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Arts festivals in the visual arts are exhibitions and are not to be confused with the commercial art fair. Artists participate in the most important of such festival exhibitions by invitation, and these exhibitions (e.g. the Venice Biennale) are organised by internationally recognized curators chosen by a committee of peers. These international exhibitions must be distinguished from art fairs, market-oriented gatherings of art dealers and their wares, which have recently emerged as among the most important art-world venues for promoting artists and sales of contemporary art in the present-day super-heated art market.
Probably the two oldest festivals are in England. The Three Choirs Festival in the West of England was established as a "yearly musical assembly" by 1719. The other is the Norfolk and Norwich Festival which first took place in 1772. The largest arts festival in England today is the Brighton Festival Fringe.
Leading arts festivals include the Edinburgh Festival in Edinburgh, which is the largest arts festival, Adelaide Festival of Arts in Adelaide, the Biennale of Sydney, Festival d'Avignon in Avignon, France, and Tongyeong International Music Festival in Tongyeong, Korea. One-off arts festivals have included the Liverpool08 European Capital of Culture in 2008.
- Archer, Robyn (October 2006). "Putting Festivals in their Place". Keynote address to the British Festivals Association conference. Cardiff.