How FORM Arcosanti Is Changing the Meaning of Music Festivals

May 9th, 2016

How FORM Arcosanti Is Changing the Meaning of Music Festivals

In today’s climate of music festival culture, the sense of intimacy, connection and collaboration that makes people fall in love with an artist can easily get lost amongst 90,000-person crowds, $14 bottles of water, and bath-salts-disguised-as-molly-rimmed Port-O-Potty seats. Many of our favorite festivals have become vast and impersonal, and those of us who can afford them willingly pay to subject ourselves to the kind of sunburn, impossibly long lines and compromised cell phone service that only the promise of seeing 14 of your favorite bands from a football field’s length away can ameliorate.

It’s in this context that FORM Arcosanti stands alone. Billed as a “sanctuary for inspiration,” FORM is a fascinatingly new and different experiment of the festival variety that focuses not just on large-scale entertainment, but on intimate creative collaboration.

An artist-curated platform imagined by Hundred Waters and family, FORM bring together artists of all mediums to create and perform together at the inspiring architectural nirvana that is Arcosanti. From the programming, to the venue, to the the way FORM selects its participants, the festival challenges today’s music festival model, pushing the meaning of what it is to connect.

It accomplishes this through what is perhaps its most visionary facet: its focus on the interaction of place and people through the lens of music and art. Just as Arcosanti was designed to explore how man and nature can coexist in harmony, FORM is designed not to witness as a spectacle, but to interact with and be inspired by. The intended result is something more personal, collaborative, and lasting.

A description of FORM from its 2016 Welcome Packet says it better than I ever could:

“The truly exceptional thing about FORM Arcosanti, what sets it apart from every other music festival on the planet, and what gives it its air of ecological sanity is that it takes place within and around the prototype buildings of Arcosanti. It does not happen in a converted football stadium, nor in a series of darkened nightclubs or elite galleries; it is not out on an unforgiving desert plain, or a converted farmer’s field. It occurs, as if by magic, in an architectural community designed by architect Paolo Soleri especially for events like this. In Soleri’s extraordinary architecture, the life of this event unfolds not just so spectators can witness terrific performers and performances, but in a way that they participate in the music itself, in the sense of community that Arcosanti’s connected spaces provide. Curved forms that catch sunlight, and views, and allow audience and musicians alike a sense of themselves mirrored by each other; a cultural setting on the one hand, a natural habitat on the other – architecture and ecology – all come together at Arcosanti in a way that they do nowhere else.”

Taking place between May 13-15, FORM will bring together diverse artists such as Skrillex, Bonobo, Mija, Ryan Hemsworth, Moses Sumney, Dawn, Julia Holter, Dan Deacon and more for a series of intimate performances framed by the alien architecture of Arcosanti. There will also be cultural programming from NeueHouse featuring visual artist Sanford Biggers, a discussion about Arcosanti founder Paolo Soleri between artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken and Architect / Co-President of Arcosanti, Jeff Stein; a discussion with comedian and writer Zach Anner who will join GQ Editor Michael Hainey to speak on overcoming a neurological disorder; a daily meditation and interactive sculpture experience from artist Kathy Garcia; and a full-day live 2D human painting from artist Alexa Meade.

But wait, there’s more.  There will also be series of workshops and discussion panels on creative process and collaboration with select performing artists and moderators hosted by WeTransfer and Boiler Room, with participants that range from Ryan Hemsworth, Mija, Son Lux, Braids, Hundred Waters, and … the list goes on.

… Not to mention the number of wonderful, irregular things that happen at FORM outside of its regular programming. One of the most valuable parts of the festival is the free-form artist participation that often takes the shape of off-schedule performances like spontaneous cliff side piano serenades, sunset yoga and meditation, and unscheduled jam sessions.

It’s this kind of atmosphere that FORM co-founder Zach Tetreault believes makes the festival such a singular experience.

“The artists we pick really fully understand what we’re trying to do,” he told us, referring to the aura of collaboration that FORM’s programming facilitates. “Stuff like that kind of re-iterates why we’re doing this. It’s such a rejuvenating experience artistically and creatively to have this opportunity to really get to know the other artists that are performing, as well the people who are onsite, and to see them be able to interact with each other in ways that they could never normally do.”

Yeah … Eat it, Lollapalooza.

Yet, while the programming, concept and location of FORM Arcosanti already set it apart from other festivals, there’s still another idiosyncrasy that seals its presence as a festival on an entirely different playing field; its participant selection process.

See, since Arcosanti itself is such a small, specialized venue, it’s a logistical and spatial impossibility to accommodate everyone who wants to go. So, in order to maintain a level of respect for the venue and for the collaborative environment they’re trying to create, Hundred Waters and the FORM family use a highly specialized application process to select participants.

To do this, FORM employs a questionnaire designed to probe the role of creativity in applicants’ lives in hopes of seeking out people who will both contribute to FORM’s ethos of collaboration and benefit from it the most. There’s no one type of person they’re looking for, or one industry applicants usually come from; rather the most important thing FORM looks for is whether creativity is important to you and how you use that in your daily life and work.

Hundred Waters literally reviews every single application by hand in search of the right people to invite. Those who provide links to projects they’ve worked on, or some sort of synopses of what propels them creatively tend to stand out.

“Work is a great indicator,” Zach says. “If someone says they’re an architect, and they provide a link to some of their work, that’s always a really good indicator of what they’re interested in, even what inspires them. We want to see the role creativity and inspiration plays in people’s work.”

Out of the tens of thousands of people that apply, only around 1,500 get in. It’s an almost Harvard-like acceptance rate that can feel exclusive, but for Hundred Waters and the creators of FORM, it holds a valuable purpose that’s at the core of what sets the festival apart. The ability to curate an audience who inherently thrives on creativity and collaboration is the heartbeat of the festival.

As Zach says, this process tends to create an “overarching respect for each other, the environment and the facility of Arcosanti. The participants we invite, we build  lifelong relationships with,” he says. “It’s just the intimacy of it, the intentionality of it that makes it totally pure. It’s art for art and that’s it.”

“Part of why we did the application process,” he explains, “is because we didn’t want to just let anybody who bought a ticket come, and then end up with some really thoughtless, careless group of people who would not respect the property and then could hold over our heads, ‘Well I paid for this, I paid to be here, so I can do whatever I want. If I don’t want to pick up my trash, that’s my decision or whatever.’ We figured by eliminating that, it creates this principle of consistency and everyone being on the same wavelength. It’s just a higher and more elevated approach and respect for the place.” In that way, FORM’s handpicked audience mirrors what the festival stands for itself. This, more than anything, is what propels it to the newfangled horizon of the so-called “future festival.”

And for the blessed few that get to attend, FORM won’t break the bank; it’s completely free, something Hundred Waters intentionally put in place in order to provide a more egalitarian experience for its participants.

“Whoever has the money for something tends to get the opportunity and I don’t feel like that should be the only way that things are run in the world,” Zach says. Instead, by making FORM free, the class system, VIP sections and spatial separation between artists and participants that most festivals employ all go out the window.

However, while this process can certainly feel exclusive, the FORM team is working hard on expanding the festival in various ways to make it a year-round experience that anyone can attend.  They’re doing this in two ways.

The first is FORM Labs, is a one-night multidimensional art experience in a specific city featuring both emerging and established artists alongside film, art and performance in an immersive, experiential environment. The inaugural FORM Labs happened in April at NeueHouse in Los Angeles, but there are already plans for it to spring up in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco as well.

The second, bigger picture idea is called FORM Circuit, and it’ll function like a touring property for FORM. For three days, the festival will take over spatially unique performing art centers around the world like the Sydney Opera House, UCLA and Duke University for an immersive weekend of collaborative art and music programming. Basically, it’s Acrosanti, but not necessarily at Arcosanti (although that location will be a mainstay of FORM’s future events).

So, if you’re missing the upcoming festival this weekend, don’t even worry. There will be something for you in the very near future. And when it comes, expect something entirely fresh, interactive, entirely different than what you’re used to. After all, that’s the purpose of FORM.