Reflections on the Folkestone Triennial 2014

Image Alex Hartley

Alex Hartley (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

Last year was the third edition of the UK’s most ambitious public arts project, Folkestone Triennial 2014, and it could be argued that it was the biggest and best yet. The Triennial was curated for the first time by Lewis Biggs, under the title, Lookout, which was more fitting than Lewis or the Creative Foundation (CF) could have expected. As predicted, Alex Hartley and a number of volunteers took their position looking out over the harbour from their Grand Burstin-base camp as part of Vigil. Triennial-goers looked out over the town from the exhibition’s wind-powered lift and over the harbour from Gabriel Lester’s bamboo observation deck. Something & Son’s sustainable greenhouse looked to the future, experimenting with alternative urban food production. The more surprising events included the thousands of people that came down to Folkestone to dig up Michael Sailstorfer’s treasure buried on Folkestone Outer Harbour Beach.

Image Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach

Folkstone Outer Harbour Beach (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The appropriation of disused spaces such as Emma Hart’s installation in a domestic interior and Tim Etchells’ neon text work in Folkestone’s derelict harbour railway station offered a renewed perspective on a familiar townscape. The Creative Foundation team took this one step further by inviting muf architecture/art to completely renovate an area of the Creative Quarter known as Payers Park. Previously a sloping wasteland, it is now a permanent park specially designed for the different needs of people in the local area. In addition to Payers Park, around the third of the works from this year’s Triennial will become permanent fixtures in the town, adding to the permanent collection of Folkestone Artworks that have been created from the previous two Triennials. Folkestone has amassed one of the most unique and quirky art collections in the UK, making it quite a special place to live, work and study.

Image Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono

Earth Peace 2014 by Yoko Ono (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

With 135,000 visitors, more people than ever visited Folkestone for the Triennial this year, cementing it as a one of the South East’s leading cultural destinations. The Folkestone Triennial public programme was buzzing with activity for the duration of the festival. With two conferences, field trips, artist-led events, historical and community talks, guided tours, family and schools workshops on offer, there was something for everyone.

Image Folkstone

Folkstone (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)

The Triennial in 2014 was a development on the first two Triennials of 2008 and 2011. These excellent exhibitions made a point of bringing great art into Folkestone in the summer; the high point of any seaside town’s tourist season. The exhibitions managed to bring a great deal of attention  to Folkestone that brought a significant number of visitors, a number of whom made a commitment to the town by renting property from the Creative Foundation.

For 2014 a new strategy was adopted. The Triennial was moved to the autumn, opening at the end of August and closing in early November. This decision represents a significant change for the Triennial and a change of emphasis for its promotion and audiences. There were four key audiences for the Triennial; locals who live in the region, education including schools and higher education, arts specialists, and tourists to the region.

The new strategy was supported by the research from Visit Kent that made it clear that Kent receives few international tourists and those that come are mostly interested in heritage. If people do visit the county it is predominantly for a day and those who stay overnight mostly do so by staying with friends and family.

The Triennial plan adopted has therefore been to use the press particularly for the art world, to build an education plan that includes two conferences and a marketing plan that aims for local engagement through the local press and lastly a campaign for visitors already in the region. Much of this was done through locals by encouraging them to invite their friends and family to the Triennial. This plan excluded any campaign for the hard to reach people from outside Kent or the country who show little propensity to visit.

The Triennial partners who include the artists and arts organisations of the Open and Fringe, the local businesses, including retailers and restaurateurs, along with hotels wished to see a plan that included those outside the region. While our partners appreciated the move to autumn to extend the Folkestone season, they felt that no other event in Folkestone, part from the Triennial, has content and a reputation that will bring attention to the town from outside the region. This only happens every three years and felt this opportunity should not be missed. The value of any greater plan would be of creative benefit to some partners and business benefit to others.

Culture Kent supported Folkestone Triennial and allowed this plan to be reconsidered and extended and its funding has enabled the Triennial to:

  • Work with new partners in order to attract new visitors to Folkestone and the Triennial.
  • Engage with audiences from within and outside Kent and capture the essence of the new Folkestone.
  • Increase the number of national and international visitors to the Folkestone Triennial.
  • Increase the coverage of the Triennial in international websites.
  • Achieve 30 blog sites mentioning the Triennial.
  • Measure the number of audiences who also visit other cultural destinations in East Kent.

It also enabled the Triennial to work on an outreach project with Visit Kent and achieved:

Image Rochester Cathedral
Rochester Cathedral (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
Image Port Lympne
Port Lympne (photo: Thierry Bal & Folkestone Triennial 2014)
  • Having a presence at the St. Pancras International Station over the opening weekend of the Triennial (30 & 31 August), as well as on the first weekend of October to promote the show, deliver an interactive activity and promote the town, local hotels, restaurants and the Creative Quarter.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains for an extensive poster campaign throughout Kent to promote Folkestone & the Triennial.
  • Working with Southeastern Trains to secure free train tickets for 50 national and international press journalists for the press day of the Triennial on Thursday 28 August.
  • Printing and distributing Folkestone Triennial branded Do Not Disturb cards to be used in all Folkestone Hotels.
  • In collaboration with the Turner Contemporary, Folkestone Triennial commissioned an installation by Krijn de Koning which was also replicated in Margate and cross-promoted this work through press material and e-flyers.
  • Monitoring audience attendance and demographics and undertake extensive market research.
  • Working with P&O Ferries and DFDS to distribute Triennial maps on all ferries and encourage international visitors to stop at Folkestone.

As part of all of this, the Triennial gained:

  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in the Visit Kent website, dedicated e-newsletters in English, French, Dutch and German, and across all social media platforms.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Southeastern website and dedicated e-newsletters.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town in Eurotunnel website, blogs and newsletter.
  • Extensive coverage of Folkestone Triennial and the town through Visit Britain, Visit England and the French Tourism Boards.
  • Cross fertilization of audiences between Margate and Folkestone
  • Developed relationships between the CF and local hotels.
  • Developed relationships between the CF and other tourist attractions in Kent.

This was the first time that the Creative Foundation sought to develop strategic partnerships with all these organisations, travel operators, hotels and other culture and tourist attractions. Culture Kent enabled us to do so and we are now in the process of deepening these relationships and entering into conversations for future joined working on projects about Folkestone Artworks and the Creative Quarter. The Culture Kent funding came about only months before the opening of the Triennial. As a consequence we didn’t have the time to pursue further partnership projects with organisations such as Eurotunnel, P&O and Southeastern that would have added extra value to the project and would have enabled us to reach even more people. We commissioned Visit Kent to broker these relationships for us but due to limited time some of them didn’t come to fruition.

Our relationship with the local hotels especially benefited and now we have an ongoing dialogue about how art and the hospitality sector can boost tourism in Shepway. After the end of the Triennial we donated the bamboo from Gabriel Lester’s installation The Electrified Line to Port Lympne Safari Park. They are using it to build a new structure for their wild cats. This partly came about after the Triennial Kiosk visited Port Lympne during the show and the two organisations started talking about partnership working and cross promotion. In April and May 2015 the Creative Foundation was invited to have a pop up shop at Bluewater Shopping Centre for six weeks showcasing the work of 26 artists and makers from the Folkestone Creative Quarter, attracting more than 6,000 people through the shop’s doors and promoting the town and its creative force. The Bluewater staff told us that we came under their radar due to the work we did for the Triennial and Culture Kent when they came across the kiosk during its tour.

Did you attend the Folkstone Triennial?  Please leave a comment on your experience or thoughts!

Many thanks to the Creative Foundation for partnering on this post

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LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR

“Forming unusual partnerships also requires greater investments of time … often by senior leadership, and the development of new tools, such as innovative memorandums of understanding. When done well, however, these partnerships offer businesses unprecedented opportunities to build and access new and developing markets, become more efficient and create the appropriate market conditions to thrive.”

Thus wrote Abeed Mahmud in an article in The Guardian “Beyond charity: three innovative types of business partnerships for non-profits”.

He was right. But not just about partnerships between businesses and NGOs. His views on the challenges of, but most importantly the opportunities for, partnership working are as valid for the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as they are for small-scale arts organisations and Destination Management Organisations aiming to work together.

Culture Kent is a partnership initiative with aims that are simple – but all-too-often neglected. To increase cultural tourism in Kent and to explore and exploit the potential of shared cultural event data. In order to achieve these aims, Cultural Organisations need to join together with their cousins in the tourist industry in a true partnership..

But partnership isn’t easy. It requires hard work, dedication and – sometimes – leaving egos at the door.

I’ve spent much of my working life bringing organisations and people together – whether a joint artistic collaboration between visual artists, dancers and film makers on one project, through co-ordinating cultural NGOs at a regional level, to joining arts organisations together to think and learn at the most strategic levels.

And on this project – Culture Kent – the rules are the same as ever:

1. Agree ambitions.
It sounds simple but so often partnerships can break down because not everyone knows or agrees what they are trying to achieve. It is so easy to make massive assumptions. So articulate your ambitions, both by speaking about and then writing about them (via a Terms of Reference document or a partnership agreement). Voice concerns at the beginning. Question what you don’t understand. Rehearse scenarios (how will you handle disagreements, how will you share your knowledge and so on.)

2. Agree the limitations of your partnership.
These can change of course, but agree at the outset which areas of work you are going to cover in your partnership. With dedication, a little luck and a fair wind a successful partnership will evolve and grow bigger as time goes on, but it’s best to start small and build confidence on all sides.

3. Clarity of roles.
This sounds so simple but in practice if you don’t know who is doing what and when, how do you know if you’re achieving what you set out to do? And how do you know who to go to when you have a query? Resentments and misunderstandings can so easily happen if you think the other person is meant to be doing it, not you.

4. Individual benefits.
Not all partners will gain the same benefits from the partnerships but every partner needs to gain some business benefit at some point during the course of the partnership. Each partner needs to be clear about what they hope to gain and ensure that they share the benefit (and their enthusiasm) back to their own organisation. Which brings me on to:

5. Whole organisation sign-up.
Without the whole of your organisation signing up to the aims of the partnership, it can become easy to give into the pressure of the everyday job and not set aside dedicated time to help deliver the ambitions of the partnership. Often partnerships are “add-ons” and have to be fitted in amongst a multitude of seemingly more urgent priorities. If your organisation is committed to the partnership, you will allocate space and time to it.

6. Agree actions and timelines.
Not every action should be agreed by the whole partnership (that way madness lies – and often the stifling of imagination and ambition too) but major milestones and the timescale by which things should be done need to be agreed by everyone. That way there is clarity and hopefully no partner can claim not to have been consulted or that another organisation is holding things up.

7. REAL discussion.
Ask people to be honest and as open as possible at meetings. Sometimes Chatham House rules should apply. It is important to enable people to openly share any concerns they have at developments of particular elements of the project. It is also important to be honest and frank about any wider national issues that are developing in the background.

8. Reflect – and Remember the Benefits.
In the plethora of meetings, emails and phone calls it can be easy to forget why you ever started a partnership in the first place. Take time to reflect and remember the ambitions of the project and have a regular check and balance moment to see whether you’re all still going in the same direction to the same end. Of course things change (often for the better), so it’s good to see whether your original ambition should be reiterated or adapted to the changing scenarios.

None of this is rocket science. And much depends on people willingly setting up partnerships for genuine reasons rather than because they have been forced by external circumstances to do so.

In many ways the sharing of data and cultural tourism initiatives seems like one of the simplest partnerships; but it is trialling new ideas and new ways of working and whenever you do that, there can be big challenges and the journey can be rough. Often great big potholes can appear in the road on the way. Luckily so far, no major potholes have appeared for us, but we are all aware that the road is long and the budget for road maintenance is small. It certainly won’t be a speedy journey but together we believe that the destination at the end of the road is a worthwhile one.

Summer of Colour (part 2) – Delivery of The Framework

Delivery
Delivery of Summer of Colour was led by a freelance Creative Programmer who was appointed in late December 2013 and started in post in January 2014. Much of the delivery was in partnership with external artists and organisations many of whom are based in Margate.

What we did, how, with whom
The Creative Programmer established a framework under which the Summer of Colour programme could be broadly divided into three types of activity.

  • Turner Contemporary projects: many of these were core to Turner Contemporary’s summer programme and were led by and delivered by Turner Contemporary’s staff and team, some were already programmed and discussions under way eg, Carlos Cortez “Moving with the Wind”
  • Turner Contemporary co-delivered/co commissioned: these were projects which, based on the aims of the Summer of Colour we were keen to bring to Margate. These included projects which we instigated and some where the Turner Contemporary’s team assisted in delivery – either through part funding, assistance with securing Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts funding or other support.
  • Partners’ delivery: these were projects, events, installations or performances which made a significant contribution to Summer of Colour and were key to the success of the programme. Turner Contemporary supported these projects though funding, marketing, support in kind, use of Turner Contemporary as a venue. These were almost entirely led by and instigated by partners, using Summer of Colour as a framework in which to situate the work or as a catalyst for it. We supported projects where there was a clear link to the Summer of Colour aims, for example the presentation of work already commissioned by South East Dance – Cubing Bis

In addition we wanted to encourage those planning and delivering their own events to share that information and use the Summer of Colour as a platform for marketing and comms, to contribute to the sense of a vibrant and exciting series of summer events and to enable them to benefit from our promotion. We commissioned the Summer of Colour website, using a re-skinned One in a Million site with added functionality to allow easy upload for events, plus photos to the Gallery page.

image Moving with the wind by Carlos Cortez

Moving with the wind by Carlos Cortez (photo: Manu Palomeque)

How we delivered the festival
We created a clear framework, based upon the overarching aims (cross art-form, paired events, inspired by colour, offsite and in unusual spaces, aiming for non-arts and local audiences) and invited ideas and contributions to the programme through a series of face to face meetings.

Over the first three months (Jan-March), the Creative Programmer made contact with over 70 individuals and organisations and had meetings with at least 30. This face to face approach, often off site and in the town was beneficial in demonstrating the commitment of Turner Contemporary to work collaboratively. Over a third of the partners had not collaborated with Turner Contemporary before and 100% of partners have now said they would like to collaborate with Turner Contemporary in future.

We gave a clear message that whilst Mondrian and Colour was Turner Contemporary’s exhibition, the Summer of Colour belonged to Margate. The clear framework and the aims, plus the commitment within the aims to collaborate with external partners, across art forms, made it easier to say yes to projects and ideas and to take creative risks, and it made it easier for artists to approach us with their ideas.

The ownership that we feel and that hopefully the town feels, has been in place before now, but this, the Summer of Colour feels like it’s very much a kind of “here’s the platform, now stand on it” – so we can have people semi-autonomously putting proposals forward from commissioned based pieces of work, shops got involved and as artists and creatives and as a member of Resort Studios up in Cliftonville we felt like part of, an integral part of, what was happening”
~ Emrys Plant

Image On Margate Sounds, First Friday

Summer of Colour: On Margate Sounds, First Friday

In addition to sharing the overarching aims and ambition with partners we devised an approach to the programme with ‘pairs’ of activity on and offsite. The intention being to encourage two-way traffic between events which took place at the gallery and those delivered by our partners in their locations, to broaden our reach and attract a more diverse audience. We focused on programing non-visual arts activity by seeking out music, dance and theatre partners and delivering work such as the newly commissioned tango, inspired by Mondrian developed by Morgan’s and delivered in the gallery.

As well as thematic or art-form pairings, we aimed to create clusters of similarly themed activity in order to create high points in the programme, days or weekends when multiple activities would take place in several locations. An excellent example was the Margate Jazz Festival in mid June which took place across the town over three days, popping up in bars and cafés, as well as on the terrace at Turner Contemporary and in the gallery spaces.

Image Jazz on the terrace of Turner Contemporary

Summer of Colour: Jazz on the terrace of Turner Contemporary

Read the previous post: Summer of Colour (part 1) -Background and Headlines