The artists in Hackney Wick are a unique London community. When they arrived in the area ten years ago, they didn’t just rent studios; they set up home and moved in for the long haul. Thanks to these locals, many relics from Hackney Wick’s industrial past have been reanimated, giving the area a truly distinctive feel. One vital part of this is Hackney WickED. Now in its sixth year, the art festival has become the most vital artist-led festival in London.
London Living caught up with the festival’s Development, Education and Learning Director Jack Brown (in the red t-shirt above). We discussed the diverse programme list, his partnership with East Village, and the interesting results of artists collaborating with schoolchildren.
Hackney WickED has only been getting bigger since it started in 2008. How has it become so successful?
Hard work. I joined the team four years ago and have slowly got to know their work ethic. Each member, as we get close to the festival, works the equivalent of a full time job it. This is a massive commitment and it’s that commitment that makes the festival better each year.
What effect has the festival had on the local artist community?
The festival is an opportunity for neighbours to peek into studios, for families to try out screen printing and for artists working in the area to share skills, contacts and expertise. The festival serves a purpose – making the artistic community more visible and therefore more sustainable.
Hackney Wick is full of exciting corners and hidden gems. What’s your favourite part of it?
The view from Deptford Train station platform looking into the Wick sums up this area; historic, chaotic, vital, changing, surrounded and holding its own.
Sounds amazing. At a time when there is less and less money in the arts and fewer people can take it up, what advice would you give an aspiring artist?
I would tell them to do art anyway. If you can’t afford university, make art with your friends. If you can’t afford life drawing classes, draw your cat. If you want to run a gallery show, work in your home. Art is about making things that are important to you and showing them to other people, not making things to sell. In fact, I think being an artist is about social capital; what are you worth locally? Where do you fit and what are you changing?
You have an incredibly diverse program list- from park tours to photogram workshops to street art photography – how did you manage to gather all of this together?
Over the last year I’ve been building an education team of 13 artists for the festival. Some I’ve worked with before, some were recommended, and a couple got in touch saying they would like to be involved. Each member has devised their own workshop, event or tour while I’ve been working to find them venues and materials. The programmes this year happened quite organically and the team we’ve ended up with is a well-balanced line-up.
If you could have a famous artist come and do a workshop, which one would it be?
I would love Bruce Nauman to lead a video workshop using camera phones or Andy Goldsworthy to come and make some drawings and sculptures using industrial waste and mud from the canal. Marina Abramović could do a durational performance piece called “Posting Festival Information through Every Letter Box in Hackney.” Marcus Harvey could perform a shamanic “Funding the Festival” performance to an audience of philanthropists and Joseph Beuys could sit in on one of our directors meetings and try and explain it all to a dead hare!
One program is Print Is Power, which has visitors designing their own screen prints to give them a voice. What would yours say?
My poster would say “We Work Hard” and I would give one to every single person involved in making the festival happen.
That’s a really good message that people need to hear. Come September, Chobham Academy will be full of kids from the local area. How do you see your partnership with East Village growing to involve Chobham’s pupils?
The Development programme is already working with local primary schools: St Dominic’s Primary, Sebright Primary, Gainsborough Primary School and Rushmore Primary School. Building long term relationships is key. It is important to make sure staff and pupils understand the relevance and usefulness of contemporary art practice. It is about investigation, collaboration, persistence and creative thinking. I’ve worked in education and the arts for over ten years and when this list is encouraged, pupils become totally engaged in their learning and succeed not just in the arts but in other subjects too.
I am really looking forward to building a relationship with Chobham Academy. I am interested to see a school start from scratch. I hope to work with them to develop mutually beneficial art events, curriculum links and workshops that bring the artistic community of Hackney Wick into the pupils learning experience. I would also like to use the pupils as a resource for artists. Primary school pupils have amazing minds and can often think of artistic solutions that grown-up artists can’t. As part of this year’s education programme, I worked with artist Natasha Bird on a project called “Problem Solver”. Natasha was struggling with some large sculptural works, so I brought her together with 20 pupils from St Dominic’s Roman Catholic Primary School. We worked in a giant warehouse space at Netil House and made some amazing sculptures together. It has already become one of my favourite days of art-making this year.
What do you do to relax when you are not rushing around sorting out Hackney WickED?
I cycle everywhere, so when I can sit on a train with a view and read a book it’s a real treat. I also find making drawings, painting and working with my hand very relaxing.
What does the future hold for Hackney WickED? How do you think you could top this year’s line up?
It’s a simple question of funding. We all work for free on the festival and as it grows, we are finding it more difficult to squeeze in the hours. With more funding and therefore more time to work on the festival, I would love to see Hackney WickED commissioning permanent artworks made by local artists, a permanent Hackney Wicked HQ and a festival weekend full of workshops, talks, great art and interested people.
hackney WickED starts on Friday 16th August and ends on Sunday 18th August. The nearest station is Hackney Wick Overground.