I’ve been working on Light Night Leeds as Project Manager since June 2013. I knew I was taking on a big challenge in a short timescale with just two months to select over 50 art projects and just over three months to deliver the festival!
I’m a freelance festival producer; so working within a City Council instead of small arts organisations was going to be a new learning experience. Before Light Night, I’d worked on NVA’s Speed of Light at Salford Quays, WE PLAY Expo, the North West’s Closing Celebrations for the Olympics and as General Manager/Producer of FutureEverything, which delivers an annual festival of art, music and ideas around emerging technologies. The next project after Light Night, is as Producer of IOU, an international arts organisation based in Halifax. So learning about the bureaucracies of City Council life along with the ever-changing challenges and pressures of festival delivery was going to be interesting!
Light Night works on the basis that artists and artist groups or organsiations can apply to become part of the festival. The city council has a small budget that covers materials, venues, marketing costs, H&S, logistics and other support. Major art organisations like to be involved in Light Night because it’s a chance to show their work to new audiences. Emerging and established art groups like to be involved because they get an opportunity to show their work in unusual places. I’ve also discovered that people love Light Night! The atmosphere has been described as similar to bonfire night. Warm, fun and family friendly.
Light Night is a European wide initiative, which started in Paris in 2002, and aims to shine a different light on a city at night. It’s about audiences seeing their public buildings and spaces in a different way and for the city to give something back so all events are free. Light Night help generate civic pride and a sense of place so that people can be proud of their city. It also enhances the night time offer of business and culture.
The greatest revelation has been working with a dedicated team who are excellent! Light Night is just one project for them throughout the year but they have responded remarkably well to the geeky systems I’ve implemented that help manage multiple projects over a short time period. As a producer, my ethos is to make the festival experience the best it can be for everyone including artists, audiences, staff, volunteers, venues and partners. With limited resources, the only way to do this is through tried and tested streamlined systems, which collect masses of information, quickly and effectively.
Working within a council you often have to use their resources, whereas working for smaller arts organisations you choose who you work with. For Light Night this included working with an in house designer. Anyone that works in the creative industries knows that the design process can be joyful and exciting or painful and disappointing! It’s a time-bound task and sometimes the ideas just don’t flow or represent the different messages. In this instance, the designer managed to take complex information and make it cool, family friendly and contemporary, as well as digestible and easy to follow. Anyone in the game knows that is no mean feat.
In the festival cycle, there are peaks and troughs so it’s usually beneficial to have ‘seasoned’ festival workers on your team! There are pinch points, which can really get to you. Finalising a key piece of print is a good example of this. You rely on over 50 arts organisations to get information to you at a set time. Delays in the process can create a massive knock on in the workload. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on one festival in thirteen years where producing a festival programme hasn’t been all-absorbing. In this instance and unbelievably, we set a deadline and met it. The programme came out with 5 weeks to go and believe me, we all deserve medals. Getting that beautiful piece of print out meant we had 5 weeks to deliver the ‘operations’ or the nuts and bolts of a live festival. Pure luxury!
Top tip for producing a festival: Plan as much as you can in advance. Be meticulous and geeky, because once the festival starts, for those behind the scenes, that’s usually days and weeks before it’s open to the public, you can’t stop it, a bit like giving birth! It’s always worth remembering, though, and it’s a cliché, the show goes on, so it’s not worth losing sleep over!
Come and join us! Dress up as a pineapple or see the cultural sights as a ‘veggie’ runner. Watch the city’s buildings get transformed into magical clocks and artworks; witness aerialists in the sky and 20 drummers drumming. Find dancing shadows on Millennium Square or see your city through the eyes of a teenager. Enjoy intimate theatre that makes you question your hands, or let the domestic god that is the fridge draw out warm prose and the poet in you. Volunteering opportunities still available ;).
Joanne Wain (Light Night Project Manager)