Directing an art festival

 25 July 2013

How do you end up running a festival? Anna Maloney talks about her journey, from working on Liverpool 08 to unveiling Hackney's art scene for the Hackney WickED Art Festival.

Hackney WickED allows local artists to show their work alongside international names.
Hackney WickED allows local artists to show their work alongside international names.

Anna's passion for art can be traced back to her school days, but it wasn't until after she graduated from university that she developed a keen interest in events.

"I never set out specifically to be involved in festivals. But after my degree I did a Business Management & French NVQ in Liverpool, and I decided to get into the events management side of the course.

"I got a work placement with the business tourism team of the Liverpool local tourist board, the Mersey Partnership

"They got me managing the city's presence at international exhibitions, as well as doing brand showcases and management for large conferences and events."

Building a career in events

This acted as a springboard for Anna's career in the Liverpool events scene. She was soon developing the city's Conference Ambassadors Programme and managing Liverpool Hope University's events department.

"Art is crucial for wellbeing and happiness!"

"I built strong connections in high-level events. So when Liverpool was awarded European Capital of Culture status for 2008, I launched the Liverpool 08 brand at my venue.

"I was then asked to take on a new role at at Visit Britain as the Liverpool 08 promotions manager.

"It was my job to lead the international marketing and communications. So I was responsible for the campaign and strategy side, working with partners and stakeholders

"It was a new and unique role. I was sent around the world to promote Liverpool and the UK's cultural assets.

"It was a dream job promoting all the fantastic elements of Liverpool’s cultural scene across the globe, as the international ambassador for Liverpool!"

Working in arts events

Although Anna's job focused on tourism and marketing, it naturally gave her a large amount of exposure to the creative and cultural industries.

She found herself working with local bands, artists and festival organisers.

"I worked with musicians, such The Wombats and Ringo Starr, as well as festivals, such as Creamfields, Africa Oyé and Liverpool Sound City.

"I really enjoyed being able to use creativity to help promote a destination."

Getting involved in Hackney's arts scene

"When Liverpool 08 was done, I decided I wanted to properly discover the arts scene in London. 

"Serendipitously, I saw a poster for the newly formed Hackney WickED Art Festival, advertising for people to come to an open meeting.

"I was interested in Hackney Wick, and the effect the London 2012 Games would have on this local artist area.

"I felt I could share my knowledge of the impact of large events on the rejuvenation of places, so I attended a meeting about it.

"There I met Jo Hughes, who invited me along to a Hackney WickED team meeting that day.

"I did all the PR and photography for the festival that year, including getting a double page spread in London Life. I was invited to be festival director soon afterwards."

Seeing Liverpool in Hackney

Anna was seduced by what she saw as strong parallels between Hackney Wick and Liverpool. 

"Work hard and stick with it: the feeling of elation at the end is worth it."

"The poor industrial background of the area coupled with a strong artist presence really echoes Liverpool for me.

"As soon as you start to actually explore the labyrinth of warehouses in Hackney Wick, it becomes a total joy.

"These two spaces have a very special energy. Hackney Wick is like a home from home for me."

Directing an art festival

Anna's role involves leading the festival strategy, thinking about where it's going and what it should do. In this sense, she helps to drive the festival's brand.

Because of her experienced background, she is also responsible for the festival's marketing and PR.

Since she joined, the festival has grown in size significantly, attracting the attention of national broadcasters and the international media.

"As my experience is corporate, I bring a level of professionalism. I introduced new levels of communication, and initiated things like agendas for meetings and the use of a Customer Relationship Management system.

"2010 was the first proper media launch – we had six TV crews.

"There were pop-up performances from the likes of the Punk Choir, and we placed a wonderful exhibition by Mary Cooke at Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery, overlooking the Olympic Stadium."

Art and the community

As the festival has matured, Anna and the Hackney WickED team have made an effort to encourage local participation and develop collaborative education programmes with schools.

"We want to inspire kids and adults alike through art. It's especially important in a time of cuts, as their exposure to art is being reduced.

"Art is crucial for wellbeing and happiness!"  

The challenges of festivals

Anna is keen to stress that a good festival will only be achieved when married with extremely hard work. 

"It's not just fun. There's lots of hard work to do in the preparation process, such as:

  • event production
  • risk assessments
  • contingency planning
  • getting premises and temporary events licences
  • crowd and waste management
  • logistics
  • infrastructure.

"The money side of things can also be difficult, and I have had other jobs, such as being marketing and digital manager for the Royal Albert Hall. Working on contract-based jobs allows me the flexibility to work full-time for the festival in the months leading up to its launch.

"As you start to explore the labyrinth of warehouses, it becomes a total joy."

"I would say a lot of people who work for festivals either work for themselves or do contract or freelance work. 

But that's not to say that festivals can only be a labour of love. Anna also offers her time to other festivals which are established enough to pay her well.

Raising funds, for example through a crowdfunding campaign, has been a key area of the festival's attention. She encourages people to support it so the festival can stay free and the staff can be paid in full-time positions. 

3 tips for running a festival

1. Don't lose sight of your goal

"Work hard and stick with it. It's easy to lose sight of why you're putting in so much time and energy, but the feeling of elation at the end is worth it.

"Just when you think it’s all too much, people come along, join the team, offer their services and it all comes together wonderfully!"

2. Choose who you work with carefully

"You need people who are reliable, like-minded and trustworthy. If you have that then work stops feeling like work, and becomes fun."

3. Be smart about footwear

"You have to run everywhere when you work in festivals. You'll be going from venue to venue, person to person and standing on your feet to watch events. And the hours are very long.

"Being comfortable is really important. I recommend wearing trainers for city festivals and boots for fields!" 

Find out more about Hackney WickED Art Festival.

Have you ever worked for a festival? What advice would you offer?

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