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Kendal Arts International

  • Date: 13 April 2011
  • Artform: Combined arts
  • Area: North
Night shot showing three artists performing with fire in a town centre square, surrounded by a crowd of people Salamandre at Mintfest 2009, Paul Herrmann

Kendal Arts International (KAI) was set up in 2006 to create, produce and promote international quality outdoor arts events and festivals from street theatre to large-scale outdoor performance and outdoor installations.

From 2007-09 Mintfest was Kendal Arts International's main annual project, successfully drawing thousands of people to Kendal for a weekend of international quality street arts. Other projects have included the WOW Factor 2006-08 on the shores of Windermere and Lakes Alive.

Kendal Arts International, who will join the Arts Council's new National portfolio from April 2012, aims to put Cumbria on the map for a new reason - as the national centre of excellence for outdoor arts.

Julie Tait, Director of Kendal Arts International, says: 'We are delighted to have been awarded National portfolio organisation status from 2012. It is acknowledgement of the quality and potential of our work and, in particular, of the significant impact the Lakes Alive programme has made in just two years.

'This funding will enable us to start to plan now for the legacy of the programme and for new developments within Kendal Arts International's work in the future. It also sends an important signal that outdoor arts have a vital role to play in this country in making great art accessible to everyone.'

Lakes Alive is an ambitious four-year programme of world-class performance and arts events held outdoors across Cumbria. Run by Kendal Arts International in partnership with Manchester International Arts, it is Cumbria's unique contribution to the Cultural Olympiad and is one of just three Annual Legacy Programmes commissioned by the Legacy Trust UK for We Play, the Northwest cultural legacy programme for the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

Following a successful pilot one-day festival in 2005, the Lakes Alive programme steadily grew. Early highlights included Mintfest, a weekend-long international festival of street arts in Kendal held for the first time in 2007.

The first full season of Lakes Alive events took place in 2009. The programme launched with Reach for the Sky - a series of six international live aerial spectacles in stunning locations across the county.

A series of smaller scale events throughout the summer - such as a day-long festival of contemporary and street dance - built up to Lakes Alive's by-then flagship event, Mintfest, which included performances such as Fire Garden, a magical fire installation by French company Carabosse.

Overall 600 artists from across the world participated in Lakes Alive 2009. Organisers estimated that up to 75,000 people attended events. 44 per cent of them were from outside the local area.

An evaluation carried out by the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester found that almost 17,000 new visitors visited Cumbria because of Lakes Alive. More than 5,000 of these visitors came from outside the North West. The spending by attendees at Lakes Alive events in 2009 contributed £2.4 million to the local economy in Cumbria.

Lakes Alive 2010 included the world premiere of new work by acclaimed South Asian Dance Company, Akademi, performed at nightfall in Furness Abbey. It also included We Built This City, in which an arena in Penrith was filled with hundreds of cardboard boxes. Children and their families enjoyed fun-filled days constructing their own cities from the boxes.

Lakes Alive 2010 also ventured into new territories across Cumbria, including towns along the west coast such as Whitehaven, Egremont and Millom.

Into the Woods was a nature trail with a difference, as audiences discovered strolling creatures hiding behind trees, art installations and entertaining shows taking place in three woodland areas.

The Cabaret of Dr Caligari, an afternoon of cabaret with music, dancing, comedy and spectacle for a family audience toured to smaller villages along the West Coast of Cumbria - communities which rarely experience live performing arts.

The Mintfest International Summer School for Street Artists was also launched. New and emerging street artists from all over the world came together in Kendal during the week leading up to Mintfest to spend a week working intensively with four leading national and international street artists.

The success of Lakes Alive has been recognised across the UK and beyond. As Lyn Gardner, writing in The Guardian in August 2010, put it: 'The Lakes Alive programme... is fast making Cumbria a major destination for street arts audiences and artists.'

Some events for Lakes Alive 2011 have already been revealed.

Minfest returns. Kendal's International Festival of Street Arts takes over the town for a whole weekend in September with an array of artists from across the globe.

In May, Gary Bridgens and Phill Greg of Barrow in Funrness-based Headzup Theatre will travel about 100 miles, mainly on foot, through the countryside of the Lake District and South Cumbria, performing shows along the way for visitors and local residents. Their trip is inspired by one of England's most famous puppeteers, Walter Wilkinson, who on his tours in the 1920s and 30s set up his show wherever he could find an audience.

The full season will be announced soon, and the hills of Cumbria - and its plains, towns, villages, woods, coasts, and skies will be alive with the sound of music... and theatre and dance and much much more.

Visit the Lakes Alive website for more information about Kendal Arts International and the Lakes Alive programme.

Find out more about combined arts in Arts Council's new national portfolio.