International Bright Young Things

Jennie Syson
NVA Editor Jennie Syson talks to Silke Pillinger and Laura-Mae Browne from World Event Young Artists.

Who are you and what is World Event Young Artists?

Silke: My name is Silke and I am the director. I started this adventure about a year ago. My background is in visual arts and I’ve worked for a number of years in an international, specifically European contacts. I have been in the UK for about seven years, and I came on board because I was really excited about working with 1000 artists over 100 countries. I think Nottingham has a lot to offer in terms of cultural activity and it has a great vibe about it. 


How about you Laura, because I know you work with Dance4 too….

Laura: I am an arts marketer, I work with Dance4 in addition to freelance arts projects. UKYA has been on my radar for a few years and I’ve wanted to be involved for a while. Particularly I felt that the Derby event sounded fantastic. Fortunately the timing was great and Silke was looking for someone to help her with communications.


You mentioned UKYA – for the uninitiated and those unaware of the major event at QUAD in Derby in 2010 – could you touch upon how the projects relate to each other? 

Silke: UKYA (UK Young Artists) is basically the organisation behind it all that delivers events – as they did in Derby in 2010. UKYA is a relatively young organisation which has been going for about 2 years, initially as a network of regional universities – so Nottingham Trent is one of them but also Loughborough, Derby and Leicester. They came together because they shared a number of ideas and the same vision and they had identified common issues for visual artists and performers working across a number of art forms. They identified a need to provide opportunities for young artists at a critical point in their career - when they leave university. UKYA is committed to a two-fold approach: every other year they organise a regional biennial. Last time it was Derby, this time Nottingham and there are plans for Leicester in 2014. In the years inbetween, the commitment for UKYA is to send UK artists to international festivals – to grow their networks and provide opportunities. 


Is that what has happened in the past? I have been aware of artists from Nottingham visiting other countries. Is that how the role of the UKYA ambassadors has evolved? 

Silke: Initially, the Arts Council started an international exchange for young artists for what is called a Biennial for Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean or BJCEM. It’s an exciting network of 25 countries going for 27 years. ACE have always been looking for an organisation here to take that on and to grow with it. Hetain Patel and Michael Pinchbeck attended the biennial in Bari – and that’s certainly why they came on board as ambassadors. I think both of them found it helpful and it was useful to create networks within the UK and of course beyond. 


Why is WEYA in Nottingham? In particular, it’d be interesting to find out more about your close connections to Nottingham Trent University. I know head of Fine Art, Terry Shave is a big advocate. 

Silke: Trent is one of the four founding members of UKYA and they have certainly put a massive effort into helping us. Terry is chair of the board of UKYA, and his commitment is really strong, and this helps us in terms of the relationship with Trent. They are supporting us with a lot of practicalities; our offices are here for example and during the event itself we will have exhibitions in the Bonington Gallery. We’ll also be using the newly renovated Arkwright building as a kind of info hub for the young artists. 


There are some amazing new spaces at Trent. I am really glad to hear that’s happening as I was shown many of the spaces when we were thinking about Sideshow in 2010. 

Laura: I think one of the great things about the programme means that we need a lot of space and that’s allowing us to have access to lots of places. One of the reasons this is happening in Nottingham is because of the infrastructure that is already here. We have some great, Broadway, Lakeside, New Art Exchange, Nottingham Castle, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Trent University, Playhouse and Royal Centre. But there are also some great artist led spaces, which are really interesting to programme. 


Something that always comes up when one talks about the Nottingham Arts scene is that it’s a festival city, built upon the NOW Festival, and the You Are Here festival and most recently Sideshow. Do you see that the World Event as part of that legacy and as something that might happen again in Nottingham? 

Laura: It’s certainly something that feeds nicely into WEYA. There is a great resource here where local practitioners become involved. We didn’t want to be just a satellite that came and went – and wanted to touch the fabric of the creative infrastructure.


How are you making use of the spaces you mentioned? I know you’re looking at more unusual places too, like parks and gardens within the city etc.

Laura: We have a team of producers on board and we are in the process of working out where these 1000 artists will be presented, exhibited and perform. We’re still in the process of negotiating where some of those spaces will be. Primary, One Thoresby Street, Backlit, Surface Gallery, and Crocus Gallery are going to be a big part of this too. We’re also looking at some disused shop units and gardens, which belong to commercial premises. We also have the Market Square for the whole 10 days.


By having civic spaces on board I imagine you have had to gain the support of the Local Authority. How is it working with Nottingham City Council?

Laura: NCC are a very strong supporter and it’s very much on their agenda.

Silke: WEYA is only happening with support from the local authority and of course the Arts Council and the Cultural Olympiad. Without their support and buy in, I don’t think the event would happen on this scale. What made Nottingham’s proposal so strong was the enthusiasm from the various spaces here.


Did Nottingham have to bid for it like the Olympics then? 

Silke: There was a bid from four UKYA cities and Nottingham’s proposal for various reasons was certainly the strongest to host an international event. 


That’s really great to hear that Nottingham has that respect and kudos externally too. Working within the context of Nottingham arts scene– we know its great but its sometimes difficult to know if others truly have that opinion. 

You mentioned there will be 1000 artists descending on the city. Do you want to talk a little about the selection process and what they will actually be doing here?

Laura: It’s across all art forms. Visual Arts, Performance, Music, Literature, Gastronomy, Film, Dance… It’s a really broad scope. One of the exciting elements is that there is opportunity for collaboration across all art forms. We’ve been working with international partners from 100 countries who sent a call for submissions and these partners selected the artists. We are now collating the artists information, necessary details and images. 


From what I have learned recently, it’s reminds me of an exposition in the old fashioned sense: it’s a bit like the Great Exhibition of 1851 where everyone comes for a short space of time to present what they are doing to a very broad audience. 

I wanted to touch upon some of the misconceptions there have been about WEYA – within the local art community certainly, and whether or not you’re setting up a commissioning body. Are artists coming to present their work for the event given a budget? Do they have to pitch for their own commissions? How do you cater for 1000 artists? That’s got to be expensive…

Silke: Certainly in terms of operations it’s a big challenge. At least 80% of the artists involved need a Visa. Getting artworks here via customs is going to be very interesting to say the least. But coming back to your earlier point, the collaboration works through international partners, whom, as far as possible, are finding funding to pay for artists travel costs. Once they are here we will deal with all of their accommodation, meals… All the liaison we are doing with the venues now means that artworks will all be presented in the best possible way through us. The open call invited existing works to be submitted so we did not have to think about production costs. I think that the exciting process is that artists have submitted such a variety of work – and that we get to work on a programme that presents them in the best possible way. 


It’s a unique model if one looks at how international art events are usually put together. The format of the biennale is king. The commercial drive and push to artists work is how artists usually meet in an international context. In more recent years, the hierarchical rise of the curator within that structure has been really apparent. What you are talking about seems a lot more democratic. A bit more like a convention or a meeting… Is this being curated?

Silke: You put your finger on the ethos of the event. It is democratic in the sense that we didn’t want this to be monopolised by one person or a group of people coming to Nottingham externally. We want to work with the venues and collaborate. We have discussed what kind of artwork might suit each venue, and also what the venues themselves might want to do during the festival – which might be different to what they usually do. It’s a shared curational process between the venues and us as a festival. It doesn’t appeal to us to approach a venue like One Thoresby Street and tell them what to put on there.


So venues have a say in selecting the work they show? 

Silke: Yes. In terms of keeping it manageable, what we have agreed is that we will go through applications and find out what is feasible within each space. I think it would be challenging to look at 500 visual arts applications!


How can local artists become involved? There is already a really healthy contingent of Nottingham artists in the selected list…

Laura: We’ve tried to make as many opportunities as possible to engage the local creative community and the local communities. Outside of programming work in spaces, which are run by creative practitioners, we also have another initiative, which is an artist to artist scheme where we want to encourage people to get in touch with international artists before the festival starts through an online dialogue so people are aware what’s going on. We are very much encouraging collaborative relationships to start.

Also during the festival, running across the main exhibition is a programme of events that will include symposiums, talks, round tables, debates and happenings. We are developing that with a number of creative people and there will be ample opportunity for people to get involved. We’re open to suggestions too. 

Silke: Just to mention also that the programme of activities we are providing for the international artists will also be available to artists practicing here who are not directly linked to WEYA. 


What’s the duration and is there a programme yet?

Laura: Its over ten days and with a very tight timetable! It will be pretty intense. The artists will arrive on the Thursday and the Friday, and the festival opens on Friday afternoon.

The opening weekend also incorporates the regional finale of the Cultural Olympiad with a big celebration on the Market Square on the last day of the Olympics, Sunday the 9th of September – and then runs through to the following weekend. The events programme just mentioned, will take place for the most part in the second week. 


Why is it important to support young artists for this event?

Laura: This model is based on the BJCEM festival in Europe – we just don’t have something like that in this country. We’ve first hand evidence from WEYA ambassadors Michael Pinchbeck and Hetain Patel who have gained fantastic experience and found new platforms for their work in this type of festival context. Young artists find this model useful in order to develop their professional practice. The boundaries of ‘young’ change with different projects and in this context, it’s one of the broadest I have come across. Between 18–30 is quite wide. Some other events it’s usually 25ish. 

Silke: We are aware that at 30 that this cuts out a lot of people who are still just starting their careers. There has been lots of internal discussion about ‘What is young? What are emerging artists?’ These discussions have influenced our approach as a team and we are keen to make sure that we are not too exclusive. The programme we have is made to be interesting to audiences regardless of their age. 


Nottingham is unusual in that many graduating artists stick around. Initially, when I was compiling the 30 under 30 list for this issue – many of the artists that wanted to include were just over 30. I guess the Nottingham art scene is like sedimentary rock – with a new layer crusting over each year. One could make the point that the sheer volume and quality of things happening just before their emergence might obscure some of the younger artists. For many years there has been a raft of younger artists projects, which continue for some time – off the top of my head, Reactor, Moot, Tether etc. This could be seen as suffocating or intimidating, and it perhaps to be given a clear playing field for this short time during WEYA is a positive step for those artists under 30…

Laura: The exciting thing about WEYA is that many of the young artists coming to the festival will be from very different cultural backgrounds. As well as making work together they will be eating together and socialising. I think that what is produced in this environment will be something unique. 


The legacy is obviously really important. After these 10 days, how would someone find out about what has happened here? 

Silke: We are excited about the fact that we have been selected, from around 800 projects around the country, to be part of the new experimental digital platform that the BBC and the Arts Council are running over the summer of 2021. So we are one of 50 something organisations picked to provide a new way of engaging with audiences in arts and cultural activities. This will allow us to document the festival in unusual ways. We are working with the international artists to document WEYA through their eyes, beginning with where they are now and ending up when they arrive in Nottingham. We will also be getting local artists and young people involved to get their take on things. 

Laura: We’re also working with the Mixed Reality Lab at Nottingham Trent to find innovative ways of digitally presenting the project. There are lots of plans afoot to leave an interesting legacy. 

Silke: The festival also has a community engagement programme that is delivered in partnership with The Mighty Creatives, City Arts and Nottingham City Council Arts in Education Team.

Each of these partners brings an area of expertise and experience to ensure the festival has a broad reach across the city, engaging children, young people and adults that works across the city’s many diverse communities.

The Mighty Creatives for example are working to engage young people interested in becoming journalists. They’ll be setting up a media hub in the Market Square throughout the event, run by the young people and linked to the international artists programme. They’ll be going out interviewing people and capturing events.

Laura: The volunteering aspect of the project is really important to mention, we’ve just begun the recruitment process and we need lots of volunteers, for different elements of the festival. 

Silke: The information is on our website Language skills will come in very handy. We need lots of people to make sure that the artists are well looked after. 


It seems like a unique, dynamic and exciting event. Its great to find out lots more about it. 


Frank Abbott 

Artist, filmmaker 


Siobhan Davies

Dance artist, choreographer


S. Mark Gubb

Cross platform artist


Akram Khan

International choreographer, dance artist


Nicola Monaghan

Contemporary award-winning author


Hetain Patel

Interdisciplinary artist


Gilles Peterson

International DJ, broadcaster and music producer


Michael Pinchbeck

Writer, live artist and performance maker


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