So how was your Artsfest?

We’ve had the official statement declaring it a massive success on all fronts and it’d be interesting to see what those on the ground thought of Artsfest this year. I’m particularly after views from people who worked the event as artist participants, volunteers or organisers. Put your thoughts in the comments and if you’ve written about it elsewhere leave a link.

(And as always with these things remember that subjectivity is rife and no single person can see the bigger picture but hopefully together we’ll aggregate an approximation here.)


  1. Antonio Roberts

    Saturday at the Millennium Point Stage was awful. I was volunteering there and of the nine performers that were supposed to be on the stage and dancing on the street, only three turned up, and this didn’t draw any crowds to the area at all. Most people stopped walking as soon as the reached the Luminarium. Next year we need more reliable performers and more exposure for the obscure areas of Birmingham (or axe the Millennium point stage altogether)

  2. matt m

    Didn’t get out to see too much of the weekend due to being involved in Paintings on the Railings but Blast was fantastic, more steam related art please!

    The railings event was a mixed bag, everyone who was stuck at the back of Victoria Square on the Saturday got quite upset, the only prospective punter coming near the area in search of the portaloos, but, to the organisers credit, everyone who had booked a pitch for both days were moved to Centenary Square for the Sunday where there was a steady stream of interested people and it politely didn’t rain until everyone had packed up. There was a good variety of stuff on show as well and the whole thing was a great learning experience for an aspiring photog such as myself

  3. I didn’t get to see nearly as much as I would have liked but two things stood out for me. The first was Blast, so original and awesome, perfect venue too. Some amazing sights and sounds, and even smells. Saw it on the Friday and loved it so much that I went back on the Saturday night and took some friends! I’d love to see it back again at next year’s ArtsFest.

    The second thing I loved was the luminarium. Queuing outside I was expecting to be disappointed with some giant bouncy castle type thing full of kids but it was well worth the wait. I can understand why the organisers were asking people to limit their visit to 20 mins, I could have stayed there all afternoon! The natural light and colour effects were superb and seemed to change as your eyes got used to it. Don’t know if having such a bright sunny day made it better than it would have been on a dull day, if so we were lucky.

    And just to balance things out, I walked past the beach in Chamberlain Square a couple of times over the weekend and the “Punch and Judy” show happened to be on both times. I thought Punch and Judy was puppets and a guy with a swazzle? well this wasn’t, it was just people dressed up and shouting. I just found it irritating and it certainly didn’t inspire me to linger so I just kept on walking.

  4. john mostyn

    Well that was the first artsfest that I haven’t worked on in some capacity so for the first time I was a punter. Last year I put some acoustic artists on around the lake at the Custard Factory for the second year running and found on the Sunday that Artsfest org had booked a heap of DJ’s into the Kitchen. When I complained that this couldn’t work and was told by Artsfest organisers that the situation had been “sonically tested” I threw a major fit and vowed to take at least a year off.
    I had been thinking just the other week that maybe it was all getting a bit tired and in need of a serious review especially on the organisation front.
    Well I did Blast on Friday which as others have noted was a belter. Not your usual Artsfest fare and as it was funded by Urban Fusion dosh we possibly won’t see the like of it again but dam it was good.
    Saturday I did the stalls on New St which was a treat to see heaps of old friends and pick up lots of useful info. Then on to catch Notorious – a cool choir followed by the Birmingham Community Gospel Choir – both in the Museum and Art Gallery which was a perfect setting. Later caught the Classical section in Centenary Square – musically good stuff and the ballet was a joy too. Only naff bit was Jasper Carrot – never worked for me and the strange inclusion of a section on how we won the second world war – very odd.
    I came away thinking – keep it going, yearly but ideally run by the team who used to run it and perhaps with a consultation process to give contributors a chance to help improve the organisation and kick out some of the naff bits and of course the programme has to be out a lot earlier.

  5. Just to catch up…Here’s my view on the Birmingham ArtsFest 2007…from a performer’s pperspective.

    For us ArtsFest was unforgettable all round, but for all the wrong reasons. The organisation was slack, the communication from the organisers was poor.

    We were booked into a folk pub originally (and we’re an electronic rock/pop act!) and then when we pointed it out it was changed to the Theatre at the Custard Factory at 2pm on Saturday. Great, we thought, the weather forecast was good, and people would be milling about in between all the festivities and street acts, as well as the main stage, so there’ll be a steady flow of people throughout the day…WRONG…Digbeth was empty, no-one around, it was as if ArtsFest wasn’t here at all.

    The Custard Factory staff were lovely and very helpful, but we didn’t see a single ArtsFest staff member all day even though they should have been there to look after the acts on the day. It was frustrating to say the least.

    The pre-event publicity was only noticeable by it’s absence. A couple of spots on local TV about Curzon Street and a couple of bands on the main stage, and next to nothing on radio. We were asked to submit a biography with pictures for promotional use in the event brochure, but all we got was ‘14.00 – Johnny Normal’.

    There were some great acts at the venue,including TNI who sounded and looked wonderful, but for every single act the audience was miniscule, or none at all. There were no signs or posters up, not even on site at the Custard Factory to say who was on stage, which stage and when! Some of the acts cancelled when they turned up and saw what a fiasco it was. There were only a handful of people wandering around, looking perplexed, at any one time. We spoke to most of them and none of them (yes…NONE of them!) had come specifically for ArtsFest. Most were having a break from the Flea Market next door, which had posters up all over town!

    We sat and watched some very fine music for a few hours,RnB, Rock, Classical, alternative, but there were never more than ten people watching the acts…shocking to say the least.
    We went on stage and played our set, which was a very strange feeling indeed with such an audience.

    After our set, we had only been given 15 minutes to get off the stage, but then surprise!…the act following us had pulled out too! Only to find them appearing on the larger stage up the road!!!
    (The Mango Trio…brilliant incidentally, but how did that happen?)

    We chatted to bands that were due to play on the Centenary Square Stage, but when they arrived were told they had been moved to a smaller venue because the organisers had changed the theme…they were rightly furious. I spoke to around a dozen quality acts and all of them said they would not be coming back.

    ArtsFest was a shocking waste of money, public and private investors money I assume, and a waste of time for many entertainers at the smaller venues who gave their time for free don’t forget! …and I would be surprised if there were many acts that will want to feature next year, especially when there are so many more festivals around the City that are well organised.

    I heard since heard comments from event staff about unreliable bands not turning up…absolute rubbish! Bands were turning up to see the fiasco that they were entering into, with no publicity, no organisation and no audience, and decided it was a bum deal all round.

    Sure, the Centenary Square was busy…although not as busy as the organisers think, and I suspect that that’s where all the effort went from the ArtsFest team. But surely the idea is to bring together a wide array of Birmingham’s best talent and showcase them effectively, with support and publicity, bringing them to a wider audience? If that is the brief, then ArtsFest has failed, and that’s a real shame, because in theory, and with the talent I experienced, this Festival should be up there with the best in Europe.

    Ranting over, we’re off to London to appear at an organised gig with some people watching us!

    Johnny Normal

  6. Well, I only managed a half day – Sunday afternoon, so missed Blast which was very diasappointing after all I had read and heard. The buzz around Victoria and Centenary Squares on Sunday afternoon was excellent. I agree that the “beach” was not worth walking past. The festival ending carnival procession was a lot of fun, the competing drummers allowing for some crazy rythyms to emerge stereo-fashion!

    But what I really got from Artsfest was that Birmingham’s multicultural society works! It was great to see so many people from very different backgrounds getting on so well. If Artsfest contributes to this general sense of well-being within the community it is something that should be encouraged. Next year we will stay the weekend in Birmingham (we live in Somerset) and really take advantage of whatever Artsfest 11 delivers.

  7. A Nonny Mouse

    I think the beach was a bad venue for comedy and could have been used for street theatre or interactive family entertainment – comedy should be put on in enclosed venues to get some audience energy going – nice idea but not well thought out. Where was the theatre this year?

    all grumpiness aside the music was great and it was really well attended on the Saturday – more arts in brum please!

  8. I agree with Johnny normal.

    I had a slot at penny black’s in the mailbox.

    I turned up for my slot at the correct time, to discover there was no equipment and the place was empty (after being assured a PA would be set up).

    Once I arrived some equipment was set up, but I was unable to play as we waited over an hour for a sound engineer and no-one turned up.

    I was assured that I could have a slot the next day. When arrived the next day most of the equipment had been packed away and noone had been told that I was coming back. Again I din’t play.

    The venue had only one or two people in it each time I went.

    The staff were very nice but there was such a lack of communication between them that nothing could possibly have gone smoothly.

    It seems that the council throw money at these events but spend very little time thinking about effective organisation and marketing. For example, the equipment brought out at penny blacks was still in the packaging and brand new – and I mean all of it. Drum kit, mikes, cabs, stands, amps, but there was no one there to work any of it!

  9. Missed Blast but it sounds fantastic and, like all Artsfests there were some real highlights. I think these things all prove that Birmingham can have a fantastic arts festival to be proud of, if only the city would stop being so precious about the tag of ‘the UK’s largest free arts festival’. To my mind this leads to lots of sub-standard work at the periphery put on by arts organisations who’ve had their arms twisted into contributing. Also the organisation and planning of the smaller activity tends to be really really bad, which leads to a bad impression of the overall festival for artists and punters alike.

    Let’s go for quality over quantity.

  10. Antonio must have been bored out of his brain on Saturday what with hardly any of the acts turning up at Millenium point Stage. Fortunately, always the professionals !, KATLAMA did turn up,played a blinding set and despite it looking as if noone was there about 30 people turned up to watch. I say hand the organisation of some of the stages over to other people as the Artsfest staff are obviously working on a massively reduced budget and struggling to organise everything themselves. I knew loads of bands who wanted to play and could not get slots. Given a stage and sound guys I could have booked loads of reliable acts who would have got the place rocking. Kat x

Comments are closed.