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Tina Morris, director of Coastal Currents and Sweet and Dandy. Photo: Alexander Brattell.

Coastal Currents reinvents itself whilst celebrating success through adversity

Coastal Currents is a well established local arts festival with an impressive track record – Stella Keen interviewed director Tina Morris on the difficulties faced in this ‘year of the plague’ and her plans for the future.

How do you feel this year’s festival is going so far – given the battle you’ve had to make it happen this year?!

This year has been an enormous challenge as you can imagine. All festivals were cancelled and there was an expectation that we would cancel too. However, Coastal Currents aims to support our creative economy – provide opportunities, raise funding and keep artists and musicians in sustainable creative careers.

So back in March we couldn’t apply for our usual Arts Council funding (Arts Council England cancelled all project funding in response to Covid and started a new rescue fund), we decided we would try for Covid relief funding. This was primarily to keep the organisation “Sweet and Dandy” afloat until 2021 and allow us to work on research and development.

Once we had created these Covid ‘mini commissions’, we just had to work out a way to make it all make sense. If artists were going to be given opportunities to create, then we really wanted a way of presenting this work. So we decided to make a ‘hybrid’. We’re no longer called ‘Coastal Currents Arts Festival’ as the Festival side is dead in the water. We are now proudly just ‘Coastal Currents’ creating opportunities for artists all year round. Until things change with Covid – that is what we plan to do.

Can you talk a bit about what is in this year’s Coastal Currents?

2020 has been about bolstering digital content to better represent artists. Now felt like the right time to support artists in this way as, no matter what happens next, we need better digital representation.

Filmmaker Mark French and I have been working on 13 Digital Open Studios films, each to suit the style of the individual artist. These films showcase artists’ work whilst instigating a virtual discussion – with the opportunity to learn more about their work and hopefully even commission something. These films are also a fantastic set of legacy pieces featuring artists such as Peter Quinnell – rarely seen on film – and Malcolm Glover, one of the most incredible photographers of this area.

Still from the Digital Studios film on local artist Peter Quinnell. © Coastal Currents/Mark French

In addition, a new venture for us for 2020, Coastal Currents have been working with musicians. This industry is decimated and needs support – no one seems to be creating content whilst there are more consumers than ever. It was hard enough for musicians to earn a crust before Covid-19, but now even getting together as a band is a military exercise of planning and viral wipes. So we are funding and supporting musicians with studio sessions, live streams and digital content creation, which will always help.

Plus we are working on the premise that if we can use this time to all watch each other’s Youtube Channels, eventually Google will start paying the artists an income. Patreon sites are also a great way for artists to earn from their content. We just know how hard it is to be seen now and I want to do the same as I have done with Coastal Currents, in linking up the individuals or bands into a much more visible platform, so they can get signed and have a sustainable digital income during Covid-19.

Supporting local artists and musicians with live streaming on Isolation Station Hastings.

What’s happening about your idea for the Stade Saturday concert programme that was originally planned?

The council have restricted events for now and rightly so, as we are a small town, and whatever serves to keep us safe at the moment is ok by me. To be honest it all comes down to insurance these days. As an events manager I have to be sensible ensuring things are as safe as they can be – it’s difficult at the moment, although not impossible.

So as soon as we can safely put on a Stade Saturday, I will be right there! At the moment I am encouraging the council to back digital work, as this still pays the artists and musicians and also gives audiences something safe to watch as well as a legacy piece for the town.

How have the adjustments and adaptations you’ve had to make this year impacted on the Festival?

There has been a huge impact on the ‘festival’ element as touched on before, however I don’t believe the ethos of Coastal Currents is in any way adjusted. We want to support creatives with opportunities – funding, marketing, PR and fundamentally now, audiences! If we have to be creative in how we do that, well that is the sort of challenge I like to take on. If artists and musicians can’t come up with ways to innovate, then we are all doomed! But I believe they can, so I want to raise more funding to support them, as through them we are uplifted and through that we can find the strength to diversify and find our feet again.

Joe Fawcett at the Dirty Old Gallery with his installation “Public house”. Photo: Russell Jacobs

Can you achieve a fulfilling balance, do you think, between public/town activity and online activity?

This is a plague situation and we are out of balance, so just sustaining some semblance of order is hard enough. I am just happy that we can still find ways to exhibit, like the seafront posters in Bexhill or the hoardings in Eastbourne. We were still able to hold one intervention in the Gotham Alley Observer Building tunnels which was entirely Covid-secure and also support others who have worked hard to create physical happenings in the town. It took bravery and a lot of thought this year. But my heart is in digital, we need to do it to be safe. We need to innovate – be creative and positive in our outlooks and we can still make good stuff happen.

What do you feel needs to be done to continue public engagement with a festival like this?

This festival is for the musicians and artists of this area. I just kickstart it, find some cash and energy to make it happen and package it! But this year I have had to do a hell of a lot of online promotion and button pressing. For every live stream you’ve seen – there’s been a lot of them, from the ‘Grounded’ season with University of Brighton through to all the artists live sessions – it takes me, online live, promoting the stream. It is the difference between 100 people seeing it and 14k.

So, dedication is the key. We need more people willing to pull together and share this digital content. We have such amazing quality artists and musicians in this area and you sharing their content right now, or just watching, can mean they can get their subscribers up above the minimum amount to earn a living. So really, I need more support in the digital world than in the physical.

But every year is different as this festival rides on the will of the artists and every year it gets bigger. From all this talent and a bit of tenacity comes new ideas. Everyone loves a new creative idea and that drives engagement. Keeping things fresh.

Anna Thomson – one of the artists in ‘Objects from the id’ group exhibition at Rock-A-Nore. Photo: Russell Jacobs.

How do you see the Festival (and indeed all local arts festivals!) adapting and surviving in the future?

Oh this will be down to the individuals and how deep they dig. Maybe it will mean more independents and less commercial festivals, who knows? I don’t even have the time to predict! I have been doing this for many years now and every year someone tells me it is unsustainable, so maybe it takes a touch of madness and a lot of belief, grit and determination to carry out any large creative project these days. Just be grateful for the now.

Further details are on the Coastal Currents website.
Coastal Currents rely on donations to create a match funding pot for them to leverage more monies in order to continue the good work!  You can donate to their GoFundMe campaign here.

Posted 18:16 Tuesday, Oct 6, 2020 In: Arts News

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