A blissful August weekend brought an attentively curated line-up of sights and sounds, to a glorious northern location, for the arty, musical haven of Beacons festival. With an atmosphere bursting with positive vibes and creative passion, it soon became clear that Beacons was the type of place where you are just as likely to have a chat with a stranger about the who’s who of 2013 need-to-know bands as you are about the what’s what of the latest and greatest design studios.
With the rise of the independent festival scene, and boutique festivals evolving and diversifying to incorporate an increasingly varied bill of creative acts, more festivals are also beginning to place emphasis on a sharper arts programme running alongside the music. Just three years in, with a washout first attempt after severe flooding, Beacons is already starting to establish itself as a frontrunner on the small festival circuit, with an impressive, eclectic bill of art and music, curated with several fingers to the pulse of local, national and international talent.
The compact site on Heslaker Farm, near Skipton in the beautiful rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales, attracted local creative folk and hipster city types alike. And for four predominantly sunny days, Beacons offered a dreamy, arty alternative festival experience to the mainstream branded big guns on offer the same weekend.
With an arts programme that combined artists and organisations from Yorkshire and beyond, The Space Between was home to a variety of projects and creatives, with films, performance, exhibition space, workshops, demos, talks, and design focused stands, along with other attractions and installations around the festival site.
A enticing selection of handmade products from Yorkshire based artists – including screenprinted posters and cards, bespoke t-shirts and illustrated badges – were on offer at The Pop Up Box (below), a retail project developed by Leeds based creative agency Temp Studio. The project stems from an earlier venture, Retail Ready People, a pop-up creative retail space in Leeds city centre, offering volunteers a chance to ‘redesign their high street’, with a training programme helping develop skills in marketing, retail design and visual merchandising.
The project, a partnership with charities vInspired, Retail Trust and The Empty Shops Network, mixed work from young designers and artists based in Yorkshire with more established local designers, acting both as a shop and social space, with a café and performances from local bands.
The Pop Up Box built on this idea, with a giant handmade wooden box housing projects from young local designers, providing access for emerging brands to sell in a physical space, rather than just online. Beacons was the first stop for the box, and all the profits – after designers have their cut on a sale or return basis – will go into the next space.
As we see a growth in similar projects in Leeds and other cities, despite the need to engage creatives and communities outside of a city’s cultural quarters and in more rural regions, supporting independent retailers and actively encouraging regeneration through creative partnerships in inner city areas still remains integral to projects such as these.
‘We’re still fighting against too much empty space, sky-high rents and the dominance of the usual big retail players,’ says Isla Brown, director of Temp Studio. ‘We just want to help both young people and young designers not to have to knock doors down to get their products noticed and into customers hands.’ Through this portable project, work can be trialled with new audiences and reach a wider market, whilst hopefully sparking some discussion over the temporal nature of many creative spaces.
New for this year, Dawson’s Arthash House, was a space for festival goers to kick back and enjoy independent films, digital art and animation, along with work from local designers and crafts people such as Tony Wright (above), from Oldfield Press, a letterpress workhop based at Altered Egos gallery in Haworth. The stand offered a chance to press your own Beacons poster from a set of woodcut blocks, including a pointing finger dating back more than one hundred years, alongside letterpress prints from local artists.
Wright, (incidentally also Terrorvision’s frontman), had turned his hand from painting to printing, aiming to create work that was still individual and handmade, but ‘easier to let go of’, creating posters and other commissions from greetings cards to labels for chilli sauce. He has also experimented with less conventional letterpress techniques, including creating prints by etching designs onto vinyl records and running them through a mangle.
Having also been involved in a pop-up creative space in Skipton – Derdlab Press, a traditional Victorian printshop and exhibition – the work stands testament to a growing popularity in ‘hands-on art’, as Wright calls it, as despite a demand for cheap, fast, mass-produced print, networks of craft-led design is finding support from local communities, councils and charities.
From woodcut printing to wood carved portaiture with Kyle Bean (below) in the Things to Make and Do Tent, with a drop-in workshop using reclaimed wood to create portraits of icons linking to the festival theme, ‘Visions of the Future’. Bean’s imaginative work as an artist and designer, with clients including Selfridges and the Design Museum, often reappropriates everyday materials and rethinks handcrafted techniques. The portraits were originally a commission for Wallpaper*, when Bean was approached by the magazine and asked to illustrate the contributors for the Handmade issue.
To create the portraits, a black and white contrast image of the face is printed onto carbon paper and traced onto reclaimed wood, and highlights are then carved out with varying sizes of chisels and knives. Carving into the dark weathered surface to reveal light fresh wood underneath creates a stencilled, contrast effect from a distance, with lots of interesting twists and scratches close up. Inviting festival goers to ‘take a tactile approach to making the portraits’, Bean’s alternative illustration workshop gave participants a taster of his inventive handcrafted techniques.
A collective of zine makers from Yorkshire, Loosely Bound, brought zine making workshops to Beacons, sharing techniques on how to create various styles of the self-published books/pamphlets, and recording memories of the festival. The collective are supported by Fabric, a charitable organisation for artistic development in Bradford and the surrounding areas, where the group originally met at an artist networking dinner event. Coming together to share, swap and learn from each other, the group both create new collaborative zines and organise events and workshops to engage a wider audience of people in zine making.
Their name highlights the diversity of zines that members produce, from perzines (personal zines), to photography led, graphic art inspired, written or drawn, with both lo-fi and handmade methods and digital online zines, and covering a huge range of subjects. Take a look at the video below of the workshop in action …
Other attractions and creative activities included DIY t-shirt screen-printing in the tearoom, a series of films including shorts from Aesthetica magazine’s short film festival, and projection bombing across the site with animation and videos from local, national and international artists. Featured in several locations, 12 Months of Neon Love by Victoria Lucas and Richard William Wheater, a sequence of lyrical statements from well-known songs recreated in red neon signage, accented the festival with a nod towards amalgamating the artistic and musical elements.
The support for small arts organisations and emerging businesses, from festivals such as Beacons, is acknowledged by those involved as a significant opportunity to engage people in projects that they may not otherwise have contact with, and build sustainable networks, whilst providing exposure for creative projects in environments that test the boundaries of products and practices beyond online shops and traditional workshops and studios.
Although the arts field may be in its infancy aesthetically, and could perhaps do with a rethink in terms of location – currently situated away from the main arena, to one end of the campsite – Beacons is off to an impressive start when it comes to programming a more progressive and design-focused bill of creative projects and arts attractions, with unfamiliar forms of visual communication, process-led work and digital arts, rather than simply falling back on more traditional festival crafts.
The interest in the arts side of the festival was strong, and with the incredibly friendly vibe, chatting with various festival goers, amongst the indie-electro buzz band fans, underground music lovers and beatheads, there was a substantial rep from arty types, designers, directors and other creative professionals. In the temporary environment of a festival such as Beacons, those attending are often looking for an experience of escapism that is more than just a party, and the demand for a different type of arts programme like this is growing. The arts bill no longer acts merely as a sideshow to the main musical event, but with considered arts partnerships and well curated work, festivals such as Beacons will continue to flourish into cultural hotbeds of creative energy.
Photographs courtsey of Beacons Festival 2013, Sam Huddleston, Charlotte Parmore, Giles Smith, Howie Hall, Nicola Redofrd, Sam @ Loosely Bound