As gender balance across festival line ups continues to grab headlines and attention, Serbia’s Exit Festival has bucked the trend and is rightfullly proud to achieve 64% representation for women in their crew. We asked Alisa Rastovac, EXIT’s head of creative about how it was achieved and what it means to the organisation:
- Please introduce yourself and explain what your role is at EXIT Festival?
Hi, my name is Alisa. I began my event industry journey nearly 13 years ago, and now, at the age of 31, I climbed my way to the position of the Head of Creative Department at EXIT Festival. I’ve been given the opportunity to experience the festival industry through all its nooks and crannies from mouth to mouth promotion, volunteering, booking, communication and at last handling my own department.
My role is to manage the creative processes within the organisation, and oversee the development and execution of all creative concepts, from communication, ideas, visuals, to videos, brand activations, advertisement assets and more. I get to work with most of my colleagues within the Marketing department and join forces to create campaigns that will amuse and entertain even before the festival begins.
- As the head of creative at the festival, how have you seen concepts develop and evolve over the years? This year is looking fairly special from a creative perspective!
Over the years, I’ve seen concepts develop and evolve in more ways than one. So much goes into creating the final idea, I’ve witnessed brainstorming and creating concepts for different festivals and events, and many people giving their best without ever losing their creative drive. We’ve been able to experiment with different themes, styles, and technologies to create memorable experiences for festival-goers. We understood that various mediums of art go hand-in-hand, and decided to make them our greatest asset.
From the very beginning, the one thing that is core to every concept are the values that EXIT has been preaching for years. Our campaigns tend to be like onions, with so many layers to their meaning and most of our values intertwined either through the visual elements, or our communication towards our visitors and the public.
This year is no exception with “EXIT Universe”. As an organisation and movement, in recent years we explored the connection we have as humans, and how it connects us to the big picture. EXIT Universe is our way of putting the spotlight on each of us and each of you, making every individual the brightest star in our path.
- With 64% of the crew currently female-led at EXIT, please let us know how this came to fruition, was it by chance or was there an active push for this to happen?
The ratio of women and men in the team at EXIT Festival was not created intentionally. It came naturally, and it was only at one point that we realised that the team was led by women in various positions. Two thirds of our organisation is made up of women, in both junior and senior positions. Credibility was never overthrown by gender, and that is the point. We have women working in every department, some of which are only women like finances, fundraising and PR.
At EXIT, what matters is not someone’s gender, but how dedicated, hard working and motivated they are in their work. It’s not in any way miraculous to see so many women, it’s our everyday life. Quite frankly, that makes it even more empowering and amazing.
- What, if any, kind of reactions have you had to the gender balance figures so far?
I got so much praise from many different sides and people of various backgrounds for the fact that EXIT is basically standing on women’s feet. Sadly it still isn’t too common to hear that an organisation of this scale has more than 64% of women in its team, so it’s still a bit surprising to some, but for others, it’s great. From my point of view, it’s appreciable to experience being seen for what I bring to the table, not my gender. As someone in a position of responsibility, my knowledge, and abilities were never questioned because of it.
This is a sign of progress, and it’s inspiring to see how people around me have reacted to the shift towards breaking down gender roles and barriers we’ve inherited generationally.
- Is this also reflected in the line-up, can you provide some further insights to this?
In terms of the lineup, for example, we have an all-female concept on Thursday at Dance Arena, with Nina Kraviz, Amelie Lens, Indira Paganotto, Tijana T, and Miju. We have loud and proud women on all of our stages throughout the entire festival. We have international, regional and local performers taking over the fortress this year in each genre, which is stunning.
We want to showcase inspiring musicians, women who send a strong message with their creativity, passion, and appearance, who are strong and unstoppable and can be role models for girls. Female icons who have performed at EXIT include Grace Jones, Roisin Murphy, Ellie Goulding, Iggy Azalea, Sevdaliza, and many others in diverse genres. We’ve supported and continue to support up and coming artists as well as well renowned with more and more female artists beginning their careers each year.
- Do you see any unexpected benefits in achieving this re-balance?
The benefits are changing the narrative and breaking the barrier when it comes to gender inequality, in our organisation and much further. It’s normal for me to work with mostly women, and it’s also normal for the men around me. It’s something that we are proud of and will responsibly pass on to future generations.
It’s also an important lesson for me, and those around me to take on a mentorship of sorts, leading the way for younger co-workers, and allowing them to shine and show off all of their capabilities and qualities.
We have a responsibility to integrate young women, and give them space to grow and be whatever they choose to be, in this industry or any other. And seeing that happen everyday in my place of work is the greatest benefit.
- Finally, how do you see festivals in the music industry continuing to look at fairer and more inclusive crews and lineups in the near future?
I believe that women today more than ever give themselves permission to be great in any profession. I’ve seen women work in each sector you can imagine, including the “dirty” and “hard work”, I’ve seen women perform, I’ve seen women resolve crises, and enjoy their work at the end of the day, and it’s the best thing ever.
There will always be obstacles, but the more empowered women there are, the more support we will be able to give to ones that are at their beginning. If this interview and my example inspire even one woman, I couldn’t be more proud. If there were more women on festival programs, two occurrences must happen in parallel – female musicians who work on themselves and their dreams, and festival/event organisers who support them.
I am optimistic that equality will soon be reflected even more both in the music program and in general. I truly believe that we can power through anything, and get the treatment we deserve, equal work conditions, equal pay, a fair narrative surrounding our positions, and equal respect for what we achieve.
If it doesn’t go as fast as we wish, I believe we will have the strength to shine things forward.