Industry Insider: Philip Blaine on the Art of Coachella

posted by Marjana Jaidi on February 27, 2014

Photo: Coachella 2012 by Oliver Correa

Ask any festivalgoer at Coachella (we did!) and they'll tell you the art installations are a major part of the festival's identity. One of the pivotal figures in building and fostering Coachella's art component is Philip Blaine, whom we met at the International Music Festival Conference in Austin last December. In addition to curating the art installations at Coachella for 8 years, Blaine has had a hand in many of your favorite festivals - as art curator and beyond - including Electric Daisy Carnival, Electric Forest, and Stagecoach.

We sat down with Blaine at IMFCON to discuss the importance of art installations at music festivals, how they've evolved, and his role as a festival consultant. 

On the role of art installations at a music festival: 
A festival can just be a series of concerts on a series of stages, and that really to me is not a total festival. You want it to be something that has really great food, really great location, has a whole environment that is really transporting you into an experience. And the large-scale installation art is one of the easiest things to do. It's visual, it creates an identity, it changes from year to year, it is something that really shows that personality of a festival and makes it different.

When you look out over the field of Coachella, you really see that you are someplace different. You have it surrounded by palm trees but then you have not just the tents and stages, you see huge spires of bamboo and big huge structures and experimental architecture, art pieces, and environments that are totally immersive. You can walk inside them, they light up and transform into something different at night… a major aspect of Coachella has now been the large scale installation art.

On the growth of Coachella's large-scale art installations:
Coachella was always the 'Music and Arts Festival,' but in its first year it only had one or two pieces. In its second year it started to grow a little bit, but it really didn't start to develop until 2002. Even then it was still a $10-$15,000 dollar budget, then $25,000 the next year. I think it wasn't until 2005 that it got to about $50,000 and then 2006 it was up to like $100,000. And then at that point we were really able to make an impact. 2006 was kind of the pivotal year for Coachella and large-scale installation art. At that point, I think it had 12 different pieces.

On factors to consider when curating art installations:
We found that you really have to break a certain height, because anything that is lower than six feet or even ten feet just gets lost in the crowd. People are generally six feet tall, or at least that can be the perception, and that covers up so much of a percentage of the piece. So it's important to have something that's got a bit of height to it because then it affects the skyline and then the overall impression. Even from a distance it affects the aesthetics of the festival.

On what he does as a festival consultant: 
I really would like to add connective tissue between the departments. Connective tissue not just in terms of the operations, but also in terms of aesthetics. Art on the field is not the only place you have aesthetics. You can have a sense of style when it comes to how vending booths are set up, what the signage looks like, as well as the brochures and even marketing on the website. Tying all those things together really can convey a personality and a point of view of the festival - a sense of identity that distinguishes it from all these different festivals. You want to be something that has that personality, that's like, 'Hey, we are different and this is who we are and this is what we're about.' That's important to have and express as a festival.

If you're heading to Coachella this April, check out our Festival Guide to Coachella 2014 for more festival insights plus recommendations for where to eat, sleep, shop, party, and explore nearby.

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