Every year, the Royal Leamington Spa hosts the Art in the Park Festival. From my experience of volunteering last year and attending for many years before that, it is a must for those living in the region. When that pesky Covid-19 is not about, the event is held every year in August.
What is Art in the Park?
In short, it is a free curated arts festival with an aim to showcase, sell and provide live demonstrations from artists and craftspeople from Warwickshire, the Midlands and beyond. One of my friends who first got me into the festival has a pal from London who comes up every year with her very unique brand of jewellery.
As well as the art, the festival celebrates local and regional food and drinks. You can eat while having a beer or glass by your side to watch some great dance, theatre and live music, against the backdrop of the stunning Jephson Gardens and looking across the river to the Mill Gardens. Away from the event in the Mill Gardens, there is the Leamington Boat Centre where you can hire a canoe, kayak or paddle board and even pedal up the River Leam right through the middle of the festival! How much of a day out do you want! I would suggest arriving early to receive the full experience.
Recently, I saw a last call for exhibitors at the Art in the Park festival in Leamington which, since it is one of my favourite and regular local summer events, minded me to contact Kate Livingston, Festival Director of the yearly event, for an interview.
Mark Cunliffe (MC): firstly, how many years has the event been operating for and do you have any standout moments or funny tales from previous years?
Kate Livingstone (KL): we have been running for 8 years! We started as one marquee in a field and we now have over 200 exhibiting artists, performers, musicians, food and drink.
Every year brings something new and exciting so I’m not sure I can think of one stand out moment – I’m normally running around like a headless chicken!
MC: what was it like to have to halt the event during the pandemic and how has the pandemic effected the arts community as a whole?
KL: we postponed the festival and instead, we held a small online virtual festival. The arts community was successful for a lot of artists who had online platforms. People took to the internet to support local and independent artists and saying that, I think there was a huge shift in how the community sees the arts. Through isolation, loneliness, and just general upheaval, the local community saw and now understand the needs for arts as a form of therapy and release for our mental health. We offer a lot of event outreach workshops and we are excited to take from what we have learned in pervious years to blend both virtual and in person. We did virtual workshops for the first time in 2021, and we are excited to keep adapting and learning with our mix of face to face and virtual events.
Last year I attended both Saturday and Sunday, with myself and my 13-year-old daughter helping to hand programmes etc on the Saturday which we both thoroughly enjoyed. It was a nice change from lockdown. On the Sunday, we bought the whole family for a really nice day out which we do every year.
MC: how many people volunteer for the event and how many people attend?
KL: over 120 volunteers are present in the run up and on the weekend of the festival. We have experienced attendance for the last few years averaging over 30k. We rely heavily on having a strong volunteer team and would love to hear from anyone who wants to get involved – please email [email protected]
MC: obviously, the main focus is the art, but what else does the festival offer and what makes it stand out from the crowd?
KL: we have two music stages, over 25 street food vendors, live performers, dancers, workshops, and over 200 visual artists exhibiting and selling their work. We are free to enter, and 95% of all our activities are 100% free. Everyone is welcome and there really is something for everyone to enjoy.
MC: how is the festival funded?
KL: we are a community interest company so we are primarily funded by sponsorships and grants.
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MC: when is the closing date for applications and do applicants have to pay up front?
KL: applications close on Friday the 28th of January for artists and the selection process happens over the following month. Acceptance letters are sent out in early March with payments to follow suit.
MC: each year you have a theme, what has been your favourite and what is the theme for 2022 and please don’t say a pandemic!
KL: thankfully not! Our theme this year is “Journey”. The journey we have been on and the journey we are going on. Every day is different from what we used to know, and so is our festival, this is our journey.
I’ve been coming for years with my kids and have really enjoyed the workshops and how they cater for all age groups. For instance, we started coming when my youngest was around 3 or 4 and now this year my eldest will be 14.
MC: how important do you think it is to keep children and then young adults interested in the arts?
KL: it is very important as art heals, educates, and brings people together.
This year, the event is held on August 13th & 14th 2022 so put the date in your diaries folks! It really is superb and free to attend, making it perfect if you aren’t local but are planning a trip to Stratford, Warwick or Leamington.
Why not tie this superb event in? See you there!
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