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.

Would families give Edinburgh Fringe a rave review?

The Journey: Interactive installation on Grassmarket

The Journey: Interactive installation on Grassmarket

I’ve just returned from the opening weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe, but contrary to my Arts Aloud mission, I actually decided this year to go child-free. Aside from it being a fantastic opportunity for myself and my husband to spend some well-earned time alone, we did also have it in mind that it might be worth scoping it out for a possible return next year with the kids in tow.

As the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe promises an ‘open-access festival’, a festival that contains something for absolutely everyone, fuelled by the creativity of the many individuals who have poured their passion into their work, and brought it to the city to share with the millions of people who attend each year.

As we leapt from venue to venue, mixing up superb theatre with live music, unusual dance and movement with close-to-the-bone comedy, we realised that above all else, it certainly wouldn’t be possible to embrace the fringe with the same intensity that we had been doing. With two children under 5, it’s unlikely that we would want to fill the day with more than one or two ‘appointments to see’, but volume aside, I wondered, could we still ‘experience’ the Fringe in the same way, if the children had come along with us?

This year’s Fringe boasts well over 100 shows that are specifically for children, whether re-telling of family favourites or original work. In addition, the rest of the schedule is well sign-posted with icons comparable to film classifications, designed to indicate audience suitability, and providing parents with enough information for them to decide whether to expose their children to some of the more grown-up aspects of the Fringe. Although we thought that this was a great idea, we did have some reservations about how you can enforce the recommended ratings, particularly with regard to some of the more improvised aspects of comedy and theatre. It is also worth considering the very real lack of access to some of the venues involved; particularly in the Old Town with its narrow passageways and steep winding staircases, typical of the buildings that populate Edinburgh’s historic centre.

In spite of this, I was given several reminders that one of the most attractive things about the Fringe for families, is that it exists far beyond the pages of the directory listings and the seated shows. It’s live on the streets of Edinburgh, in every corner of the city that you visit, providing hundreds of alternative activities that bring the festival to life and create some welcome opportunities to take a break from the schedule and to kick-back and relax.

Courtesy of a range of brand sponsors, St. Andrew’s Square Gardens, is one of many of the city squares that have been transformed into a relaxed social space; awash with deck chairs and food stalls, live (but unimposing) music and even table football and ping-pong. For those who prefer to keep moving, the West End Fair was a really interesting space for a stroll, featuring hundreds of makers, artists and designers exhibiting their latest creations, and the Fringe Schools Poster Exhibition at the Museum of Childhood was a great way to inspire enthusiastic scribblers through the work of other young artists.

At Grassmarket, a historic marketplace just a stone’s throw from a whole host of Fringe venues, we chanced upon a really exciting piece of interactive installation by Diana Bell, with Daniel Balanescu and Helen Edwards. The Journey asks passers-by to share something about their life, where they come from or where they were going by picking up a small wooden house, and adding it to the installation, wherever they felt it should feature. Older children were really enjoying sharing stories of their home-towns, whilst the younger ones loved walking in and out of this imaginary village that was emerging from the pavement, moving houses around and making it their own.

In addition, even the Festival stalwart The Pleasance decided to get in on the family friendly act this year by adding a ‘kidzone’ to their already popular courtyard. And all of this before you even consider that Edinburgh is a world-class city, and like any world-class city, it is home to an abundance of year-round sights and activities suitable for families.

Where better to start than Edinburgh’s imposing Castle, which can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city, and is a gift to the imagination of every young visitor. Leading down from the castle, at any time of year, it would be impossible to walk the cobbles of the Royal Mile without stopping to watch a busker, an acrobat or a magician, in the same way not a single visitor could pass the adorable and infamous Greyfriars Bobby, without stopping to rub his now gold and shiny nose! Add in Edinburgh Zoo, the Botanic Gardens and the hundreds of museums and galleries where kids can get hands on, and you should have exhausted children, happy parents and a good night sleep for all! And yes, it might be more difficult to do too much in the evening, but like us, it might be worth considering teaming up with friends and taking it in turns to continue the fun late into the night.

All things considered, I would say our plans to return to the Edinburgh Fringe with the children are firmly hatched, and I look forward to hearing from anybody who might have already put my plan for next year into action.

In the meantime, on the 16th August the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society and Starcatchers, are hosting ‘Breaking Down Barriers’, a conversation to explore why early years arts are important and consider how they can make the Fringe more accessible for babies, toddlers and their adults. Sadly, I will not be in Edinburgh for this event, but I urge anyone who might be in Edinburgh at this time, with or without their children to go along, join the debate and share some of the outcomes with me. I am in contact with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society and hope to be able to publish the minutes from this meeting here on Arts Aloud.

Until then, my self-indulgent top 3 from the Fringe this year are as follows:
1) Shame – Highly original production of spoken word, contemporary dance and hip-hop theatre exploring some of the shameful aspects and experiences of the creator’s life.
2) #MeetandTweet – Heart-warming story of Twitter’s influence on people and friendship, and a social experiment that turned into a global phenomenon.
3) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – If like me you found the film a little too weird and intense, then you will love this fantastic re-telling of a journey to the heart of the American Dream.

The Edinburgh Fringe runs from the 1st – 25th August.