Issue 279,  published October 20, 2020

Third Coast’s Virtual Festival Kicks Off This Week

As you probably know by now, the Third Coast Festival, which typically takes place as a physical conference in Chicago every fall, is being held as a virtual event this year due to the pandemic. The virtual version of the conference goes by a slightly different name, Third Place, and aside from its non-corporeality, it’s also distinct for being the first major Third Coast event since the non-profit’s new executive director, Shirley Alfaro, took over late last year. Programming officially kicked off yesterday, and it’s scheduled to run up until November 1.

“We knew we would have to go virtual since early March,” the team told me recently. “And for years, we have wanted to leave the corporate hotel feel because it doesn’t match our organizational ethos and values. So in some ways, building a virtual world from scratch is a really organic and meaningful fit for Third Coast in 2020.”

They also tell me that staging the event online allows them to more effectively emphasize certain values they hold deeply — in particular, the values of accessibility and innovation in form. Holding the event digitally, they say, provides the opportunity to create “a radically more accessible convening for makers from around the world,” to rethink their traditional conference programming in new and creative ways, and to “lean into the flexibility of what people want to talk about, rather than what they think they should be talking about.”

A key mechanic of these ambitions involve the adoption of what the team calls a “collective pricing model.” It’s essentially a pay-what-you-can structure, and in contrast with tiered ticketing configurations, all Third Place ticket buyers have access to just about everything Third Place has to offer regardless of the actual sum paid. The messaging of why financially-able folks should consider paying a higher price is crucial to the execution of this model, and here’s how the team talked about the decision in full:

Third Coast has been going through an evolution that’s been building for many years: to transform and disrupt the audio industry, and to de-center the status quo. One of the goals we’ve had for a long time, that is central to this mission, is to invite as many people as possible into our programs, regardless of ability to pay a heady ticket price.

Collective Pricing is a pricing philosophy that is community-conscious, responsive, and honors the needs of our audiences. In a collective pricing model, we invite our community to consider what they’re able to offer alongside what others need. This way, we all arrive more equitably, together.

With a collective pricing model, each of you, regardless of your level of contribution, is a vital member of this audio community. We encourage you to think of your entry to Third Place as an act of radical industry-building. If you can give more, please do — it literally gets more people in the room, makes it possible for Third Coast to survive, and will bring real change to this field.

Given the rhetoric around wanting to leave the “corporate hotel feel” of the festival, I asked if they still hope to organize physical conferences whenever it’s finally safe to do so. They were quick to note that they definitely wanted to return to in-person convenings when they can, despite the fact that it’s really hard to imagine what the post-pandemic world will look like at this point in time. But they also say they’re learning a ton from organizing the virtual event, and so they’re not planning to leave that behind either. A mixed-medium future, perhaps.

Oh, and also: here are the winners of this year’s Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.

I run this thing.