bluedot festival Founder Ben Robinson speaks to Access about escapism, working in lockdown, and his event’s upcoming launch into the world of streaming.


bluedot festival takes its name from the famous photograph which inspired renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan’s book – The Pale Blue Dot.

The photograph was taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990, at around 6 billion kilometres from Earth – the furthest distance a photograph has been taken before or since. It depicts our planet as a tiny speck, just a handful of pixels wide, in a sea of black. It provides the kind of perspective that we could all do with at the moment, when the Covid-19 pandemic has uprooted so many aspects of our personal and working lives.

“We wanted to give people some escapism,” says bluedot festival Founder Ben Robinson (pictured right). “After musing the fact that Covid’s impact has reached every corner of our planet, taking a trip into outer space seemed like the perfect antidote.”

The Pale Blue Dot, taken by Voyager 1 in 1994

bluedot is launching its own maiden voyage into the world of streaming this weekend, when it begins the “weekend in outer space” programme, on what would have been the dates of bluedot 2020. Between 24-26 July, the festival is streaming a series of musical performances, conference panels, and highlights from previous years’ events. All of it will be free, but the festival is asking for viewers to donate to Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre – a radio observatory and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Manchester that hosts the physical festival.

“We wanted to bring the community of bluedot together on what would have been this year’s festival weekend,” says Robinson (pictured left). “The audience, staff, suppliers and performers are all having a tough time this summer not being able to do their jobs or engage in the culture that is the highlight of their summer.”

Robinson adds that he and his team spent a long time deciding whether to make the digital festival free, weighing up pay per view and subscription models. In the end, the bluedot team “came to the conclusion that it’s not something that can effectively be introduced overnight. We are festival organisers and our skills are in delivering incredible experiences in the fields.

“We feel there is a real danger in the attitude that ‘things can go digital’. For one festivals cannot, it is just not what they are! Secondly, it’s a totally different skill set that can distract and overtake the real attention our business needs right now in securing its future in the fields.”

Robinson says that the bluedot team have upskilled themselves in order to deliver the digital aspects of the event, and are facilitating it through YouTube and Facebook to make it easily accessible to the widest audience.

On the topic of funding, Robinson says: “We have been very fortunate to receive emergency funding from Arts Council England to produce this event. The fund was set up to support arts organisations who could undertake some activity that would also support artists and crews out of work due to Covid.

“Without the funding we would not have been able to create the event at the quality level we have. It’s really nice to be able to offer paid work to people at this time.