Building a festival #1 - Aims

Idea

Around summer 2020, I started creative coding, which is making art using technology.

I came across the work of Zach Lieberman, Matt DesLauriers and Tyler Hobbs, amongst others, and it clicked. I'd been trying to make an abstract dance / motion work I'd had in my head for a while but was frustrated by the tools I was using (I'd come from film), so the concepts and techniques they used sparked so many ideas and opportunities that I had to give it a go.

Now firmly bitten by the bug, the more I got into it, the more I discovered the amazing world of creative coding, generative art, and related digital art forms.

There was so much creativity bursting out and it felt like there was a huge opportunity for the art form to develop; through new technology, through standing on the shoulders of the giants of other art forms to really get down to the deeper layers, and through the artists working in the field and sharing their work and methods.

I'd wanted to do a gallery show of digital artist's work as a launch event for my app back in May 2020. Covid stopped that, but the idea stuck around.

As I discovered more and more of these inspiring artists, most just working on it as a hobby and posting on instagram, it felt like there should be a chance to see these in real life, not just on a phone, to give them space to breathe and be seen in their full glory, particularly for interactive and motion based works.

A chance to be seen in a gallery space, as equals with more traditional art forms, and to give these emerging artists an exhibition and some recognition for their work.

And a chance to help expand the reach of these young(ish!) art forms and make them more accessible to others, breaking down some of the hard jargon of software languages to help people taking their first steps, just as I was.

I'd been to Ars Electronica in Austria a few years back, a huge festival, but there didn't seem to be any smaller scale festivals in London, and only a few dotted around the UK.

So I decided to set one up myself.

Purpose

The aims of the festival are to:

  • Showcase creative coding and generative art
  • Champion emerging artists
  • Expand access to digital art forms

And most of all, do this in person by getting people together in real life.

I decided to locate it in Peckham (South East London), as I'm based there and it's a bit of a creative hub. I also needed a name that captured the specific type of art, but that allowed for flexibility within the wide field of electronic art, and that key the local connection.

Peckham Digital was born.

First steps

I first got in contact with the organisers of the two big creative coding meetup groups in London: London Creative Coding (LCC) and Algorithmic Art, to see if they liked the idea. They did (phew!) and were very helpful in providing advice and introducing me to others in the field.

This gave me confidence that there might be interest, and I contacted a range of other people to test this on a wider scale, with a very positive response. The enthusiasm was infectious.

I set up a fledgling website at peckhamdigital.org and did a shoutout at the LCC zoom meetup, after which around 5 people got in contact.

So I had initial validation, but there was a big mountain to climb - would anyone come? Who would the audience be? How much would it cost? How long would it take? When would it be held? Where would it be held? How would it work with Covid? and most importantly (again), who would come?!

Advice

Raw enthusiasm can take you a long way, but sometimes it helps to get the perspective of people who have done it before. So I reached out to some of the directors of UK based digital art festivals, to ask for advice.

One had 500,000 people (!) come through the first edition of her new festival, which she'd set up for around £4k, a phenomenal outreach (the secret? Set it in a shopping centre).

I also got great advice on timescales (3+ months marketing run in to the event and at least a month for an artist open call), artists and speakers (assume a 50% drop out rate) and budget (what's that?!).

I developed a schedule and a budget, planning for different funding levels (with the assumption of almost no funding) and a flexible timescale (initially planning to hold it around Feb 2021, which is now likely to be around May 2021, (hopefully) post lockdown). This enforced additional time is something of a blessing, as there is lots to do!

Next steps

I'm still in the foothills of the mountains, with audience ridge, budget peak and schedule summit still to go, amongst many others.

I'm especially keen to try building via an audience first (or hybrid) approach, which is something I'm trying to learn. Fortunately, I've been joined by a fellow traveller (my new co-founder), which makes the journey easier.

I'll cover my journey, including the many topics listed above, in future posts!