Bethany Hogan is the curator of London Bridge Live Arts, a month-long celebration of youth performance artists from all over London.
The event, in its second year, has been running all through August but will culminate in a competition for dance commissions in early September. Their extensive programme of events have been shown for free, making performance art and young Londoners’ artistic expression even more accessible to everyone, whether you catch it intentionally or simply in passing. MouthLondon talk to Bethany about organising the event, getting the community and visitors involved and what she’s looking forward to this year.
MouthLondon: The event started out as an accompaniment to Olympic Games – what made you want to do it again this year?
Bethany Hogan: Last year we just wanted to offer something interesting and unexpected to add to the overall buzz around London during the 2012 Games, but when we thought about it afterward, the same principles apply every summer. We’re in a really lucky position to be able to organise free outdoor art for everyone to experience and we want to build a tradition of that – both something local residents and office workers come to expect every year and something seemingly random and spontaneous for visitors to enjoy.
ML: Why was London Bridge chosen as hosts of the event?
BH: London Bridge is such a dynamic community with a fantastic mix of people constantly moving through it every day. I think this programme offers something for all of those different people and promotes the area’s lesser known creative side along with all of the exciting shiny and touristy things on the river. There’s also a really nice link between each of the venues (the London Bridge City Pier, Hay’s Galleria and Potters Fields Park) that fits with the natural flow of the area – it’s already moving rapidly but there’s huge potential for added creative elements that fit with the area’s natural rhythm.
ML: How is this year going to be different?
BH: Well, for starters, we have a better idea of what we’re doing this time round! We’re not throwing as many things at it as we can…we’re being a bit more measured but we’re definitely still testing things out and we’re taking a lot of notes.
We’re working toward being more interactive on a variety of different levels. The dance weekend (5-8 Sept) will be a hugely different element from last year, with the four day programme including eight commissioned dance pieces ranging from £500-£2,000, about eight different workshops for everyone to learn different styles of dance and community group showcases along with some of the original LB Live Arts dance acts from the previous weeks. It’s going to be a massively packed schedule but audience participation – be it getting them to stop for more than just a couple of minutes or actually fully fledged getting involved for an hour’s workshop – will be essential to the dance weekend working.
ML: What made you decide to dedicate the last weekend to dance?
BH: On a slightly philosophical level, I guess it’s partly us trying to get different answers to the question ‘how do you fit art into everyday life?’ and once we agreed that part of that was by making it present in everyday spaces, dance seemed like the most obvious medium because it requires so little from the people who participate and gives such immediate rewards: it’s fun, healthy and a really social experience. It’s also something every single person can do without any previous experience.
ML: How instrumental was IdeasTap in bringing together the festival?
BH: Very! We came to Ideas Tap for help in the very beginning before the Games in 2012 when we decided we wanted to source performers but had literally no access whatsoever to them. The team helped us build up our initial brief and gave really great advice in the concept development. Their network is such an amazing resource for both creative individuals and organisations looking to collaborate and we’re constantly impressed with the level of talent we see come out of it.
ML: Was upcoming young talent always the focus of the festival? Why is this?
BH: Yes, definitely. One of the key aims of the first year’s programme was to instigate opportunities for young talent to have an active part in Olympics, from which they could build experience for future projects. This year, without something of quite such magnitude all around, we’ve marketed this as an opportunity to test out new material in new environments. In the world of outdoor art, it takes a long time for a piece to work just right without many hiccups and we appreciate that. We don’t expect everything to be completely polished and we want to see artists working through things. I’m the first to admit it’s one of the bravest jobs in the world and we expect this festival to be part of the development process.
ML: Were there any similar events that inspired you in curating the event? If so, which ones and how did they encourage you?
BH: We took quite a bit of inspiration from the Big Dance, particularly for our final weekend programme and had great initial development conversations with the Southwark Council Cultural Services team. We also, of course, looked to the likes of Edinburgh Fringe and the scattered things around London.
Everyone who we’ve talked to in the planning stage has been really helpful and encouraging. It’s quite inspiring to work in a field where everyone just wants to see interesting ideas take shape and is happy to idea share to make that happen.
ML: Which event or performer are you personally most looking forward to and why?
BH: I really can’t choose! I’m excited to see our returning performance acts (I think we have about five off the top of my head). It’s great to see how they’ve developed as performers in just a year and how they’ve modified their work with the experiences they’ve already learned by working with us.
I’m also really excited to see the dance commissions because I’ve spent so much time looking at their proposals but I know the final product in flesh and bone always looks so different from what you initially expect. I also hope I get a chance to do some of the workshops!
ML: Will we be seeing more of London Bridge Live Arts next year? If so, what is the long-term aim with the festival?
BH: I think we’re still figuring that out. We definitely plan to put this on annually though we’re still playing around with what time frames work best. We’ll always be working with mixes of planned chaos and total spontaneity. I really like that most of the people who watch the performances didn’t plan to see them that day… its randomness is a major part of the charm. We’re also really keen to bring in creative partners to pull in their own artistic expertise and add a new level to the programme. Very open to ideas!