Free fringe arts festivals for families this September

Totally Thames, Open House, Tall Ships – London is awash with festivals this September. Dig deeper and you’ll find there are a host of lesser-known arts festivals also vying for your attention, by opening their arms to welcome family visitors…

Deptford X

What is it? Contemporary art festival now in its 18th year. Platform 2016 showcases the work of 5 specially selected emerging artists, as well as Deptford X Fringe which invites a wider community of independent artists and projects to participate
Where is it? Various venues across Deptford (Nearest stations New Cross, Deptford and Deptford Bridge DLR)
When is it? 23 September – 2 October, Daily 12-6pm (plus special events and late openings)
What’s in it for families? Platform 2016 features a host of installation and sculpture which should be interesting to viewers of all ages. Seek out Joey Holder’s work in the atmospheric Crypt at St Nicholas Church or head to the Deptford X gallery to enjoy Manual Mathieu’s large-scale installation of white sheets (previously planned for Giffin Square). Deptford Fringe, however, is where things really hot up (if you can navigate the clunky and impenetrable website). Local street art collective Artmongers are inviting the public to help them replace their Deptford Marbles mural with Deptford Maze, whilst artist Hannah Clayden is hosting an architectural-inspired children’s workshop  which reimagines how buildings work – taking inspiration from the Anthology Deptford Foundry. There’s also visual, sound and performance art almost every day (and night) at Vinyl Deptford X.

Merge Festival

What is it? Known for presenting contemporary art in more unusual settings, Illuminate Production’s Merge Festival celebrates the rich history and culture of Bankside, through a range of art forms including interactive installations, experimental theatre and live music.
Where is it? Various venues between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge (Nearest stations London Bridge, Southwark, Blackfriars, Mansion House, Cannon Street)
When is it? 24 September – 7 October, various times see programme and map for details
What’s in it for families? Almost everything on the programme is family-friendly. On Your Wavelength (Wednesday to Sunday, 12-7pm, Railway Arch, 37 America Street SE1 0NJ) invites you to use your collective mind-power to influence a unique laser and sound installation. Experience the epic light and sound show from the sidelines for free or for a small fee you can don a headset and contribute your brain’s activity to a large-scale digital artwork. Also fun for those looking for some spooky pre-Halloween fun, Chain Reaction (Thursday to Sunday, 1-7pm, Kirkaldy Testing Museum, Southwark Street, SE1 0JF) is a journey through a series of playful, interactive and mechanical artworks. Set in the basement and animated, this installation creates a very ghostly ballet.

Design Carousel

What is it? If as a parent you’ve always felt frozen out of Frieze, Design Carousel (part of London Design Festival) is London’s first children’s design fair. Featuring design for children (as well as by children), the aim is to entice and immerse children and families in the world of design and creativity.
Where is it? Coram’s Fields, 93 Guilford Street, London WC1N 1DN (Nearest Tube Russell Square or Kings Cross)
When is it? 24 September 2016, 11am-5pm
What’s in it for families? Coram Fields alone is a hidden gem of a central London playground, but the one-day takeover boasts over 15 children activities and workshops from 3D printing to modelling with clay, costume making and live music. There’s also a chance to contribute to the Futures Wall which aims to capture ‘live’ how children perceive the future, and create an evolving piece of art to be donated to Coram’s Fields.

Art Licks Weekend

What is it? An arts festival which celebrates the work of emerging artists and grassroots arts projects
Where is it? Various venues across East and South East London. Search their map for what’s close to you
When is it? 30 September – 2 October 2016, Daily 12-6pm although some specific event times apply
What’s in it for families? Bespoke led artist led tours for schools and other school groups as well as a smorgasbord of events, performance art and open studios to inspire even the very young. Highlights include AltMFA’s States of Flux (Saturday, 3-5pm) a live art tour along the Thames coast responding to the states of flux associated with the movement of rivers and along waterways, and Virtual Choreography (Thursday 6-9pm, Friday & Saturday 12-6pm) where visitors can contribute their own moves and gestures to those collected from a range of Hackney Wick locals.

Tribe Festival

What is it? On a mission to change the world through though-provoking art, #TRIBE16 features over 120 UK and international artists in a ‘living exhibition’ of contemporary art, music and performance.
Where is it? 47-49 Tanner Street, London SE1 3PL (Nearest Tube London Bridge or Bermondsey)
When is it? 30 September – 2 October 2016, 9am-5pm
What’s in it for families? The whole event is family friendly but the Creative Kids Loft promises group mural painting with artist Marc Craig, poetry workshops and sketch sessions, plus it’s a stones throw from More London Riverside whose summer festival is on until 31st October and White Cube which will be hosting a brand new interactive exhibition by Anthony Gormley

Family-Friendly Highlights for Deptford X

It’s that time again! So quickly in fact, it caught me on the hop for my write up!

Celebrating its 18th birthday this year, contemporary arts festival Deptford X returns to the galleries, studios, pubs, churches, shops, cafes, libraries and even ex-police cells of SE8.  This year’s theme is Deptford Conversations, showcasing locally relevant work by over 360 established or emerging artists.

Kicking off with the fantastic APT Open Studios this weekend, over the next week we’ll see a feast of free workshops, performances, installations and group exhibitions, many of which are suitable for visiting families.

Here’s my pick of the best:

For Families to see:

Until 4th October, 144 Deptford High Street, London, SE8 3PQ
Running day and night this computer-generated parade of video game characters creates a unique visual showcase through multiple screens, live in the window of the local Salvation Army shop.

Until 4th October, Deptford Lounge, 9 Giffin Square, London, SE8 4RJ (Mon-Fr 8am-10pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-5pm)
Building on her comic book work from last year’s Deptford X, this year’s lead artist Janette Parris uses her conversations with locals and stallholders to present a brand new animation about Deptford. Screenings will take place daily during the festival. The space is also home to a superb Children’s library collection.

For Families to participate:

Until 4th October, Various locations including Deptford Lounge, 9 Giffin Square, London, SE8 4RJ (Mon-Fr 8am-10pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-5pm)
Now widely known for their pop-up ping pong, Ping are raising the stakes for Deptford X by contributing ping pong inspired artworks in public places throughout Deptford. Promising 5 tables, 15 artists and 150 bats, all you have to do is find a table and play.

Thurs 1st October 6.30pm & Sat 3rd October 3.30pm, New Cross Learning Library, 283-285 New Cross Rd, London SE14 6AS
As well as repeating last year’s popular The Orchestrated Waste Procession, artist Margaret Jennings, acclaimed for her artistic reuse and recycle of everyday waste, is inviting young and old to share their thoughts on the environment in 10 words of fewer. Contributions to the participatory performance will be filmed for future use.

For children to be inspired by other children’s work:

GUIDE Jack Brown and pupils from Tidemill School
Exhibition of persona costumes daily until 4th October & Open workshop Thurs 1st Oct, 4pm – 6pm
The Albany, Douglas Way, London, SE8 4AG (Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm)

Exploring the idea of public tours of Deptford, and suggesting that everyone has a unique bank of knowledge and experiences that can make them a memorable guide, pupils from Tidemill Academy work with artist Jack Brown to create their own guide personas and help you find yours. Places for the workshop need to be booked via email

7 DAYS Margaret Jennings
Exhibition Tues 29th Sept to Thurs 1st October 10am-5pm & Sat 3rd October 10am-5pm
New Cross Learning Library, 283-285 New Cross Rd, London SE14 6AS

Linked to Voice Out and The Orchestrated Waste Procession, this group artwork is the result of a workshop whereby children re-appropriated waste materials in order to reflect their experiences and spontaneous memories from fun and educational summer days out.

Deptford X runs at various venues across Deptford until 4th October 2015.
See website for the full programme.

5 Arts Aloud Reasons to visit Deptford X

About 2 years ago, on a rainy Saturday afternoon stroll with the family, I chanced upon the APT studios in Deptford; a modern exhibition space, exhibiting (at that time) an impressive installation piece called Unlucky by Sarah Kate Wilson. Approaching the gallery with my toddler, I was keen to head inside, but I had to think very quickly about how I was going to keep her away from the array of open umbrellas in the window. Especially if I had any hope of avoiding a ‘toddler-meets-art-installation’ disaster.

Proof itself that the best works of art can challenge even the strongest preconception, to my disbelief, and contrary to its name, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Unlucky was actually a fun and interactive installation, which actively encouraged the viewer to touch and move the umbrellas as much as they wished, providing they followed the commands of the three corresponding wall-mounted lights behind them.

This piece was my first ever experience of child-friendly installation art, and my first of Deptford X, and every year since then I have vowed to champion this fantastic local arts festival, a festival which massively undersells itself, year after year.

Established in 1998, Deptford X’s mission has always been clear: to bring the crème de la crème of artistic talent to Deptford (both home-grown and international), and to celebrate it with the widest possible audience.

Although the festival website lacks any depth of information around many items featured, I continue in support of my mission, by bringing you an Arts Aloud view of what should make this year’s festival unmissable:

1. Deptford
Deptford X is as much about showcasing the potential of the area, as it is about celebrating the extent of contributors, so it’s only fitting that Deptford itself be reason number one to attend. From the fascinating street market to trendy hipster bars (Little Nan’s), from quirky independent shops (DAGE) to restaurants housed in retro buses (The Big Red Pizza Bus). Deptford is home to businesses that have been in families for generations, and has the creativity and vision to revive and reimagine those businesses that have moved on (The Job Centre). Like the very fabric of London, it’s gritty and it’s grimy, but it has something for everyone. When you add in a host of Victorian properties and improving nearby transport links, even the most unfamiliar outsider should begin to understand its emerging position as the so-called ‘Shoreditch of south London’.

2. Bob and Roberta Smith
If you weren’t aware that Bob and Roberta Smith is actually a pseudonym for one person; (artist, writer and author Patrick Brill), then you might at least be familiar with the colourful, conversational and thought-provoking style of ‘slogan’ art that has been exhibited at galleries all over the world. Deptford X has managed something of a coup this year in securing Bob and Roberta Smith as lead artist-in-residence. Keeping the agenda inclusive, expect to get involved in the festival’s very own Art Party. Alongside sign-painting and badge-making, there will be screen-printing demonstrations by Art Hub and local live music. This is also your big chance to be part of Deptford’s art history-in-the-making, as events culminate with the March for Art on Sunday 5th October.

3. The Orchestrated Waste Procession
If Mr.Maker has taught us anything, it’s that kids love collecting, painting and repurposing rubbish, right? If you agree, then like me, you’ll expect them to love this participatory walk taking place on Saturday 27th September. The brainchild of art student Margaret Jennings (already responsible for a library of found materials at Goldsmiths), the procession will leave the MMX Gallery at 11.45am, making its way through Deptford Market stopping at various skips en route (including a rubbish trading point and Jennings’ very own Living Library market stall). The challenge by 2pm is to transform everything collected into something new. Recycling, up-cycling, whatever you choose to call it, the aim is to have a bit of fun, and spare a thought for all the things that we throw away, which we might actually still need.

4. Deptford X Fringe
The footprint of Deptford X, reaches far beyond the main venues, and into the surrounding streets, and from the programme it appears that much of the work featured here should have some appeal among families. For mini-scribblers, Adding Value at Noah’s Ark on Deptford High Street (26-29th September, 12-6pm), is inviting audiences to contribute to a large public drawing that will be documented by film. For nature-lovers, Mini Meadows (St.Nicholas Church, 1-5th October, 12-6pm) sees artist Jane Higginbottom working with earth, clay and seeds to explore the link between environmental and evolutionary change. If you can’t explain that concept to the kids, then just pay the £1 and take away a seedbomb of wildflowers to continue the guerrilla gardening project elsewhere. And finally, although the website description has left me none the wiser, the Creekside Centre’s Bug Hotel (weekends, 12-6pm) has surely got to be worth a look?

5. Open Studios
Similar to those hosted in Brockley (which I have so tirelessly championed), Open Studios is your chance to nose around the plethora of local artist studios, and if you’re lucky enough, see and meet the artists at work. For me, this element of the festival embodies the spirit of the festival itself: if you are brave enough to venture in, with very little prior information and a lack of certainty around what you might see, then the joy of discovery will be even richer! With the scale and variety of work on show, these spaces are hugely fascinating for children, but if you aren’t feeling adventurous enough, the ACME Open Studio & Foundry Gallery have decided this year to devise their own Family Trail (165 Childers Street, 4-5th October, 11-6pm), especially for visitors with little ones in tow. So go forth and discover, and if you like it; tell them Arts Aloud sent you.

Deptford X
contemporary arts festival runs at various venues across Deptford from 26th September to 5th October 2014

Disclaimer: Activities featured in this article have been compiled based on face-value and have not been road-tested by Arts Aloud. No responsibility can be taken for items that do not live up to their billing, or are cancelled or modified at late notice by the event organisers.