Portobello Road in London is famous worldwide for its market, however it is the rich diverse community inhabiting the nearby area what makes the atmosphere of this neighbourhood so unique. Every summer a small grass-roots association of neighbours, artists and traders, organizes the Tavistock Arts Festival to inspire youngsters and support the local talent.
‘Thanks to the diversity of this community there is an abundance of talent in West London; throughout all our schools and wards’ explains Damian Rayne, one of the founders of the Festival.
Our mission, as neighbours, is to create a platform that offers the chance to our local talent to perform in public and show it to the rest of London; a challenge to rise to, a destination to meet and showcase their work to industry and enthusiasts.
Damian works at The Muse Gallery & Studio located in Portobello Road; a gallery, which supports emerging artists in visual arts. ‘At some point we wanted to expand our work into the neighbourhood and make a positive impact by engaging with the talent in the area’ explains Damian.
With this spirit the Tavistock Arts Festival came to life in 2004 originally under the Portobello Film Festival hosting short independent movies from local filmmakers.
Later on, inspired by the new craze of pioneering silent concerts, the Tavistock Arts Festival started including dance and music performances and became a silent street event using their experience with wireless technology in the film festival. The audience uses wireless headphones to listen to all the shows happening on stage.
‘Our intention was to create a festival format that has zero environmental impact in the neighbourhood’ points out Damian. ‘Our neighbours include old-aged residents, some diagnosed with mental health problems like dementia and Alzheimer, who live in care homes around the main square. These neighbours can’t be relocated during the Festival. We wanted them to feel good at home in their living rooms and bedrooms while the Festival happens’.
As a result, they came up with the idea of turning off the whole event and make it silent. A silent festival is a logistical challenge from a technical organizational point of view as well as a cultural shift for the artists, without compromising their creativity.
We conceived a digital environment around the Festival that allows people outside it to continue with their lives in the neighbourhood. It is a very interesting dichotomy, explains Damian Rayne.
Moreover, ‘streaming sound has reached such a good quality, that all participants have started to see the benefits of a silent festival. The headset technology relies on zero buffering through RF broadcasting (radio Frequency), rather than bluetooth. Silent Noize is one of the expert agencies which has been collaborating with the Tavistock Arts Festival in this field’, explains Damian enthusiastically.
For instance, children acting together in a group need one handset for each of them. Similarly, the well-known rap singer Nadia Rose came with one DJ and they did need two separate handsets.
However, even if it was a quite different work environment for artists, no one refused to act in silent as long as there is the good purpose behind it like a festival for local talent.
Most of the Tavistock Arts Festival budget goes to the artists. But its founders believe that the spending is worth it because they are a valuable source of inspiration in the Festival for the young local talent in the neighbourhood.
‘The Festival engages some successful professional artists to sign the different categories because our aim is to effectively show youngsters and parents a trajectory in time of a real example of an emerging artist. Parents have the opportunity to see performing arts from a different angle, and not as a career with difficult job opportunities at the very end. But rather that there is a working life in the performing arts field not only as an artist but as other kind of professional involved in sound management, logistics of the festival, etc. We explain all of that through the Festival as an open source to keep the arts going. And not promoting visual arts as a mere artistic idea’, envisions Damian.
So far 2019 has hosted the 6th Festival and the organization of the Tavistock Arts Festival is looking forward to continuing with a more ambitious and memorable format, covering a pedestrianised portion of the Portobello, from Lancaster Road to the Westway bridge; and all broadcast on Bluetooth headsets.
Damian admits that organising the Tavistock Arts Festival requires a lot of perseverance. However, now they are experiencing a very good timing with the revolution of technology and enthusiasm in schools to get involved with the organization.
Initiatives like the Tavistock Arts Festival can improve youngster’s opportunities by engaging more closely with citizens in the arts and culture fields, stimulating local talent in festivals. In neighbourhoods lies a wellspring of creativity and urban identity that make cities thrive.
When the summer arrives, music festivals pop up in cities. London hosts some of the most remarkable ones like the Summer Festival at Hyde Park or at Finsbury Park. Organisers fight restrictions on sound levels and opening hours to attract the world’s top stars.
At the silent Tavistock Arts Festival artists want to engage with the community. They want to celebrate the benefits of urban diversity translated into talent and show it to the world. But a diverse community means a higher degree of commitment to respect each other. In a small community like Portobello Road silent technology is an effective way to content all citizens.
‘There are few places in the world encapsulating such a harmonious diversity and collection of characters as Portobello, whether it be people of different personalities, languages, race, cultures, bank accounts, religions or philosophies on life’, as the People of Portobello describes it.
Portobello Road and its Tavistock Arts Festival set an example for other diverse communities. More talent in our neighbourhoods, in our cities, is waiting to be discovered.