The new ManiFiesta, more popular than ever


Have you saved 9 and 10 September in your diary? Excellent! Because it is the weekend of the all new... ManiFiesta! After 12 editions, the great Solidarity Festival has been completely reinvented. To find out more, we met up with Jan Franssen, the new director.

One look at the poster or the website is enough to see that ManiFiesta is changing dramatically. "We want everyone to know that we are thinking big, that we have ambitions," says Jan Franssen. "After 13 years, it is time for the festival to reinvent itself from top to bottom. We've called in the professionals, and we are already delighted with the result." The new director of the festival seems to be overjoyed and brimming with enthusiasm.

A new director, a stronger team, a new style... Our curiosity is aroused.

Jan Franssen. For the last few years now, ManiFiesta has taken up residence in Ostend, at the Wellington racetrack. The place has huge potential. And this year has seen a total overhaul of how the site is organized. We are aiming for 20,000 visitors. To achieve this, not only did we have to strengthen our team and make it more professional but we also had to dare to revamp the concept of ManiFiesta.

What does this professionalization consist of?

Jan Franssen. The organization and coordination of the volunteers, the transportation to and from the site, and the camping facilities, for example, have been greatly improved. We are also better equipped to deal with the weather conditions.

We have split up some of the tasks. That's why I'm now in the role of director, for example. Mario Franssen (director of ManiFiesta from 2017 to 2022) is continuing the adventure as programming director. I am in charge of the overall organization and concept of the festival, and Mario is in charge of the programme. His expertise remains indispensable.

What can we expect from this new ManiFiesta?

Jan Franssen. It will be a more popular festival than ever before. Our audience is expanding. We want to reach more people. In addition to the usual speeches, union meetings and political debates, we are offering a whole range of activities for families: entertainment, games, spaces where different organizations set up their own activities, for example. There is something for everyone!

Is that why the venue is expanding?

Jan Franssen. Yes, it is. It's a request made by visitors. People want to be able to walk easily and freely around the festival grounds. The provincial tents and organizations will have more space. The associations will have even more room to show their full potential.

Sport is also on the agenda, with a space entirely dedicated to it. There will be football, basketball, skateboarding, boxing...

There is also a space for young people: a new Place des Jeunes or Youth Plaza, a second stage under a real concert tent, with a programme designed specifically for them, of course. We are expecting more youth organizations.

Will everyone be able to offer their own activities?

Jan Franssen. Yes. Let's say you live in Antwerp and you are a member of a darts club. If you'd like your club to come and offer an activity at ManiFiesta, you can do so. We'd be delighted. If you belong to a boxing club, we can reserve a space for it on the Youth Plaza. We want to offer a range of activities, centred around conviviality, exchange and solidarity.

And on the cultural front?

Jan Franssen. There is something for everyone. Fans of classical music will be able to listen to a string quartet on Sunday morning. There will also be jazz, slam... In short, a wealth of cultural diversity.

We also received many requests for movies. There happens to be a cinema next to the festival grounds. We're going to take advantage of this to show films and documentaries in the evening. During the day, this space will be dedicated to other activities.

It all sounds very appealing. But isn't the political programme being relegated to the back seat?

Jan Franssen. Of course not. We continue to be the Solidarity Festival, for the whole of Belgium. But we are also the party of hope. We want to show that another world is possible. We are also continuing to celebrate unity. This year, we've invited Axelle Red, for example. She is an artist who believes that the unity of the country is essential and who conveys this message.

Once again, we have exciting speakers coming from all over the world, like Chris Smalls, the founder and president of the Amazon Labor Union in the United States, for example. He is very happy to be taking part in this edition. And let's not forget Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the British Labour Party and a peace activist.

Our political agenda is still important, of course, and our values have not changed. We're simply putting more emphasis on the festive nature of the event. You come to ManiFiesta for the politics, but also for the atmosphere and the festivities.

The volunteers are also part of these values.

Jan Franssen. Without the efforts of our nearly 2,000 volunteers, we would not exist. Without them, we would never make it. They are part of the festival's DNA. We could outsource many more things, but we prefer working with our volunteers. We want to do ManiFiesta together, with people from all over the country. We stand together in solidarity and we show it in a very concrete way. This is a value that is particularly important to us.

Join us on 9 and 10 September 2023 at the Ostend Racecourse for the 13th edition of the ManiFiesta Solidarity Festival. Buy your tickets here.


Programme MF23


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