Waterloo Festival 2020: Lights (half) out!

Euchar Gravina

Artistic Director

Sunset is setting at Waterloo Festival 2020. Photo: Thames River from Waterloo Bridge.

What an interesting, exciting and often very nerve wracking time these last few months have been! We’re very proud to have brought to you and our local community another edition of Waterloo Festival, albeit quite different from what we originally had in mind.

By the end of February, we had a full programme of events covering three weeks in June ready to be launched: orchestral, chamber and children concerts, workshops, garden fairs and parties, exhibitions, community events and some pretty fascinating talks. Plus, our star-studded line-up included a whole host of amazing musicians and creatives: Inner Vision Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia (and Karen Kamensek), the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra, SoulFood Poetry, Cardboard Citizens, IKLECTIK, Rita Says and the Jerico Orchestra, NonClassical, Disability Lambeth– and that’s only what we had confirmed! It was all slowly coming together and so unbelievably exciting.

But in the first few weeks of March, as the threat of COVID-19 became more and more real, it dawned on us that we needed to swiftly develop a different approach. We were determined to celebrate the Festival this year even if we had to cancel the physical event at St John’s. After all, this year’s theme was ‘Transforming Communities’ and it was looking likely that both our local community and the wider world were about to be totally transformed! So we decided to take the Festival online and bring our community with us.

Hart Club's David Bassadone and his artwork for Waterloo Festival 2020

The first thing we had to do was build a beautiful website to ‘host’ the Festival so we called in the help of Helen Ralli of the Lambeth-based gallery Hart Club and one of their artists David Bassadone. The gallery works with and represents neurodivergent artists. David, who’s 71, has a photographic memory, meaning he has an incredible eye for detail that allows him to recreate intricate images with remarkable density and accuracy.

After forming such a great partnership with Hart Club, we decided to grow a list of collaborators with whom we could share our platform during times when life was going to be most intensely online over the weeks ahead. As a result, we’ve featured music, art, literature, interviews, local history, continued our podcast series Festivalcast with Morley Radio and used the platform to shine a light on social and cultural issues such as the environment, minority rights and heritage.

We commissioned Rita Says and The Jerico Orchestra for a digital rendition of La Monte Young's Composition 1960 #7, featuring an open call for anyone to participate

There have been too many wonderful posts and projects featured over the last two months to mention all of them! And I’m incredibly proud of our long list of collaborators, including Coin Street Community Builders and a greater number of other local individuals and organisations with whom we now have a stronger relationship. I do, however, want to speak briefly about some of the work produced for the Festival which is close to my heart.

Coming from Malta, I am still reeling from the assassination of its finest investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Journalism and its value in contemporary society is something I believe to be of the utmost importance. Through a series of interviews with journalists and activists, I wanted to explore press freedom as a fundamental component of any healthy democracy and a key tool in transforming communities. I spoke to Shanon Shah about his former life as a journalist in Malaysia and James Hatts about his community-centred news house at SE1. Then, from further afield, I spoke to Alessandra Galloni about her global news rooms at Reuters and Rebecca Vincent, the London Bureau Director for Reporters Sans Frontières.

Shanon Shah: a local friend of Waterloo Festival, a journalist in his former life in Malaysia and also the researcher behind our series of interviews with the Okusinza mu Luganda community.

At the heart of Europe’s largest metropolis, Waterloo is the perfect example of an urban environment. Yet its community is making its voice heard on issues related to clean air, climate change legislation and open spaces. To commemorate World Environment Day, we published a podcast with Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden, a feature on local gardens by Matt Brown of The Londonist, and an open green gallery. Not to mention a specially made Mozart performance by the Orchestra for the Earth and the World Land Trust.

The churchyard at St John's, explored through a series with Jonathan Trustram

Photo: Eleanor Bentall

Being in the centre of a capital built on the fruits of migration and multiculturalism, Waterloo is a truly ‘transforming community’ with people always coming and going and some leaving behind lasting imprints. Beth McHattie put together an informative feature on Hans Feibusch, a German Jewish refugee whose murals grace the east wall of St John’s Waterloo; I had the privilege to chat with John Speyer about the work of Music In Detention and we also published a series of interviews with the Ugandan faith community in Waterloo, Okusinza mu Luganda. The upsurgence of Black Lives Matter and the arrival of Pride Month also encouraged us to open up our platform to more diverse voices.

We missed our annual gatherings in St John's and across other venues in Waterloo for this year's Festival. Yet we're very proud of our online edition which brought us more close to each other as a community in this time of great anxiety, loss and disruption.

Photo: Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra (St. John's Waterloo, Waterloo Festival 2019)

And finally, we were in touch with a variety of artists living and working in Waterloo, all of whom not only shared their creative work but talked about their process, connections to our area and how the current pandemic was affecting them.

Waterloo Festival 2020 comes to an end today but our content will stay online, right here on this website. We’ll be adding to it from time to time and we’re working on big plans for future projects that respond to the new realities of our post-Covid world.

Please do stay in touch! We’d love to hear about ideas or content you’d like to share here or projects you might wish us to feature over the course of the next twelve months ahead of Waterloo Festival 2021!

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