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The Inaugural FORMAT Festival Proposes a New Cultural Destination in the Ozarks

Last month, the creative firm TRIADIC held the inaugural edition of its new arts and music festival FORMAT (For Music + Art + Technology) in Bentonville, Arkansas. Nestled into the mountain landscape of the Ozarks, from September 23—25 the event presented a unique concept where its three facets existed together in an integrated concept. The festival offered attendees a full roster of performances, interventions, and experiences, all underscored by special partnerships with local artists and institutions.

Those seasoned in festivals, concerts, fairs, and the like found that the event might prove to become a new cultural destination thanks to FORMAT’s thrilling visuals and magnetic ambiance. This was achieved through a vibrant program of experiential artworks and installations that doubled as stages for prominent music acts—like Doug Aiken’s silvery, mirrored hot air balloon work, which housed a performance by The War on Drugs. Spread across the weekend, the festival’s lineup also featured an exciting roster with music from names like Pheonix, Beach House, The Marías, The Flaming Lips, and Jamila Woods, and art performances and installations by the likes of Nick Cave, Drift, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Pia Camil, just to name a few.

Not only did FORMAT pique our interest for its unprecedented concept and unsuspecting location, but the creative team behind it is not one to be overlooked, either. The weekend was put together by a powerhouse trio comprised of TRIADIC Founders, Curator Roya Sachs, Creative Director Mafalda Millies, and Head of Business and Strategy Lizzie Edelman. Ahead of the FORMAT’s debut, the trio caught up with Whitewall to share more.

Lizzie Edelman, Roya Sachs, and Mafalda Millies Lizzie Edelman, Roya Sachs, and Mafalda Millies, courtesy of TRIADIC.

WHITEWALL: Tell us about the genesis of FORMAT. What did the collaborative process look like between the three of you?

MAFALDA MILLIES: Redefining the festival experience and ethos, we wanted [FORMAT] to be a source of inspiration and exploration for both artists and attendees alike, removing barriers of white wall spaces, traditional stages, and placing emerging talent and musicians side by side, to instead create a festival environment where artistic coexistence and collaboration is celebrated.

The three of us conceptualized the show together and then each branched out into our different areas of expertise. Roya and I are co-curators and creative directors of the festival, whilst Lizzie is the executive producer alongside our C3 partner Charles Attal. As things started taking shape with artists, we divided and conquered. I also oversaw the conceptualization and creation of our visual and brand identity.

WW: Why did you choose Bentonville, AR for FORMAT’s debut?

MAFALDA MILLIES, ROYA SACHS & LIZZIE EDELMAN: We chose Bentonville, AR because hidden within the beautiful Ozark landscape, is a growing contemporary art scene. Supported by institutions like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary, we believe Bentonville’s art and culture deserve to be celebrated. Like FORMAT, Bentonville is a place of intersection—a union between innovative contemporary culture and rustic small-town charm.

FORMAT 2022 “Shoplifter,” photo by Roger Ho, courtesy of FORMAT.

WW: What can we expect to find in a festival layout that merges art, technology, and music?

MM: It was important to us that all our art installations be interactive and have purpose and intent. All our music venues (other than our two traditional main stages) have been created by artists, including a forest enclave by artist duo assume vivid astro focus (avaf); an open-air pavilion wrapped by Somali/Kenyan artist Uman; a converted disco barn by Toiletpaper Magazine; and a multi-room speakeasy by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe. In doing so, music and art are already fused and the overall atmosphere will be less formal and feel more intimate than at a traditional festival. 

WW: Can you give us a little more insight into the technological side of FORMAT? What are some unexpected ways technology comes into play throughout the festival?

RS: Technology is very much an integral part of FORMAT—both visually and sonically. We focused on fewer but more impactful collaborations and installations that highlight the ever-expanding tech world.

One of our venues, The Cube, presents musical acts alongside the revolutionary 4D audio system d&b Soundscape. This venue was a journey through augmented sonic realities, allowing patrons to experience music in a completely unique way. John Gerrard and Plastikman (aka Richie Hawtin) are also bringing an astounding AI audiovisual work that evolves and changes in real-time, depending on data being fed into its servers. We are also thrilled to be partnering with the blockchain company Solana who [is] presenting a piece by NFT artist Nancy Baker Cahill.

FORMAT 2022 “The Cube.” photo by Grant Hodgeon, courtesy of FORMAT.

WW: One focus of the event was to leave a positive impact on the region in some way. What did this look like?

MM, RS & LE: From the start it was very important for us to engage with the local community. We worked almost exclusively with local artisanal studios to build all art installations, had over a dozen local acts perform, and invited all local culinary partners to take over food at FORMAT.

One of our engagements was the inaugural Gate Grant: an annual competition in which local artists are invited to submit a design proposal for FORMAT’s entrance gate, dedicated to regional artists. For our debut, Northwest Arkansas-based artist Athen Brandon designed The Gate. He created Opalescent – Form and Flow, a site-specific installation that reflected the natural flow of the Ozarks region.

At FORMAT, we are not only working to strengthen the longevity of arts in the Bentonville area through initiatives like the Gate Grant, but also to provide artists with a platform to have their work seen by thousands of people. Our goal was to make a positive and lasting impact on the local region through our partnerships with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary, as well as with local artist grants, on-site programming, and (we hope!) post-festival installation extensions and permanent commissions.

FORMAT 2022 Athen Brandon’s Entry Gate, photo by Roger Ho, courtesy of FORMAT.

WW: Roya, how did this curatorial experience differ from that of a more traditional exhibition? How involved was the collaboration between yourself and the artists?

RS: In organizing FORMAT, we worked very closely with the participating artists to realize their visions. Where a traditional gallery or performance space feels very controlled from an audience engagement standpoint, FORMAT guests are really able to submerge themselves in the art—where each viewer can encounter, and curate, their own unique experience. It’s a terrifying feeling to not be able to navigate how a viewer will experience the project as a whole, but also, that freedom is where the magic takes place. 

WW: Mafalda, what does creative direction look like on a scale as large as this? Were there any huge challenges to meshing FORMAT’s three areas of focus within the festival setting?

MM: The biggest challenge was to make sure everything ties together and doesn’t get lost in the details. Making sure the music, art, and technology are balanced and complement one another, and that the layout works seamlessly with the overall visual and brand identity. Since this is our inaugural year, we had nothing to sell other than our “vision”. Translating that into words when inviting talent to be part of the event was definitely one of the bigger hurdles. 

WW: What are your hopes for FORMAT after this inaugural edition? Where do you see the festival heading in the next few years?

MM, RS & LE: We hope that FORMAT becomes an annual event that brings together guests from around the world for years to come. We were really aiming for that sense of community among our artists—both musical and visual—and festival goers, so we’re looking forward to seeing the turnout and keeping the momentum going for next year. We want FORMAT to be a place where artists, musicians, and patrons alike, can engage, explore, and feel inspired.

FORMAT 2022 Installation by Sissel Tolaas, photo by Roger Ho, courtesy of FORMAT.




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