Access hears from Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council festival director Andrea Francis about how her team not only overcame Covid-19 restrictions but the wrath of Storm Alex to present a hybrid version of Arts By The Sea.
In an average year arts and culture festival Arts by the Sea attracts 100,000 visitors but due to Covid-19 related events guidance much of the activity took place online this year and the real-world installations and physical interactions had to be sharply scaled back.
Organisers were, however, determined to press ahead with the physical element and installations were set up across Bournemouth Gardens and local beaches from 25 September to 4 October. Meanwhile, online activity included workshops, podcasts and livestreams.
Among the major installations was a 25-metres-long and 5-metres-high windbreak (pictured above) on Boscombe beach, created by British collage artist and satirist Cold War Steve. Ithaca Studio’s ‘Sea of Light’ featured thousands of light spheres in a 360-degree light experience accompanied by a surround-sound music composition, while Bournemouth’s Lower Gardens were transformed into The Fire Garden; brimming with flaming flower boxes, crackling trees and plumes of fire.
The event was overseen by BCP Council festival and cultural development director Andrea Francis (pictured) alongside From The Fields creative director Dr Roxy Robinson, who has experience of working on events including Kendal Calling (cap, 25,000), Bluedot (21,000).
One of the key challenges for Francis and her team was finding a balance between marketing the event to attract an audience while limiting the number of people at the real-world elements.
In order to manage capacities at the outdoor installations, a ticketing system was set up to enable staggered entry times, with the free digital tickets available in advance online.
Says Francis, “When we were designing the event, at beginning of June, we chose to do ticketed events because obviously that’s a really good way of managing crowd control. We also chose to do installations rather than performances, because at the time you could not even have any live music.”
We didn’t really market the events because they were sold out before we needed to go to a wide audience.
“We created a pre-register facility on the website, so when we went live with the ticketing we went out to those people first and then to our mailing list. We didn’t really market the events because they were sold out before we needed to go to a wide audience. That’s the opposite to what we’d normally want to do because we usually want to attract as wide an audience as possible to Arts By The Sea.”
With Storm Alex raging and the tickets being free, the event team were understandably concerned there would a significant number of ticket holders no shows but a concerted effort by the marketing team meant any unused tickets were reallocated.
The Fire Garden was available to view during five dedicated time slots per evening, over two nights, with an audience potential of 120 per time slot. Francis says she was pleased to see 502 attend on the Friday night and 761 the following evening despite the challenging weather.
“Even in the lashing rain during Storm Alex, which was threatening to flood the gardens and cancel the entire show, every show was pretty well attended. We were at around 70% of capacity,” she says.
When constructing the digital aspect of the event, Francis says the team were acutely aware that many people would be reluctant to sit in front of a screen for hours on end: “Following lockdown, I for one had got screen fatigue and we didn’t want to programme an event that would mean you had to just sit in front of your computer for days.
“We looked at different formats that would allow you to participate, so while there are performances you can just watch, we had a series of podcasts that obviously you can listen to on the go, and interactive creative workshops.”
With the performances, podcasts and workshops still available to view on-demand, the viewing figures continue to build but Francis says she was pleased by the numbers coming in during the event.
She says, “With the time available and the kind of format that we had this year I think the way we structured and released the online programme worked really well. In terms of the response, we didn’t really know what to expect but it’s been really good. It’s been a really positive experience for all of us.”