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Wandsworth Arts Festival

  • Date: 21 October 2011
  • Artform: Combined arts
  • Area: London
Dancers performing with purple smoke Akademi performing at Wandsworth Arts Festival at Putney Wharf1, Robert Piwko

Wandsworth Arts Festival, which ran this year from 6 to 22 May 2011, is a vibrant, locally-relevant outdoor arts festival.


The festival, which sees performances, installations and interventions by some of the UK's leading artists in places and spaces across the borough, recieved Lottery funding through the Arts Council's Grants for the arts programme in 2011.

Amount awarded from Grants for the arts: £26,000 (approx. 19.6% of the total cost)
Other income streams: contributions from local businesses including Southside Shopping Centre, Wandsworth Borough Council; earned income
Total cost of the festival: £132,935

Interview with Wandsworth Council's Arts Manager

We talk to Helen Renwick, Arts Manager Wandsworth Council, about her experience of applying to our Grants for the arts programme for the borough's annual arts festival.

Q: How has the Grants for the arts award helped you to change your activity?

A: We have applied for Grants for the arts since 2006. The application for The Wandsworth Arts Festival 2011 was prepared one year beforehand and submitted in autumn 2010 to allow sufficient time to deliver a fruitful festival in May 2011.

The festival has changed dramatically with the Arts Council's support - from being a listings festival to a curated portfolio of new commissions and touring work which create a destination festival for the borough.

In 2011 our Grants for the arts grant funded Bicycle Ballet to take up residency in Roehampton, providing a range of workshop opportunities for local residents and bringing their dance of cycling and performance parking pieces to the area as part of the festival programme. This was a massive uplift for a needy area of the borough that has been designated for extensive regeneration initiatives. It also contributed to extending the artistic practise of Bicycle Ballet as a company, who are now proposing further work with new partners in the borough, and have attracted regional interest in developing their performance parking installations for other sites.

Over the past two years we have also forged a great new relationship with Arts Admin as a result of Grants for the arts support. With them we have commissioned Graeme Millar and Lucy Cash, respectively, to produce new work for the avenue of mature plain trees in Wandsworth Park as part of the Shimmy - our showcase outdoor arts day set against the River Thames.

The site has proved to be a great inspiration for responsive new work and is one of the major points of attraction for the Shimmy. In both previous commissions, the pieces created have gone on to tour both nationally and internationally including to Festival Entre Cour et Jardins in Dijon, France; Encounters and Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts in Northamptonshire; and Festival Internazionale della Creazione Contemporanea in Terni, Italy.

Both of these relationships are built up over the course of months and years - they are relevant and much needed, grown from the ground up and questioned, developed and tested at each stage. They naturally grow richer and more valuable as the relationships mature. For that reason we often start thinking about an Arts Council bid years beforehand - even if we don't know it will be a bid when conversations start.

Q: How did you find the application process?

A: It's easy and supportive. We met the officers at the Arts Council and maintained a very good relationship throughout the process. Officers are able to bring their considerable experience and expertise to develop our thinking, while also clarifying areas of the Arts Council's strategic vision to increase the project's impact. Conversations are always stimulating and forward feeling. They are also strategically relevant to what we do - supporting and sustaining a vibrant arts ecology in the borough from the ground up.

The value of our successful applications goes far beyond the presentation of the festival - it stretches year round into the protection of the service. This is demonstrated by ring-fenced funds for the festival, in a time of savage cuts. Additionally the funding from the Arts Council enables us to leverage local sponsorship, which would not otherwise be forthcoming - the Arts Council's grant acts as a sort of kitemark.

Q: How you have found the last year - how have the cuts affected you?

A: Every cloud has a silver lining. The Arts Team at Wandsworth squeeze every possible value from each pound we spend - but debate and thought about each commission has been increased in light of the cuts. The team have developed new skills around entrepreneurship and income generation. We have become more focussed and more rigorous in matching spend with significant outcomes - while maintaining a lightness of spirit which keeps projects alive.

Like others we are increasingly relying on partnerships which have been built up over the years, looking at co-commissions, joint projects and shared staffing. The bedrock of networks, relationships and a truly open mind to partnership working which we have all invested in over the years is paying dividends.

Q: How do you make this festival work financially? What partnerships were formed?

We partner in many different directions to bring in resources, expertise and add value to the full festival programme - including: local arts organisations such as BAC, Tara Arts, Vayu Niadu Company; other locally based bodies such as the RCA, Roehampton University, South Thames College; and individual practitioners and community groups. We also partner internally within the council, for example, with our Town Centre Managers, and keep sponsors on board with attention to their needs, eg Southside Shopping Centre.

We are increasingly reliant on sponsors - which again means understanding their needs and interest in the festival. We are seeking to develop income generating strands of work - from a traditional advertising approach to more imaginative structures of charging and income generation.

Q: Did you face any particular difficulties or challenges when making an application?

A: Wandsworth Arts Festival is at the very beginning of the festival season in May meaning that timelines for fundraising are set particularly early. It can be a little challenging to work up specific programme proposals the preceding summer that involve local partnerships and evidence of demand that are new and not simply lifted from the shelf of the previous season.

Q: What did this funding enable you to do that you wouldn't have been able to do otherwise?

A: It enables us to commission high-calibre, diverse new work that reaches audiences in the borough who would not otherwise benefit. As such, it elevates the profile of the festival and perceptions of the cultural landscape in Wandsworth - setting an aspirational bar which stimulates year round activity. It also allows us to develop a meaningfully supportive role as programmers within the outdoor arts sector.

Q: What has been the impact of this year's festival? How have you evaluated it?

The impact has been significant both locally and regionally. We have managed to reach a broader spread of diverse audiences and introduce them to new experiences on their doorstep - changing the way they relate with their borough and their perceptions of what is possible.

We have also attracted new attention within the arts and cultural sectors - with local arts, cultural and community organisations benefitting from the general elevation in profile through association. We know this from extensive feedback collected from audiences at the events we manage directly, like The Shimmy, as well as events led by partners and other programme contributors.

We also learn a great deal through a series of networking and consultation events we provide for all programme contributors and artists throughout the festival timeline.

Q: Wandsworth Arts Festival 2011 is a pilot for the borough's 2012 contribution. Are you planning to apply for the Grants for the arts for projects in 2012?

A: Yes, we are. We have been developing projects for the Cultural Olympiad and Big Dance 2012. It will be a big celebration in Wandsworth to mark the Olympics on an international platform. It's a brilliant synthesis of local, national and international - and a fantastic way of getting local groups involved in a vibrant event which animates their local area. We are looking at a portfolio of Big Dance activity across the borough and in partnership with other local authorities, running from the six-week out period through to the end of Big Dance.

Q: Finally, what tips would you give to other local authority applicants?

A: Keep speaking to the Arts Council's officers and make sure your vision is strategically relevant as well as having artistic strength. Despite the challenging times, embrace the fun and delight of working with artists and communities to create new work and projects. We are privileged to be in a position to do so.