Reflecting on the Sussex Festival of Ideas
Posted on behalf of: School of Media, Arts and Humanities
Last updated: Thursday, 24 June 2021
Ed Hughes, Chair of the Sussex Festival of Ideas steering group, reflects on the inaugural festival:
Billed as “celebrating a host of contemporary ideas around documentary and film, music and creative practice, poetry and language, as well as the vital role of our local cultural institutions”, the inaugural Sussex Festival of Ideas took place from 9 to 12 June 2021.
The festival was conceived and organised by a team of staff and students within the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, led by Prof Mary Krell as Artistic Director. Its vision was to celebrate the research and ideas of the School’s staff and students in local, regional, national and global contexts.
The festival programme included 38 events (5 at the launch and 33 across the festival itself), which were all streamed live online. Several performance and panel events also took place with small, socially distanced in-person audiences, thanks to our collaboration with Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, the festival’s main partner.
Over the course of the festival we had over 1,000 attendees. This is a great result for any festival whose first year took place during a global pandemic. Audience engagement typically doubles for events available online afterwards and we hope to attract at least another 1,000 unique views. During the four days of the main festival there were over 4,000 unique visits to its website (up from just over 1,000 at the launch). One of the benefits of having the whole festival available online was that it gave us the opportunity to record events. There have already been several requests to view the archive recordings. We are currently liaising with everyone involved and in the coming weeks recordings will be posted on the festival website.
We also used the festival to showcase undergraduate student work in Media Production, Music and Drama, and we are adding Journalism in the coming weeks. This is the first time the showcases have been brought together in this way and something we will build on in the future. Please check out this student work, as it is of a very high standard.
Speaking about the relationship between the festival and Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Laura McDermott, Creative Director, said: “Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts is an integral part of the vision for Media, Arts and Humanities at the University. We support public engagement and connections between research and creative practice. It was good to collaborate with a wide range of colleagues and students, especially in this first year when the Festival of Ideas was being shaped and beginning to find its identity. The Festival of Ideas has an exciting future as a regular fixture in the annual calendar of events at the University.”
The diverse and lively programming, crossing and connecting all subject areas across the School, the engagement with and critical reflection on practice, and the investment in building up partners, are all likely to have been significant factors in contributing to success. With support from the School’s Higher Education Impact Fund (HEIF), an artist residency, Critical Pulse, was established and two external consultants, Marina Norris and Erin Barnes, have been engaged as Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) fellows to contribute to evaluating the festival and its potential for expanding reach and making new connections in the community. In addition, a postgraduate researcher (PGR) was recruited to report on cultural impacts, and three further PGRs were engaged to provide reflective reviews on selected events. Part of the festival review process will also consider its next steps and routes to sustainability.
The festival encompassed a wealth of topics and formats, including two interactive workshops on the value of creative writing to learning and mental health, and exploring online representations. Panels of Sussex staff and representatives of partner organisations discussed storytelling and place, ‘home’ and identity, the aesthetics and poetics of black women's photography and research, and how to navigate the creative industries, the role that the Media, Arts and Humanities plays in relaunching and rebuilding culture in post-pandemic spaces, how universities, schools and museums can work together to address colonialism and its legacies, the limits and possibilities of hashtag culture, how to navigate the risks of cultural and political co-option, and how to successfully lobby for change. The Creative Practice Symposium, organised and hosted by the Centre for Research in Creative and Performing Arts, brought together practice contributors to the festival to reflect on their work and its construction.
Keynote presentations included the School's Stuart Hall Foundation Fellow, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, who reflected on the vital role of investigative journalism in the context of diversifying representations and stories told about race relations and racial injustice, and the Dean of the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, Professor Kate O’Riordan, who set out her vision for media, arts and humanities as a global force for good, contributing to work on environmental risks, injustice, experimental humanities, digital, and the human, and non-human, experience.
There were great contributions from students with many, including Emma Green, one of our Student Connectors and a member of the steering group, involved in presenting, production, technical support, reviewing and co-creation with academic staff of many of the panels.
Thank you to everyone who contributed, supported and participated in the first Sussex Festival of Ideas, particularly to the 2021 team: Mary Krell (Artistic Director), Jason Price (Practice Curator), Ben Burbridge (Partnerships), Margaretta Jolly (Keynotes), Emma Green (Student Connectors), Laura McDermott (Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts), Carol Watts (Research), Beth O'Leary (Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts Technical Lead), Jessica Horne (Festival Producer), Ian Tout (Communications), Adam Staff (Festival Technical Lead), Alfie Newman, James Burns (Technical Support), Ed Hughes (Steering Group Chair).
Events in the 2021 Sussex Festival of Ideas:
- BISC-MAH: Experiential Learning and International Collaborations gave an introduction to the opportunities for collaboration with the Bader International Study Centre.
- We Are All Intellectuals featured individuals associated with Vivienne Westwood’s Intellectuals Unite who shared how literature has helped negotiate the world. This event was organised in collaboration with Vivienne Westwood’s Intellectuals Unite, The Subcultures Network and The Museum of Youth Culture.
- Sussex Humanities Lab – past, present and future was a reflective workshop on the impact of digital technologies on culture and society.
- Welcome to Sussex Writes offered the opportunity to find out about their work with local schools and explore creative impulses in a creative writing workshop.
- Rave Today! explored the rich and varied relationships between UK rave and academic research.
- Algorithmic Autobiographies (and Fictions): Writing with your Digital Self, a workshop in which participants discovered, explored and interrogated online representations of themselves.
- A panel of industry experts from some of our partner organisations, Towner Art Gallery, Charleston, Audio Active, Photoworks and What Next? Brighton and Hove explored the possibilities and challenges that face the cultural sector in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in The Cultural Sector after Covid.
- Putting ourselves into the Museum of Youth Culture invited participants to show and share stories and photos of their youth
- The Creative Practice Symposium hosted by the Centre for Research in the Creative and Performing Arts brought together artists and artist-scholars from the Festival of Ideas to share and discuss their creative and research practices.
- In Everything is Happening Nicholas Royle and Timothy Morton debated temporality, space, social justice and change, drawing on insights in their correspondence during the time of covid
- The Stories We Tell Ourselves - Stuart Hall Fellow in Residence, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi discussed her career in journalism and her Stuart Hall Fellowship followed by a Q&A on storytelling, journalism, access and inclusion in times of challenge and inequality.
- Powerful protest: how does language enhance activism? explored the language and art of protest
- Sussex History alumnus Adam Sisman and author of biographies covering a range of historical and literary figures explored biographical topics and issues in Living with my Subject: Dr Johnson, Hugh Trevor-Roper, John le Carré, and Me.
- Wasi Daniju, Tendai Lewis, Jade Hylton and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi shared personal journeys and insights from their respective crafts to discuss the meaning of representation, identity, loss and hope in art, photography, journalism and community organising in Finding Home: How do black communities find spaces to thrive, create and survive?
- Considering a Life of Artistic and Political Liberation looked at the life and work of the surrealist photographer Lee Miller whose archive is located at Farley Farm in East Sussex.
- Sounding Spaces, Technologies and Each Other presented work which explored core research threads in Music at Sussex including feedback systems, performance technologies, sounding objects, live coding, pop music performance and songwriting, space/place, and improvisation
- Distributed Device Screening (Simupoems) introduced short looping films which reflect poetically on a world ‘full of objects’ and engage film-makers of all kinds to contribute actively to a repertoire of moving image pieces
- “…I have woken somewhere else”: Personal Brexit narratives from Language Teachers in a UK University presented the effects of the Brexit Referendum on UK higher education language teachers
- Practices of Community in the Arts and Humanities explored collaborative drama and music-based practices as spaces for inclusive academic and cultural communities in a creative and pedagogic landscape fundamentally reshaped by the pandemic.
- Dr Ambra Moroncini gave a joint talk with Dr Olivia Santovetti from the University of Leeds on their recently published book Resistance in Italian Culture from Dante to the 21st Century.
- Lee Miller – Attic to Archives celebrated ongoing collaborations between the School, the Lee Miller Association and Farley Farm.
- Brain Dead Ensemble connected performers in Iceland and Athens with a live ensemble in the ACCA, producing a meditative set based around electronic and instrumental drones and feedback.
- Punk women: Memoirs and biographies discussed how punk women have and can write themselves into punk’s history.
- Decolonial Perspectives on Museums and Curricula, organised in collaboration with The Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust, Brighton. Saw a panel of activists, curators, researchers and educators share experiences, insights and expertise in a wide-ranging discussion about approaches to decolonialism.
- Poetry South East launched their 2020 anthology of contemporary poetry with readings from poets resident in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
- Keynote presentation from Professor Kate O’Riordan, Dean of the School of Media, Arts and Humanities in which Kate shared some of her reflections on the festival, and discussed the importance of celebrating the work of staff and students in the School. This was followed by a Q&A.