(#AD) Festival of Thrift 2019 – let’s get thrifty!

It’s September….it’s Autumnal and this is my favourite time of year…. It’s also time for Festival of Thrift!

There are some events and festivals that go on every year in the North East and you can mention them to folks and you’ll see a glint in their eye and their face lights up because they love them so much. In the North East, it doesn’t take too long if you put on a really lush festival/event that’s all about the people attending and connects with folks with a lush offer, that suddenly, it’s like the event is a North East tradition and we embrace it as one of our diamonds.

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(All photos belong to Festival of Thrift in this post)

Festival of Thrift is one of those events…..and this year it returns 14th & 15th September 10am-5pm in lush village of Kirkleatham – it’s a MUST do for everyone.  This annual award-winning festival is in its 7th year and is a proper celebration of sustainable living, positive change and protecting our planet….which has never been more necessary! Whilst there are lots of lessons and things to take away from the festival, it’s also a lush event and around every corner of the magical festival site is something different for you to discover and enjoy. And lots of my fave artists and creatives work on it…so I’m a bit (a lot) biased!

Each year, Festival of Thrift brings fresh themes and #thriftfest 2019 highlights clean air and celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing. Expect new journeys of discovery, thought provoking performances and a special mix of hands-on fun, food, music, dance and song. There are over 160 stalls selling all manner of thrifty, upcycled and recycled goods, delicious food and drink as well as a few surprises along the way….

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Since it started 7 years ago, I’ve never been able to fully enjoy it as it’s always clashed with Gateshead Family Sculpture Day, the day itself or the event prep, so my mind has been elsewhere and had to rush back. So this year, I’m excited…I’m going for the full Saturday, my mind will be all about enjoying the event and yes, I will be charting my full Thrift experience over on my Instagram……

There is loads to do and take part in across the two days…..drop in and pre-bookable workshops, storytelling, performances, lush live music, installations, thrifty stalls, advice pop-ups, talks, thing to make, see, do and experience….things for adults and families alike…..

Download Festival of Thrift programme to get plotting and planning your festival experience and for those who are just hearing about Thrift or haven’t quite decided if you’re going to go….well, by the end of this blog post, I hope you will!

I recently caught up with the wonderful  Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall for an interview; Stella is the visionary behind the festival and has been at the helm since its birth seven years ago! I met Stella at Make & Mend Festival 2019 and her passion for culture and events, across Teesside, in my opinion is largely responsible for lots of the excited happenings that are going on now and are set to come……

Interview with Festival of Thrift Director – Stella Hall

For those who are unsure, never been or curious, what is Festival of Thrift?

Festival of Thrift is the UK’s first large-scale festival promoting sustainable, socially responsible living, and creative, resilient communities.  Each September since 2013,  it has provided  a free weekend event  presenting  a mix of professional and emerging artists, community driven projects, skills and learning activities – with a focus on upcycling, recycling, making, growing, volunteering, skills building, learning and saving money.

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Let’s go back to the beginning…..How did it all start? What was the inspiration?

Festival of Thrift was launched in Darlington in 2012 at Lingfield Point business park inspired by the creative reuse of the buildings there, together with the UKs growing DIY and reuse, recycle, upcycle  culture.

Over the last seven years, the Festival has attracted 200,000 visitors, and is now recognised as playing a pivotal role in the social, cultural and economic regeneration of Tees Valley. It won the Observer Ethical Award for Arts and Culture and the North East Tourism Event of the Year 2015 and was shortlisted for Best Event North East for 2018.

In 2015, after the closure of the steelworks in Redcar, we moved the Festival to our beautiful Kirkleatham site and established as a Community Interest Company.

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For those who this will be their first year, what can they expect? Any pre-festival advice to get the most out of the weekend?

A beautiful , wooded green site  in a lovely village with play areas, fields  a museum absolutely packed with activities, stalls, performances, stages, demonstrations, food and drink .

Advice wise…

  • Bring walking shoes, dress for the UK weather, a picnic blanket and reusable cup and water bottle.
  • Bring your surplus fruit and veg and we will make soup and jam.
  • Bring things you don’t need – and swap them for things you do at the swapshop.
  • Bring stuff that doesn’t work and we will help you fix it at the Fix It café.
  • Dress in your finest remade clothing and get picked for the catwalk.
  • Book in advance if you fancy any of the workshops – but there will be plenty to see and do if you don’t!
  • Download the festival programme to plan your day(s).

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The theme changes every year, so tell me about the theme for this year?

Clean Air is one of our big themes his year – being in the Great Outdoors in the Tees Valley – we just don’t deserve the name “Smoggies” anymore, we’ve moved beyond that and Art is an invaluable way to help people to understand serious issues, as tapping into people’s emotional responses is far more powerful than simply presenting bald facts.

The other artworks in this year’s Viewpoints by Festival of Thrift will also respond to the Festival of Thrift’s clean air theme for 2019…. View Points is a series of pieces with a clean air focus curated by the Festival of Thrift for its second Viewpoints project, which sees sculptures, installations and artworks displayed across the Tees Valley from 12 -19 September to prompt discussions about sustainability issues.

The works include a lung cleaning experience at its railway station, a giant drawing using ink recycled from exhaust fumes, a series of enormous painted canaries using a dazzle camouflage technique, an extraordinary green house, a free-standing observation platform and Human Sensors consisting of wearable costumes that respond to air pollution levels.

The works we have selected for Viewpoints are effective ways to explain and help people to experience and explore the clean air crisis that we simply can’t afford to ignore.

You can find out more about ViewPoints HERE!

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Your marking the anniversary of the moon landing this year too, how has that influenced your festival programme?

It’s a great theme for celebrating what we can do if we really try – and boldly go! The theme also reminds us that we only really have one planet to live on – so let’s make the most of it and look after it well.

Plus we will be

  • Taking off with Whippet Up’s – Mission (out of) Control – an interactive re-imagining of the 1969 Moon Landing. Whippet Up’s vision will bring the excitement and optimism of space travel in the 1960’s to the Festival of Thrift.
  • Putting girls in charge with Space Rebel princess theatre show – a fearless young princess raised for royalty but not for rocketry, dreams of becoming an astronaut. Outsmarting the confines of her palace upbringing, she must boldly go where no princess has gone before!
  • Building your own rockets with Woodshed – this year they are building rockets out of reclaimed wood, hammers and nails, once the building is complete we will ask you to get creative with paint to personalise your invention.

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Now this is a toughie question….what are your programme highlights for 2019…your top picks?

I love all of it of course!

If I were a teenager (or adult!) it would be brilliant to be part of

  • Manic Chord’s search for an alien  in The unknown – Amber, a tech savvy teen and her rather more traditional grandmother, Dawn are onto something supernatural. With fellow members of the Society for Speculation, can the daring duo get to the bottom of these gravitational goings on? This show is free but prebookable HERE!
  • Urban Playground in the parkour show looking into the future, Zoo Humans. It’s a brilliant visual fast paced spectacle.

If I were under eleven I would go and be a Little Inventor…. Little Inventors is a creative initiative that takes children’s amazing ideas seriously and brings them to life working with local makers. From food waste to space travel, Little Inventors have tapped into children’s creative powers to engage them with the issues of today. At Thrift…

  • Dominic head inventor at Little Inventors (and Sunderland-born designer) will launch the new Pioneers Energy Challenge right at Festival of Thrift, a new project for children aged 8 – 12 to invent better ways to make, use, store and stop wasting energy.
  • Work with Little Inventors to create your own invention from ideas that help generate, save or use energy better. Come and draw your idea and have a go at making a simple prototype model using recycled materials, helped by the Little Inventors team. Your idea could help to save the planet!

If I were under five I would want a go on…  

  • The hand-carved wooden roundabout – The Bewonderment Machine. A visually stunning cycle-powered carousel creating a magical journey for small children-This handmade, human-powered merry-go-round combines hand carved animals, puppetry, and music. This is a miniature theatrical flight of the imagination, empowering the very young to care and to be curious. Climb on and embark on joyful journey. For times visit HERE!

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For adults – there is literally loads to do see, do, eat, listen to but this year….

  • I can’t wait to taste this year’s menu in our community meal – The Town is the Menu, inspired by the town Guisborough – The Town is the Menu is created by Simon Preston with Menu by Jess Miller and Sammy Coxell, the Ugly Duckling team. It’s £7 for 3 courses and there are limited slots left….you can see the whole menu HERE!
  • I always love the ingenuity of the Oxglam fashion show; it’s moon inspired this year! The Oxglam fashion show, features stunning creations using recycled clothing donations, is one of the highlights of the Festival weekend.
  • I am fascinated by the WRAS show – The Best of All Possible Worlds.. The story of a trio of innocents continuously buffeted by fate – 3 characters torn out of the pages of a book, Candide, and placed in an unfamiliar, unstable world. There’s a wilderness, the growth of civilisation, territorial disputes, war, a flood, a miraculous get-away, bad weather, hell and a happy ending that isn’t what it seems This puppet/object theatre show  will be presented with all the visual panache and wit expected from the Whalley Range All Star. For times visit HERE!
  • And all festivals are about their live music and we’ve got a great outdoor live music programme….

These highlights are just a fraction of what we have lined up this year. There’s plenty more to come and, as ever, people can expect the unexpected at the Festival of Thrift…..

Tell me about the Friday community parade launching this year’s festival?

We began the Parade last year to join the town to the village – it was a hit so we have created another one…. This year’s Thrifty parade will launch the seventh Festival of Thrift in joyful style, championing creativity and community in Redcar and helping to spread the Thrifty message of good living in sustainable ways.

Led by Stellar Projects, the procession will include a combination of local community groups, professional performers and musicians, including last year’s popular CowCar (has to be seen to be believed), to restate the highly topical warning of the dangers of methane emissions, and dancers wearing Kasia Molga’s extraordinary Human Sensor costumes, which measure and reflect  diesel emissions in the atmosphere!

Setting off from Kirkleatham Museum with a cohort of bikes which will make their way to Redcar town centre where they will meet the walking parade participants which will include school and community groups, performance groups and structures. The parade will take Thrift through the heart of the town centre and along the sea front to finish Bandstand.

It starts at 6.30pm at from Kirkleatham Museum and it’s going to be ‘Breath of Fresh Air’!

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Festival of Thrift is a jewel in the North east events and festival programme…..rightly so! Why do you think Thrift is SO popular and much loved?

We take huge pride in being a one-of-a-kind event with our packed celebration of sustainable living and we are promising another riot of ways to have fun at the festival this year.

It’s just a joyful weekend packed with sustainable arts, crafts, music, fashion, food, entertainment, shopping, demos, workshops and upcycling inspiration, our hugely popular Festival offers a weekend of free eco-friendly fun and attracted over 35,000 visitors last year.  A true weekend to remember!

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Whilst the festival is a lush weekend, there is a really strong environmental and sustainability message – what could the eco-curious take away from Thrift?

That each of us has a responsibility and each of us can make a difference but altogether, we can make a big difference.

Do you think events like Thrift has positive change making effects for the everyday?

Certainly – our audiences tell us this every year. But we also need to get active, join campaigns, make our voices heard. It’s a 365 day a year project – not just a weekend! Festival of Thrift is a great starting point for the rest of the year and an excellent way to discover new ideas….

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What’s one bit of Thrifty advice you have for my readers?

To ask ourselves questions in the moment….

  • How much do we really need?
  • What can we share?
  • What would we want our grandchildren to think about how we have contributed to creating the world they will live in?

We have those answers ourselves.

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Well thank you Stella – I’m totally in the mood for Festival of Thrift right now and I hope my fellow Culture Vultures are too.

Click here for 10 Festival of Thrift 2019 highlights and get planning your visit and happenings. The official Thrift website is a fountain of EVERYTHING happening across the weekend….or be like me, plan nothing and just discover as you go…..

Until next time Culture Vultures…. xx

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Jane Gower – Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month August

Well Summer is drawing to the end…..and it seems fitting that we spent most of August’s Sculpture 30 activity outside with the sculptor version of Ray Mears.

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As an artist, a business person, a career person, a stay at home saint or any other type of busy bee, do you take the opportunity to get outside and appreciate the outdoors. Now I mean, REALLY appreciate – look around you, taking in the smells, the shapes of natural objects, the light…….

If you look closely enough, beauty and sculpture can be found and created in almost anything. Taking time out to do this is not only imperative for your mindfulness and inner wellbeing, it is also crucial part of the creative process; allowing yourself to think, reflect, reimagine and to get lost in the world around you, that you may see every day, but not take in.

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That’s what we focused on during August with our Sculpture 30 Artist of the Month Jane Gower. We got outside with different groups; adults, children, artists and creatives a like and we got using the natural world and materials around us to make beautiful sculptural pieces that both created meaning in the present and complemented the landscape.

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I spent an afternoon with Jane during a family Land Art workshop in Thornley Woods…..it was a fantastic afternoon spent making our names from natural resources around us and picking special objects during our trail.

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Whilst on our object hunt, we often stopped to talk about why we’d picked certain objects, why they visually seemed special to us and the beautiful colours, shapes and textures. It was fascinating to share perceptions and discover emotional attachments to inanimate objects.

Jane had also scattered on our route, several pieces of her land art that she had created making the afternoon feel like a mini sculpture trail of natural discovery.

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We used our materials to recreate the Gruffalo’s foot-steps – a series of footsteps with natural materials, to reimagine what he might like to eat and we ended our session making him a den.

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I had a fantastic afternoon – I found it grounding in the sense it reminded me of the creative possibilities that exist all around us every day and how these possibilities are constantly changing and evolving with nature. Moreover, this type of sculpture making is very accessible to everyone and something individuals, teams, groups and families can do as a collective.

After the session, I caught up with Jane Gower, our artist of the Month for August, to probe a little deeper into her practice, to find out what it is about the outdoors she loves so much and what exactly, ephemeral art is……?

Hi Jane, Tell me a little about yourself?

I love walking, especially with friends and family and ravelling around and camping in my converted transit van; also getting totally lost in creating a piece of work when I forget time, to eat and other people. I also love collaborating with other artists on projects.

Meeting new people is endlessly fascinating especially if I’m researching for a commission and find out about a whole different way of life.

I did a degree in Textiles and an M.A in Fine Art. My jobs from a previous life include; Stage-Management in London West End Theatres, running my own knitted textile business, clothing designer/production manager for a Fair Trade company, Art Foundation Course Lecturer and Community artist.

I have two children who have flown the nest.

Tell me about your practice?

I have been described as an eccentric art-scientist, experimenting with different materials: melting, shredding and generally deconstructing, then re-constructing the remains into some other form. This approach employed man-made materials. I’ve transferred this questioning recently, into testing the physical qualities of natural elements out in a rural environment. In doing so I’ve dropped the need for tools and equipment, finding the necessaries in a ‘make-do-Ray-Mears’ approach and adapting whatever’s lying around or re-thinking the process. This is very liberating. It involves trusting a spontaneous response to the natural environment and going with it.

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I also describe my practice as socially-engaged; involving participants in the creative process, using a range of media and techniques that is relevant for both the participants and to the installation site. The constant thread that runs through all my work is the intricacies of communication in the cultural realm: the disparity that lies between intention and interpretation.

Social engagement has decreased in recent times as I’ve been exploring this new direction in my practice.

Past commissions and residencies include; The Great North Run, The Sage Gateshead, Newcastle Riverside Sculpture Trail, The Tall Ships Race, Pallion, Cleadon and Gateshead PCT NHS Health Centres, among others.

Where can people go to see more of your work?

In terms of the Land Art work nothing can be seen in actuality as it’s so temporary but I’m on Instagram as jane_gower. I try and make one Land art piece a day, photograph it and upload onto the app every day.

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There are two large-scale, permanent, sculptural installations in the Trinity Square Health Centre at West Street, Gateshead. One is inside the surgery and one outside in the car park. Both were participatory pieces based around the question: ‘What makes you better?’. They are both permanent. Fabricated from printed and engraved clear or mirror acrylic they are different from resources I am currently using.

Voice recordings are often incorporated into my sculptural installations as I like to make evident the work process in the final piece and they bring animation.

I’ve just completed a sound piece: ‘Coastal Viewpoints’ in collaboration with Nicola Balfour for Durham Heritage Coast. We’ve been audio recording people out and about on the coastal path between Seaham and Horden. Their responses to the question: ‘What’s your view of this coastline?’ are being edited into QR points on the information boards along the path. People can hear some of the recordings on the FB page; ‘Coastal Viewpoints’.

What are your ties to the North East?

There are several factors:

I ran away from a London-life 28 years ago, for a job as clothing designer/production manager for the fair-trade company Traidcraft in Gateshead, and never went back.

I live on the border of three very different county boundaries; Northumberland, Durham and Gateshead. The diversity in terms of landscape, communities and culture is so varied and engaging, that it constantly inspires me.

I feel the North East has been one of the few areas in England that has valued artists’ contribution to its regeneration. Even though there has been a noticeable dearth of available arts funding recently, it still feels there’s potential to make a living as a free-lance artist here.

The North East has been good to me. Both my children were born here, so the area feels like part of our DNA.

For those who don’t know, what is “Ephemeral Land Art”?

Land Art refers to an art movement that began in the 60’s in which landscape and art is inextricably linked. It’s about experiencing natural spaces and responding to them using indigenous materials to create art and placing it in the natural environment. The ‘Ephemeral’ derives from a Greek word meaning lasting only one day. This encapsulates the temporary period that the artworks are expected to exist. Due to the raw materials being used and the spaces they are created in, out in the natural environment, they will start to deteriorate immediately. Open to the elements, to animal and human activity, the artworks only exists at the moment of creation. Documenting that moment through photography is the only way to keep the piece alive and give it longevity.

Why is getting outside important for creatives?

Getting outside whatever the weather for anyone, regardless of whether they are an artist or not, is very grounding. Even in an urban environment, I think to feel the elements and to be in natural light helps get things into perspective. Being outdoors invigorates and you are dealing immediately with the here-and-now basics of life.

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Having to find a way of working with the idiosyncrasies of a variety of natural forms, out in an uncontrollable environment, has its own particular challenges and rewards for creative people.

Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the Gateshead homeschoolers?

I was asked to work with a homeschooling group and their carers based in Gateshead. We spent 2 ½ days in Thornley Woods exploring the landscape, looking at all the resources available and using different techniques to make land art, prints and photographs. Sometimes everyone worked individually and sometimes as a team. We did lots of playing and walking, and discussing the natural environment   and our response to it. They were for me some very uplifting and informative days with an enthusiastic group of learners.

What is your favourite piece of Sculpture in the North East/the world?

One that always resonates with me is Cornelia Parkers’   Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) A garden shed she had blown up by the British Army and suspended the fragments as if suspending the explosion process in time.

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Well thank you Jane, another fantastic Sculpture 30 artist of the Month.

As we draw ever closer to the end of Sculpture 30 Festival, I have to say I now view Sculpture in a whole new way. It is very accessible and incredibly diverse in art form, materials used, nature, inspiration…..I am also surprised to discover through-out the year, how “sculpture” is not really the isolated art form, I thought it was. It in fact infuses, permeates and influences Art and creative practices in a huge way….

Taking from Jane and I think we all can Culture Vultures; get outside more and really look at the natural world around you for it is full of undiscovered creative possibilities!

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