Everybody wants to be Italian


A qualitative study of emotional engagement created by a cultural festival


Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm
Dr. Eliane Karsaklian – LARGEPA – Sorbonne University Paris


International Journal of Business Research™, 16(2), 49-62.  DOI 




A yearly festival which demonstrated the joy of all things Italian was developed as a communications method to reinvigorate Queensland’s waning Italian community. This qualitative case-study examined the role of a focal point in creating emotional engagement and how this engagement developed cultural unity by exploring the role emotions play in the creation of successful festivals. Findings suggest that when both utilitarian and hedonistic needs of festival attendees are met, the opportunity to create emotional engagement develops. The success of the festivals use of engagement produced an enhanced sense of cultural unity leading to a desire to share and repeat the experience amongst the attendees, as evidenced by increased visitors and an appreciation of what it is to be Italian. This ability to create emotional engagement is also appreciated in bringing together individuals with both high and low involvement in the Italian community in Queensland. 


Keywords - Focal Points, Communication, Festivals, Emotional engagement, Cultural Engagement, Cultural Identity, central and peripheral routes





In 2007 the Italian Government identified that as a result of Italian’s propensity to identify with regions of Italy rather than with a unified Italy as a whole (Bottomley 1995, Smolicz 1981)that Queensland’s Italian community was fragmented and disjointed. At this time these fragmented entities consisted of 44 registered associations as these people identified themselves as Tuscan’s, Sicilians, and Sardinians etc. rather than as Italian’s (Dewhirst, Kennedy, and Ricatti 2011). The Consulate further identified a disconnection within second and third generation Italians who no longer identified with their Italian heritage. As various regional communities identified with vastly different aspects of Italian culture and heritage, a strategy to project to all parts of the Italian community, a symbol which would resonate with the entire community was sought as a means to develop unbiased community pride.


The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed a reconfiguration and redefinition of Italian festivals, recommending that a high level week-long cultural festival be created in Queensland. Specifically developed to dispel out dated stereotypes regarding Italy and to create a platform for cultural and social cohesion. The festival used a symbol which could be easily identified by all segments of the Italian community. To this end, the imagery of the Italian flag was projected onto large architectural structures in such a manner as to speak about the Italian community with the silent voice of subtle and gentle persuasion. This technique involved using green white and red lights as a means of creating emotional engagement, which can also be seen and a technique of persuasion.


The mechanisms of persuasion have been extensively studied for at least 3 decades  (Petty 1977, Petty and Cacioppo 1978, 1996). Petty and Cacioppo (1996) The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) being the most referenced, led up to the identification of two routes to persuasion and the implications for attitudinal persistence and change. These authors define attitudes ‘as general evaluations people hold in regard to themselves, other people, objects, and issues. These general evaluations can be based on a variety of behavioral, affective, and cognitive experiences, and are capable of influencing or guiding behavioral, affective, and cognitive processes’ (Petty et Cacioppo, 1986, p. 126).


The ELM stipulates that in some situations, consumers are more likely to spend time elaborating on messages because the message seems relevant to them whereas in other situations, consumers’ likelihood of elaborating messages is much lower. Petty and Cacioppo (1986) explanation to this difference is based on consumer involvement. The higher is the consumer involvement, the higher the likelihood to elaborate. Conversely, the lower is the consumer involvement; the lower is the likelihood to elaborate.


The ELM determines two routes to persuasion – central route and peripheral route- when consumers are exposed to marketing communication. The central route implies consumer high involvement in the message with consequent cognitive information processing, while the peripheral route is taken by consumers with low involvement which might not invest time and effort in cognitively processing the information to which they are they are exposed.  


The central route paves the way to attitude formation and change through several steps of a process that can be interrupted if the elaboration likelihood is low. First consumers need to be motivated and able to cognitively process the information, which implies that the information is relevant to them and that they have the needed ability to process it (prior knowledge, message clarity…).  Next, consumers develop enduring favorable or unfavorable thoughts about the message which lead to the formation of positive or negative attitudes, respectively, towards the object of the message which can be predictive of consequent behavior. As such, when consumers are unlikely to elaborate on the message via central route, the message is redirected to a peripheral route which leads to temporary attitude formation and change, which cannot be predictive of consequent behavior. 


Our research model rests on Petty and Cacioppo (1986) ELM as the overarching construct to understand emotional engagement as a consequence of a cultural festival which functions as a catalyst of message processing. Our findings demonstrate that although consumers get access to the festival through the two separate routes - central and peripheral – the festival’s vibe (‘Fest-Vibe’) triggers high involvement from all participants independently on their initial level of involvement when arriving in the event. We define the festival’s general feel, attitude and ambiance as ‘Fest-Vibe’. Fest-Vibe is what creates emotional contagion and sets the feel-good stage for festival-goer’s enjoyment. As a matter of fact, the Fest-Vibe creates an environment able to generate engagement from all participants through emotions. By celebrating Italian culture thoroughly, Italian Week captivates participants by both their senses and reason. The emotional engagement created by the event has a transformational effect over initially low involved consumers, at the same time as it consolidates positive attitudes towards Italy amongst initially high involved consumers.


The research presented here is part of a bigger research project which encapsulates the stages of Petty and Cacioppo (1986) model as applied to a cultural festival. Our model (The Emotional Engagement Model - TEEM) looks into the effect of country of origin and stereotypes as antecedents of cognitive information processing and at the experiential meaning of the festival as an influencer of (self, cultural and social) consumer identification. These variables generate emotional engagement. Consequently, emotional engagement reinforces positive attitudes to Italy amongst highly involved participants as well as it stimulates positive attitude formation to the low involved consumers. These results enable us to state that whichever the route to persuasion undertaken by participants to the festival, their interaction with the Fest-Vibe harmonizes their level of involvement with the festival and with the country it celebrates thanks to emotional engagement. As a result, consumers either purchase increased number of Italian products and services or strengthen their loyalty to Italian brands.


Insert Fig. 1 Here


In this specific paper, we seek to analyse the effect of emotional engagement on attendees coming from the two different routes.  We examine the ability of the festival to generate emotional engagement to attendees who are motivated by central route as they relate to positive stereotypes surrounding Italy and its culture which are reinforced by the event. We then look at attendees who attend via peripheral route and don’t have previous knowledge or interest about Italy or the festival. For these attendees, Italian Week, through emotional engagement creates the positive stereotype about the country of origin.


Literature review


An extensive literature review on the nature of festivals and their capacity to create engagement found that festivals are defined as; According to Getz and Theobald (1995), festivals are described as themed, public celebrations, which celebrate an event or occasion within a community and have been created to provide a platform for people to share, rejoice, learn and celebrate shared pride. Festivals can be art forms and narratives, performances designed to entertain and enchant. They (festivals) can be a way that a story of a culture of community is recalled about themselves. The significance of festivals is well established in the literature (Long and Perdue 1990, Van Zyl and Queiros 2009). Globally, festivals (and special events) continue to grow rapidly, these events are sought after by Governments, nations and all manner of communities, providing unique offerings, creating community cohesion and positively affecting the local economy in the short term  (Lee et al. 2008, Prentice and Andersen 2003). Cultural festivals are recognized as a fast growing cultural tourism attraction (Silberberg 1995, Crespi-Vallbona and Richards 2007, Kim, Cheng, and O’Leary 2007)with research indicating that cultural tourism accounts for 37% of all international tourism (Crompton and McKay 1997). Yet, examining festivals primarily as sources of economic development falls short of utilizing festivals potential for the enhancement of important social benefits (Witford 2007).  


Beyond the economic benefits festivals provide, is the capacity to reinforce social and cultural identity, adding meaningful understanding to a community’s composition (Gursoy, Spangenberg, and Rutherford 2006). Festivals  promote and highlight the composition of ethnic backgrounds, cultural panorama and adopted traditions which form the stories of a society (McKercher, Mei, and Tony 2006).  Consumers attend festivals to communicate to others allegiances to social and cultural groups, often providing a key to a communities shared dreams. These events encourage people to celebrate common histories and can unify and stir the community to emotional peaks (Grappi and Montanari 2011, Rearick 1977).  They are recognized as an effective method of communicating, enhancing and preserving distinctive cultural history and can serve to reinforce a people’s identity (Xie 2003).


Emotions in festivals


Research indicates that stimulating and motivating emotions affect consumer patterns and behavior and influence people’s desire to engage at a deeper lever (Lee, Lee, and Choi 2011).  More deep-seated than transactional engagement, emotional engagement happens when people identify positive feelings with their recreation and are motivated by the desire to enjoy themselves and share common experiences at a deep seated emotional level (Duffy and Waitt 2011). Emotional value is critical to understanding the consumer experience in enhancing overall customer satisfaction (Holbrook 1994). In the context of this research, emotional engagement is viewed as a distinct form of engagement, rather than as one dimension of overall engagement. Based on the above, our first proposition is:


P1. Emotional engagement can be created by a cultural festival such as Italian Week


The term ‘FestivalScape’, coined by Lee et al. (2008), encompasses the satisfaction of both  utilitarian and hedonistic desires of patrons to festivals. When both utilitarian and hedonistic needs of patrons are met, then an environment for a deeper lever of engagement is created, one which can  increase positive emotions and social identification (Gursoy, Spangenberg, and Rutherford 2006). Research indicates hedonistic or emotional value represents a clearer and more concise understanding of festival attendance than utilitarian or functional value (Lee, Lee, and Choi 2011). From the behavioral perspective, festival-goers seek emotional satisfaction, with the ‘experience’ being the principle motivation for attending (Yang, Gu, and Cen 2011). Evaluating only the functional value of festivals is overly simplistic in capturing the holistic emotional dimension contained within an event (Babin, Darden, and Griffin 1994). 


The Italian Week festival has worked with leading cultural and educational partners, along with business leaders. These partners allow the festival to create and deliver a program of event which showcases the Australian/Italian connection contained within the state and supported by international acts. Strategic collaboration has included leading cultural organizations such as the Queensland Orchestra, Multicultural Affairs, Brisbane City Council, Opera Queensland, the Gallery of Modern Art and many more.  These high level strategic partnerships ensure that both utilitarian and hedonistic needs of festival attendees’ are met. Over the first two year of the festival, focus was placed on satisfying these fundamental elements. Once the event producers were satisfied that the festival had established a format which satisfied both utilitarian and hedonistic needs, they turned their attention to creating a new and deeper form of engagement. 


Symbolic interaction is based on a complex set of symbols people use to give meaning to the world and asserts that people’s actions are a result of beliefs and not simply on what can be considered objectively true (Trevino, Lengel, and Daft 1987, Kuhn 1964).  This perspective  asserts that society is considered to be constructed socially as a result of individual human interpretation (LaRossa and Reitzes 1993). Commencing in 2009, Italian Week producers developed a concept to create a point of focus for the festival as a means of creating, developing and communicating social identification. Known as the ‘Illumination’, this focus point consists of lighting up key structures in the city of Brisbane in the Italian colours of green, white and red for the duration of Italian Week.  Humans develop and rely upon the interpretation of symbols for social interaction and understanding (Faules and Alexander 1978).  The Illumination is designed to stimulate and create ‘emotional engagement’ engendering identity, commitment and pride within the people of Italian heritage in Queensland. A powerful and emotive symbol, the ‘Illumination” is visible for the entire week of the festival and is seen by hundreds of thousands of people. 


According to Grappi and Montanari (2011), emotions are key predictors of behavior, affecting social and emotional satisfaction, which in turn affects social identification. Subjective meaning is derived through perception of inanimate objects, events and behaviour. It is through this perspective that people interpret one another’s conduct, thus giving meaning to the world around them (Andersen and Taylor 2012). Humans arrive at understanding in many different ways; interpretation of the world comes from personal experiences, beliefs, symbols, ideology and learned values. Consumer’s psychological experiences are affected by emotional satisfaction. The power of this emotional satisfaction or engagement connects consumers to each other, demonstrating a commitment to a community, building trust and sense of belonging (Yoon, Lee, and Lee 2010). In other words, the meaning of the experience provided by Italian Week is highly responsible for the creation of emotional engagement what leads to our second proposition:


P2. The experiential meaning created by the Fest-Vibe generates emotional engagement.


Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) ELM stipulates that there are two qualitatively distinct routes to persuasion. The “central route” occurs when interest on the topic triggers motivation and ability to scrutinize issue-relevant arguments are relatively high while the second, or “peripheral route,” occurs when interest and thus, motivation and/or ability to process the information are relatively low. It is thus, possible to distinguish persuasion as being primarily a result of issue-relevant argumentation from persuasion that is primarily a result of some cue in the persuasion context. In our specific case, this cue is the interest and knowledge about Italy and its culture. Individuals exposed to the stimuli relating to Italian Week had either high or low involvement with the Italian community in Queensland whereby our third proposition:


P3. Emotional engagement is independent of central and peripheral routes to persuasion


Focal points as stimuli


Many festivals are a collection of events, featuring food and entertainment, often with a theme and often without points of focus for the attendees. These events provide entertainment and culture, with the principal motive of stimulating the audience. However, festivals which feature a focal point, developed in a meaningful manner, create a powerful method of communication enabling organisers to impart to the audience a direct message. The focal point acts as a stimulus in communicating social identification and stimulating the imagination, thus unifying the audience. The Province of Ontario created focal points in its downtown district and found that both audience participation and visitor spending increased within the region (Silberberg 1995). These focal points impact existing facilities like accommodation, tourism and transport as well as other infrastructure when the focal point generator was well timed and distinctive  (Anwar and Sohail 2004). In Missouri, autumn 2004, a survey was conducted during the ‘Fair Grove Heritage Reunion’, where the focal point was the Womack Mill (operating gristmill), originally erected in 1883, the population of this small town increased from 1100 people to an estimated 45,000. The survey found that the focal point was the catalyst for creating unique attributes of the festival (Cole and Illum 2006)and creating a successful event.  Green and Chalip (1998) found that producers of three regional sports festivals successfully utilized cultural aspects as a focal point to promote events and facilitate a deeper emotional attachment to the events and thus ensure the success of the events for future years.


Greater individual identification with a social group such as a community or ethnic group, leads to an greater level of engagement with the collective identity, inspiring strong links with the desired identity (Einwiller et al. 2006). This affects behavior such as desire to repatriate an event or engage in a community to a greater degree (Dholakia, Bagozzi, and Pearo 2004). In understanding emotion, we find the terms of reference for identifying emotions are used in everyday discourse to indicate experiences that involve both meaning and feeling, both mind and body. Words such as pride, commitment, awareness, connection, memories and passion are key indicators of the language of emotions (Leavitt 1996). How these emotions are evoked and what results as a consequence forms the basis for emotional engagement.




Of an investigatory nature, this research is approached from a qualitative, interpretive perspective as a means of exploring and understanding the social phenomenon from the participants perspectives (Taylor and Bogdan 1998, Wilkinson and Migotsky 1994).  This case study of Italian Week offered an explanatory approach to understand the festival through the eyes of key players involved with the festival since the introduction of focal point activities (Yin 1996). The 32 people selected for interviews had experienced the Italian festival, they represented a cross section of business people, professionals and had a long standing history within the city of Brisbane.


The data collection occurred through 45 minute semi-structured interviews with a combination of Italian and non-Italian participants of the Italian Week festival that saw the ‘Illumination’.


The research looked for saturation, whereby there are no new findings in research where found to achieve credible findings (Herbert and Higgs 2004).  Whilst there is some varied opinions on what is the number of interviews appropriate to achieve saturation,  Creswell (2012) indicates that 5 to 25 is a suitable number depending on the subject matter. The interviews provide constant themes suggesting a level of saturation being  is sufficient in achieving effective qualitative research (Flick et al. 2007). Qualitative research aims to achieve saturation and Corbin and Strauss (2008) suggest that saturation is a "matter of degree" (p.136) and that during analysis; the potential for new findings to emerge is always present. The researcher ought not to be concerned with continually waiting for “the new to emerge” but be focused on the overall story.


Our investigation focused on Italian Week as the Independent variable which triggers emotional engagement through experiential meaning. Indeed, emotional engagement appears to be a result of the Fest-Vibe created by Italian Week which generates experiential meaning as a moderating variable to the emergence of emotional engagement.


The  interview questions were designed to augment conversation through loosely structured interview discussion (Chetty 1996). The participants came from a mix of Australian and Italian heritage with 40% of the interviewees being of Italian descent and 60% being of Australian descent. 30% of the interviewees have experienced Italian Week since its inception and the other 70% have participated in the event for at least 3 years thus meeting  criterion for conceptualizing the range and variety present in the subject matter being studied (Boeije 2002). Utilizing Yin’s (1996) approach to selecting categories and deciphering the data into themes, key words from each sentence were extracted from the interviews, these words were representative of the key theme or concept from each sentence. These key themes and concepts were used as a means of developing understanding in the exploration of the data in the context of the festival (Lacey and Luff 2001).


The method of analysis used was the constant comparative method which according to Glaser (1965), has four stages: (1) comparing situations suitable to individual categories, (2) integrating categories and their properties, (3) creating a delimitation of the theory, and (4) documenting and writing the theory.  This approach is designed as a continual development process with each section evolving into the next creating ongoing development until the research is complete. This approach is advocated by Yin (1996) as it offers a holistic and meaningful manner to decipher real life events.  In examining the Italian Week case study, we seek to understand the evolution of the event over a period of time and more importantly, the effects on participants as the event has morphed into a focal point. This approach is similar to Yin (1996) examples of American life in a typical US city permitting a detailed and comprehensive undeerstanding of that enviroment and the interpretation of same.


Analysis and Discussion


The data initially revealed that respondents perceived the Italian community in Queensland prior to the commencement of the Italian Week festival as fragmented and at the risk of disintegration.  The data revealed this via exemplifying quotes from one respondent; “The only people that I think were engaged were the people who came from those small town regional’s, others who may have come from larger regional cities or towns, there wasn’t anything there for them. They weren’t accounted for”. This appears as a common theme with the interviewee’s and many comments such as one respondent’s comment; “I think it was fragmented…. I don’t really think there was much more offered”.  One respondent suggests that events prior to Italian Week were limited in appeal and directed to a select audience, excluding a large part of the community  “…to the youth coming through, there was nothing engaging for us coming through to be involved with”. Further responses indicate exclusion of the youth from the Italian community and that celebrations did not reflect the visions of the younger people who came from Italian origins, one respondent described it in this way; “… there wasn’t really a lot of support for the young people to really carry on that culture”.


The constant comparison process leads to developing ideas around the data which result in developing descriptive themes and categories which enable explanation (Guba and Lincoln 1985). During the phase of line by line manual analysis, three main themes were identified: (1) Emotions; (2) Engagement and; (3) Understanding.  Table 1 in appendix 1 shows some of the prominent concepts relating to each of the main themes. In data analysis, the frequency with which themes appear relate to the importance of the theme in the research. This process enabled the researcher to look for patterns and structures within the data, both in discourse and conversation (Darke, Shanks, and Broadbent 1998).


Insert table 1 here


The first of the three main themes; ‘emotions’, the exploration processes attempted to gain insight into how emotions are generated via the festival. One respondent; described it as; “…stimulating my senses … stimulate an emotional sensation within me.” One respondent indicated that stimulation was a key generator of emotions and related to stimulation of senses, as an internal awakening, a sense of being present; “…It stimulates our feelings and our senses. It allows us to be present and involved and it can be thought provoking, when our emotions are stimulated”. The respondents indicated that how one feels affects how one thinks and therefore affects the actions taken as a result: “…there has to be a feeling there…. Emotions are a way of linking experiences together… something is stimulated in us emotionally”


The second main theme identified is engagement and we see how the creation of emotional engagement generated community attraction as evidenced in one respondents comments; “More of the local community came forward and started being involved with Italian Week, whether they were Italian or not.  They started to actually celebrate everything Italian…  people started celebrating Italian Week, even if they weren’t Italian… recognizing what it is that we bring to this nation”.  Respondent (D) explained that the Illumination was a point of focus for the citizens of Brisbane to celebrate cultural diversity and create greater understanding. “...suddenly, people of Italian background became proud, they embraced it, and they brought their children”.  The Illumination in 2009 opened a window for change in perception; “I know I was excited about it.  I know that there’s a lot of apathy with a lot of other Italians to become involved and to actually believe in it but I think that’s rapidly changing and maybe the youth that are coming through today are more involved in Italian communities and actually want to explore what being Italian is all about and show the rest of the community, Italian and non-Italian, what we are actually all about”.


The third main theme identified during the manual analysis of the primary data ‘understands’.  In this theme, we see the emergence of a community which is developing a greater understanding of the role of its heritage in the shaping of Australian culture. The interviewees’ responses indicate that all migrant cultures seek to integrate with the host nation, over a period of time. During this phase of integration, a disappearance of cultural identity emerges over generations.  The research revealed a marked difference in perceptions once the Illumination commenced, one respondent discussed how the festival received a different reaction from the community, noting that the focal point was central to the growth and awareness of the event stating that   ‘…especially with the lighting up of the buildings, people would recognize it when it came around each year, the Illumination created awareness”. At the time of the commencement of the Illumination in 2009, the festival gathered greater traction and the perception appears to have increased, supporting the ideas that symbolism is fundamental to the perception of identity (Benzies and Allen 2001). Italians and non-Italians had begun to take greater notice and that the event was beginning to differentiate itself from other community cultural festivals; “…I think the festival stepped outside of just the Italian community and I think it has gone to a broader community now and it’s not just the Italians that are celebrating.  I think Brisbane’s community as a whole is actually coming together for Italian Week”. 


The Illumination created emotional engagement and its impacts on the success of the event are typified by the feelings of one of the respondents “...Well, if there’s no emotion, you know, you partake only because you have to… If you are emotional about it, you want to partake in the event and you look forward to it every year”. Being emotionally engaged and involved was a key reason for the resonating sense of connectivity to a community and culture; as represented by one respondent; “... because when feelings and emotions are involved, the level of engagement increases, emotions are very powerful and they stay with you depending on how powerful the emotion is, for a very long time. I remember how it felt to be part of the audience.  You know, I remember the emotion of those events.  I remember what emotion was provoked in me while I was watching”. Respondent (E) likened the experience to creating an allegiance, “From an emotional perspective, it’s like a football club... the same.  If you are emotional about it, you have to keep following your club every match, everyday because you are emotionally involved.  You want no change in allegiance, that sort of thing continues on”.


This research examined Italian Week to develop an initial understanding of the role of a focal point and its place in communicating a unified identity to a broader community. It was found that the ‘Illumination’ as a means of creating emotional engagement was paramount to the success of Italian Week.  When the illumination commenced, the festival became recognized as a community event orientated to a greater audience than just the Italian community. The festival organizers had established a solid platform in the first 2 years of Italian Week to meet the utilitarian and hedonistic needs of its attendee’s. Key partnerships with leading cultural organizations were instrumental in ensuring a high level event, the festival then set about engaging the community.


The focal point became the catalyst for a level of greater engagement; once the Illumination of the Story Bridge, Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Treasury Casino commenced. The festival created an iconic association easily recognised by the public as exemplified by one respondent “They now know that when it’s illuminated in the Italian colors, Italian Week is happening” A much deeper awareness emerged. “I mean, the Story Bridge was a big one that had a lot of publicity.  It was such a big thing.  Because everyone knows the Story Bridge, you know, it’s a Brisbane icon.  And lighting that up was definitely a way of saying “we’ve arrived”.  During this period, we see the transformation of the festival and the awareness growing significantly. The respondent’s perceptions of the Illumination as a form of communication are described in a typical quote from one respondent “Well, it was amazing to see the size of the installation.  That’s what I’d call them, an installation.  A piece of art sort of thing, its installation art and it was a great big size, that’s the first thing.  It took up the whole bridge with, obviously, Italian flag colours. And well, obviously the presence of Italian culture in Brisbane then made itself, like, yeah, loud and clear”.   


The exuberance and strong stimulation of emotions generated as a result of the focal point is clear and we see the emotional impact described in this way by one respondent; “…when I saw the bridge lit up and the casino and QPAC, there was a sense of, it’s not just for me, it’s for everyone to experience and that was a real sense of pride for me to see those things lit up like that.  So, for me, it was pride bursting out of my stomach.  It’s Italian and I’m really proud of that”.  Engagement is critical for the development of desire for the event to occur again, for the festival to continue and prosper.  It is this creation of anticipation, built from cultural connections and strong emotional drivers that is the doorway to building anticipation each year and thus creating longevity for the festival. The desire for its ongoing success is evident as seen from comments by one respondent “... I think that every year it gets better, there is more and more engagement each year.  I look forward to the festival each year and want it to grow.... I want it to be so much more”. 


Mitchell and Fisher (2010) suggest a need for a new approach is needed, one which can provide another means to understand and communicate the emotional effects created by the arts and entertainment industry. Research suggests that studying festivals is incomplete if it does not encompass the role of emotions and their effects. A greater importance needs to be place on the long-term legacies festivals create, such as the community pride engendered and the deepening of cultural understanding (Moscardo 2008). Buckminster Fuller wrote that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.  Italian Week emerged in 2007 as an event providing opportunity for both Italians and non-Italians to connect with an important cultural identity in Queensland and to understand that community and culture in a modern context.


Emotional engagement leads to a deeper understanding of the role of festivals in creating harmony and transmitting the stories of a community and unifying waning, segregated communities. Arcadia and Witford (2007) argue that emotions are the singular most important consideration of festival visitor’s behavioural intention and determine the actions these festival attendees will pursue as a result of the level of emotional engagement engendered. In the case of Italian Week, the actions resulted in a desire for the festival to continue and grow, thus extending its longevity. An entirely individual and interpretive understanding emerges for each person based on deciphering the images and symbols of the illumination.


Examining the festival from the Symbolic Interaction perspective, the role of the ‘Illumination’ was identified as being pivotal in the creation of emotional engagement. The symbolism created intentionally through the ‘Illumination’ offers a rich source of knowledge to develop understanding of the role emotional engagement. It is important to recognize that current literature and research is extremely limited in examining emotional engagement. A greater understanding of the role emotions play within each person’s individual reality in the field of events and festivals offers promise.




This research examines the Italian Week festival and the role of a focal point to engender emotional engagement as a means of unifying the community and extending the longevity of the event. 


Quotes from participants illustrate the fact that strong emotions were created by Italian Week and that the focal point was experienced by attendees’ as a meaningful link with Italian culture. As a matter of fact, results from this research support our three propositions. Emotional engagement was indeed created by the cultural festival and the experience to attendees was meaningful thanks to the Fest-Vibe, which in turn triggered emotional engagement. Finally, emotional engagement brought together attendees from both levels of involvement, making the experience a valuable asset to value Italy and its culture.

In addition, emotions experienced by attendee’s were found to be common amongst respondents having initially high involvement with Italy as well as for those whose involvement with Italy was low.


This case study found that emotional engagement played a pivotal role in bringing the community closer together, in developing a basis for shared identity. The symbolic publicity of the Italian flag, created using significant buildings as backdrops for projecting the Italian colours, was significant in the success of unifying the Italian community. The interviews indicate that whilst the festival offers great attraction, it is in fact the focal point that was most significantly responsible for bringing social cohesion and unified identification within the Italian community


The success of the focal point for the Italian festival encourages the researchers to further investigation utilizing multiple case studies in order to better understand the value of emotional engagement.    


Key to festival success is the creation of emotional engagement which rests in developing the Fest-Vibe. Selecting a suitable focal point which can be leveraged to reach the community and target audience can result in creating this engagement.




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 Table 1 - Themes and Concepts



















Sights and sounds













Fig. 1 - The Emotional Engagement Model - TEEM


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