Access speaks to Singaporean-American entrepreneur and environmentalist Joanne Ooi about why she chose to launch arts and culture event EA Festival this year.

EA (East Anglia) Festival at Hedingham Castle will run in a hybrid format from 31 July – 1 August with 17 performances in its 300 capacity marquee over the two days. Ooi says she hopes to enrich the region’s cultural scene through the multi-disciplinary and multi-genre event, and many of the performers and speakers hail from the Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk areas. Among the lineup are journalist and writer Rowan Pelling, comedy producer John Lloyd, celebrity lexicographer Susie Dent, comedian Josh Berry and multimedia artist Rosey Chan.

Have you any previous experience of running a festivals?

No, not per se, [but] I’ve convened plenty of events and have participated in a tonne and I’ve been involved in music management. I’ve basically been involved in all the various components of a festival, but never actually had to weave them into an entire project and be responsible for one.

I started putting together a p&l for the festival in October last year and then in December I started really putting all my time behind it.

What led you to launch the festival during a pandemic and what were the difficulties involved?

I moved here five years ago, and I had tried to engage with some of the cultural stakeholders in the East Anglia region but really with not great success. As someone who has been a marketing professional for years, I felt that marketing is not a very powerful driver or component of business out here.

For me it was about gathering up the gumption and the inspiration to launch a huge new project, and Covid gave me the time and the headspace to gestate an idea and bring it to fruition. I found myself with more time than usual on my hands and I saw that it was probably going to be easier to book world-class acts and get them interested in what I was doing, because of the pandemic.

I was also very lucky that I benefitted from a businessman called Andrew Sunnucks, who is the founder of sync music business Audio Network and happened to be my neighbour. He said he’d call John Lloyd and Evelyn Glennie, who were the first two people that we called to be part of the festival and they gladly accepted. Having two such eminent people signed up from the get-go paved the way and made it much easier from the very beginning. I also had a network of cultural stalwarts before I moved to England.

Which suppliers are you using?

We’re using an alternative internet service provider called County Broadband, which has signed up to provide us with very high-speed internet in order to enable the live streaming.

We’re also using Eventcube – they provide a backbone for a festival brand like us to host online events during and after the event has taken place.

What are the ticket prices?

The real-life events cost between £13 and £24. The virtual events will cost £5 to watch on-demand.

How is the festival being funded?

I’m just bootstrapping it and I’m doing it through patrons who are giving cash donations to get this started, and through the ticketing sales themselves. I didn’t have any time to think about making an Arts Council application because I decided to do the festival so late but I will be applying for a grant after this.

How do you think the festival sector will change after the impact of the pandemic?  

It has forced people to think about their technology options much more seriously than they had prior to Covid, which I think is extremely beneficial. Lots of people are creating fantastic content of fantastic quality, which deserves to be broadcast and distributed much more widely.