abroad. We are also a business who advise companies or other festivals using our knowledge gained through 50 years of experience hosting large festivals.

We engage with 30,000 volunteers during the festival and 1,200 volunteers all year round. This is one of the specialities of the Roskilde Festival, I would say, that we are able to engage these many highly skilled people in building a lively city for one week, every year. I’m responsible for the organization’s development and engagement with the volunteers, which is at the core of our organization.

The darkest period of my work-life

In 2020, we were to celebrate our 50th anniversary. We had a new strategy to be more visible in the market.

Then pandemic hit us. It was a period of stress and uncertainty for the whole organization, but the stress level went down when we realized we were going to get help from the government. Everybody wanted us to survive, and we felt love and support from participants and the government.

In a way, the crisis was even more profound for our organizational life. We cancelled the festival in 2020, but still had to motivate 1,200 volunteers to believe we could host a festival a year later. Our CEO was in endless meetings with government officials and politicians. We were sometimes hopeful, although still in doubt. That period, I will always remember as the darkest period of my work-life. We ended up losing two festivals, and an awful lot of money that should have been donated to youth activities.

Photo: Oskar Cornelius

Finding ways to help — other than through donations

So what did we do?

We have spent 50 years perfecting the festival, so we used our knowledge of, for instance, crowd management, engaging with volunteers or building sites. At the early stage, we advised how to construct the COVID-19 test centres, set up the tents, ensure they had access to electricity, and find ways to keep social distancing in the long lines. You may have seen guys in blue jackets on Strøget (the main shopping street in Copenhagen); they were from our company. They engaged in crowd safety, ensuring that people would keep social distancing. We also advised corporations on how to gather people safely.

We are a philanthropic organization that donates all we earn at the festival. But we don’t have any money to donate at the moment. So what we do now is to team up with other funds and with people, we want to support and help them with our knowledge and expertise in developing youth environments and using music and art. We have learned that we can be helpful by using our expertise without a big bag of money. In a way, we got great momentum for rolling out the new strategy.

I think people have a strong need to be close to one another, and we don’t believe that we have to give up on that at our festival. But what we do have to change dramatically is sustainability issues. The world has changed a lot since we hosted the festival last time, and we aim to push the boundaries on how we can make a festival more sustainable.

We just announced a new festival, GRASP. This is a festival of ideas with scientists and artists using a large installation to present sustainable solutions. It is going to be exciting.

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Republikken is a coworking space out of Copenhagen Denmark. We build a strong community by connecting our members in a tight professional network.