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Festival

Creative Director, Tom Higham, reflects on the success of York Mediale 2018

It feels a little too soon to be writing this, but we’re now over a week since the inaugural York Mediale finished (with a bang), so let’s try!

I’ve been working on arts festivals for nearly 15 years, all over the country, and further afield. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a more impactful, successful, and comparatively ambitious one. I think (…though this could very well be the full on emotional and physical exhaustion talking…), we nailed it…but that’s not for us to decide.

We’ll share more over the coming weeks and months, and there are too many to list them all, but a few personal highlights for me:

Tom Higham at the launch of 2018 festival © York Mediale
Tom Higham at the launch of 2018 festival © York Mediale

Firstly, the opening night. It felt as though there was electricity in town that night. The vibrancy and energy in both York Art Gallery, and York Theatre Royal, felt special. Both venues were packed, but packed with crowds who, I’d guess, they don’t often see. People of all ages, shapes, colours, sizes, backgrounds – it felt as though something was happening, right before our eyes. A good friend, and supporter of the festival, said to me at the end of the night, “this is the most excited I’ve been in this city for 10 years. It feels like the first day of a revolution.”. I won’t name them as I don’t have permission to do so (yet!), but that’s the single best bit of feedback I think possible to receive.

Just Jam with Moses Boyd and Kamaal Williams was a feast, triumph and one heck of a whirlwind. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in commissioning, producing and presenting. Anything that gets a packed Theatre Royal audience dancing on their chairs has to be quite special…

Just Jam presents Moses Boyd and Kamaal Williams © York Mediale
Just Jam presents Moses Boyd and Kamaal Williams at York Theatre Royal © York Mediale

Secondly, Deep Lab UK’s ‘Can You Die if You Don’t Exist?’ was a hugely significant piece of work to be involved in, and we’re extremely proud to have been able to present its world premiere in York. I spent most of the day with the work as its lead producer, and the conversations and interactions it generated were so powerful, emotional and urgent. York is the UK’s first ‘Human Rights City’, and the power of public art and performance like this is a privilege to be able to present.

Deep Lab UK - Can You Die If You Don't Exist © York Mediale
Deep Lab UK - Can You Die If You Don't Exist © York Mediale

Strange Stranger, by Alexander Whitley Dance Company, Beatrice Dillon, Children of the Light, and Luca Biada opened with a world premiere performance on Friday 28 September. It is one of many of our commissions which will go on to tour the world, and so presenting some of the most exciting contemporary dance, technological wizardry and masterful sound design in York’s Guildhall, for the first time anywhere in the world…will live long in the memory.

Alexander Whitley Dance Company - Strange Stranger world premiere at York Guildhall © York Mediale
Alexander Whitley Dance Company - Strange Stranger world premiere at York Guildhall © York Mediale

Stories of Solitude on Wednesday 3 October in the beautiful Hospitium and Tempest Anderson Hall in the Museum Gardens was a wonderfully crafted and timely conference focusing on ‘performance, technology and digital overload’. The quality of talks and participants was stellar, and to be able to convene such a high quality philosophical, psychological, artistic and technological forum was something truly special.

Stories of Solitude © York Mediale
Stories of Solitude © York Mediale

This has been said before, and will no doubt be said again, but the scale, quality and impact of this festival has only been made possible by all of the artists, supporters, advocates, funders, partners, collaborators and sponsors. However, this time, I wanted to mention some specific people.

Firstly, and most importantly, the festival team: Rach, Amelie, Paul, Gemma, April, Will, Lindsay, Lucy, Javairya, Georgie, Mark, Leann, Caroline, Olivia, Sian. We’ve all been on a strange, sometimes traumatic, sometimes euphoric journey, but all of these incredible humans were truly phenomenal throughout. Thank you all.

York Mediale Volunteers © York Mediale
York Mediale Volunteers © York Mediale

There are so many people who received panicked phone calls from us at some point over the last few weeks and months, and bent over backwards to help us, support us and make York Mediale what it was/is.

Thank you to (in no particular order – and hold tight, this is a long list): all of the UNESCO cities who visited us during the festival – Sapporo, Braga, Kosice, Einghein-les-Bains, Gwangju; our entire Advisory board and CIC board, who have helped me personally more than they can know; Vespertine (Yvonne and Lucy); York Army Museum; all of our wonderful volunteers (we benefited from approx 900 volunteer hours, from 53 volunteers who ranged in age from 18 to 67); all of the team at Visit York and Make it York, who’ve had to put up with our frankly disgusting office for the last month or so..sorry guys; all of the Takeover team; Miss Plaits from Park Grove Academy School; Hannah and Drew from York Dance Space; Tigger, Mat Lazenby, Nico, Greg McGee, Dave Fleming, Rose Kent, Mike Stubbs, Eirini Nedelkopoulou, Ann and Chris from the Guild of Media Arts, Heather at Science City York, Iain and Alice from the BGI, Harkirit and Joe, York’s ying and yang of the music scene; Ian, Zoe, Jo, Tom and Sam from SPARK York; Rob Hill at Belfry, John Bradley from Piccadilly car park, Rodolofo, Rachel and Tom from York Theatre Royal; Jim Austin, Kev and Liam from Inspired Youth; Emma, Peter and Marian from DC Labs; Steve Plews, Ruth West, Julia from the Stained Glass Centre; Rob Wilmot, Shauna Concannon and Stu Norton, Ed Van der Molen, Hack Space and Richard Redpath, Damian Murphy, Mark Fordyce and York Data Services, the entire team at the Hospitium, Ben Eyes, Carl and team from Eboracum, John, the world’s greatest security guard at the Guildhall; Reyahn King and Laura Turner at York Museums Trust – to name just a few.

Now that we’ve made our mark, we’ll be back in 2020 with an even bigger, better festival. In the meantime, we’re already cooking up lots of tasty projects so you’ll be hearing a lot more from us before then.

May the revolution continue…