What Would I Change: Kaye Dunnings, Shangri-La

As part of CR’s series exploring what creatives would change about their industries following this enforced period of lockdown, Shangri-La creative director Kaye Dunnings reflects on the future of events

Kaye Dunnings has been immersed in the world of festivals since the age 18, whether working as steward, helping build sets, or later even performing as part of theatre troupe The Laundrettas. She started working at Glastonbury in the early noughties and in 2009 co-founded Shangri-La, which has since gained a reputation as one of the festival’s most subversive and experimental venues.

While creative directing Shangri-La is typically a year-round job, 2020 has been a year unlike any other. When the organisers of Glastonbury decided to cancel the festival during the depths of lockdown, Dunnings decided that it was time to embrace the digital world. Just three months on, she helped to put on the world’s largest VR music and arts festival, Lost Horizon, which attracted four million visitors over the course of one weekend.

As she takes the opportunity to wind down following Lost Horizon, Dunnings discusses the stresses and successes of her virtual experiment, and why we should be using the lockdown period to address some of the events industry’s biggest problems – from accessibility to sustainability.

Kaye Dunnings in avatar form at VR festival Lost Horizon

Her experience of lockdown I guess I’m in a good position because I live really cheaply. I don’t have many outgoings, I live in a caravan in an old quarry, so I don’t need lots of money to have a good life. That has definitely made my experience quite different to a lot of people who have really big rents to pay, and kids, and lots of outgoings. I enrolled on a [hand embroidery] course in May that I haven’t even started yet. I was like, ‘I need to start making again’, that’s something that I’m desperate for.

I’m always facilitating these big projects and loads of other artists and obviously I’m creatively directing it all, but not actually making any more. There is never any time because my whole being is taken up by the fast-paced, crazy way that we work in events. It’s like that desperate thing of doing something that is really quiet and really small. The need for creating stuff is something that is not going away, it’s just having to mutate to survive.