From June 14 to 18 2023, Bologna was coloured rainbow for the Various Voices Festival, the most important LGBTQIA+ choir festival in Europe. The music event is held every four years in a different European city: this year Bologna succeeded in bringing the event to Italy for the first time.
The festival enlivened and colored the city, involving many iconic venues, such as Piazza Maggiore and Palazzo D'Accursio, offering outdoor performances. The official venues were many: Auditorium Manzoni, Arena del Sole, Teatro Duse, Oratorio San Filippo Neri, DumBO, MAMbo, Museo e Biblioteca internazionale della musica and Museo Civico Medievale. The event confirmed Bologna as welcoming as ever to music.
VV23 was a great success, bringing more than 107 choirs and 3,500 choristers from around the world to the city to bring to life five days of music and performances that enlivened the entire destination, with the goal of raising awareness of the messages of the LGBTQIA+ community and promoting an increasingly welcoming and inclusive society.
The choice of Bologna as the first venue in Italy is not surprising. The capital of Emilia-Romagna has always been recognized as one of the most progressive and inclusive centers in the country: its history has been intertwined with that of prominent LGBTQ+ figures for decades and its territory is home to many community-dedicated venues, renowned even nationwide.
In the phase of choosing a host destination, Bologna was the target of Bologna's LGBTQ+ men's choir Komos, which had already participated in the three previous editions of the event. The Bolognese choir worked on the bid with a number of local partners, such as the Bologna City Council and the Bologna Convention Bureau. The city took immediate action to make the Festival possible and the Komos Choir's commitment earned them the title of Bologna Ambassador 2019.
With the Festival coming to a close, we asked Nicola Mainardi, Director of Various Voices and past President of Komos, a few questions to get more information about the event and its organization in Bologna.
- What was your immediate reaction, as soon as the event ended? Did you have the response you hoped for?
Various Voices was a cyclone of colors and music that swept through Bologna: 105 choirs from all over the world, more than 4000 people including singers, partners and sympathizers arrived in Bologna populating the city and making it the LGBTQIA+ capital of Europe for 5 days. It was a great success for this 15th edition of the Festival, the first ever in Italy. Surely Bologna will remember for years to come Various Voices, the event that brought a chorus of thousands of people to Piazza Maggiore singing Gloria Gaynor's "I am what I am".
- Why did you specifically choose Bologna as the venue for the event?
Komos, the LGBTQIA+ choir of Bologna, proposed our city as the venue for the Festival back in 2017, working on the candidacy with some local partners, such as Bologna City Council - Equal Opportunities, Rights, Culture, Music and Tourism Departments and the Bologna Convention Bureau. Then in 2018, during the 14th edition of the Festival in Munich, the assembly of choirs of Legato (the European association of rainbow choirs that has the ownership of the event) voted with a large majority for our proposal, beating rivals such as Palma de Majorca and Reykjavik. Bologna, therefore, was chosen not only for its great attraction as a tourist destination, but also for its great cultural and musical heritage and for being a pioneer city for LGBTQIA+ rights in Italy.
- Did the venues and services chosen live up to expectations?
The venues for the Festival were many. Four of the city's major theaters (Arena del Sole, Auditorium Manzoni, Oratorio San Filippo Neri, Teatro Duse), three museums (Music Museum, Mambo, Museo Medievale), Piazza Maggiore, DumBO (where Various Voices Village came to life), the Cassero LGBTI Center and other corners of the city where choirs performed in street performances during the week end (courtyard of Palazzo d'Accursio, Voltone del Podestà, Piazza dei Celestini, Piazza del Nettuno just to name a few). The feedback we have received from participants about these spaces has all been extremely positive, a truly unique network of places of music, participation and conviviality has been created.
- How was the Convention Bureau helpful in organizing the event? Did you receive the necessary support from city institutions?
The Bologna Convention Bureau supported us from the earliest stages of the creation of the project, putting us in touch, for example, with a shortlist of local event organizing agencies, among which we identified Planning Events as the main partner in these years of organizing the Festival. Support also involved the issue of hospitality: BCB activated the portal for hotel reservations, which was helpful for many choirs who were able to reserve rooms for their stay at attractive prices, according to their needs. In addition, the Convention Bureau was an important hook to be able to obtain advantages in the area as well as important contacts for the success of the Festival.
The city's institutions have always stood by our organization since the pitch of Bologna's candidacy: the municipal offices Equal Opportunities and Rights, Culture, Music and Tourism have been directly involved in the organization of Various Voices, providing factual support that has made the event well integrated to the city. A great role then was played by the Cineteca di Bologna, a city's excellence, which was our partner in the realization of the gala event in Piazza Maggiore, a valuable collaboration for which we are very proud and grateful.
- Has the city proven itself ready to host an event of the caliber and size of Various Voices?
Yes, we knew that Bologna would be the perfect location and the success of the festival was proof of that. Of course, there are still many things the city can improve to be even more welcoming and inclusive, like other international cities.
- How would you define your experience in Bologna all in all?
The Various Voices Festival was a great opportunity to shine a big international spotlight on our beautiful city, which for 5 days had the opportunity to be the spokesperson for choral music and the demands of the LGBTQIA+ community. Bologna therefore, from now on, can add an adjective to those for which it is already traditionally recognized: la dotta, la rossa, la grassa, LA FAVOLOSA (trad. "the learned, the red, the fat, THE FABULOUS").
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