Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Curious Agenda team

A Curious Agenda

Miia Forbes has the unusual title of Director of Imagination and she looks back with Jude Montague on an ambitious year in Hastings.

JUDE: Curious Agenda has come up with inclusive, multi-disciplinary ways to celebrate our town, for families, artists and all ages. You organised ‘A Curious Town Dreams’ festival. I was bowled over by the energy and delights as part of the event and really proud to be included in a small way. It was a huge project to pull off – a five-day combined arts festival including so many different people. A few highlights for me were Xena Flame’s wonderful hoop performance at the cabaret night and Sam Brown’s beautiful looping violin music in Gotham Alley. But although it’s not fair to pick people out of the glorious combination of artistic-soup that you achieved, I would like to start off by asking you for a couple of your highlights.

MIIA: Those were definitely a couple of our highlights too! Although it’s absolutely impossible to choose from the 100 incredible artists and performers involved… The cabaret was truly something special and we were blown away by ALL our cabaret performers and our incredible MCs, The Duchess and Son (Twice Shy Theatre & Des O’Connor). Finishing the show dancing to Des’ fire sax in Gotham Alley felt magical. Oh and we have become Heather Duster’s #1 fans after both her Drag Bingo night and Drag Sing-a-long. There were all manner of intimate and walkabout performances for the audience to discover if they were curious. They were all fantastic and played a part in making the festival unique, but we have to single out Becca Horn, who embodied 3 very different characters across the festival, each leaving their mark on the people who experienced them and bringing an element of silliness and the whimsical. Val’s aura tapping on the opening night was the stuff of dreams, the kind you come out of feeling unsure of what is/isn’t real anymore.

Becca Horn

JUDE: I’d like to applaud and find out more about the team who organise Curious Agenda. Yes, it’s an East Sussex based social enterprise working to inspire curiosity and creativity in individuals of all ages and backgrounds – but can we have a little more of a peek behind the scenes into what goes on? What can you share with us about yourselves and your process?

MIIA: Madness is always a good place to start! We like to start our creative process with ALL the ideas, even the insane ones, and then whittle it right down. We like to shoot for the moon! I have a million ideas a minute, and it’s Kate and Ruby who help me narrow it down to what is feasible at that point in time. No two days are the same in our office: we could be sorting admin, coming up with new projects, or running around Hastings in our pyjamas. In the past few months our day-to-day has been very festival-heavy, so liaising with 100 artists and performers, creating set pieces and of course dealing with the always enjoyable legalities of a big project like that!

There are three of us in the core Curious Agenda Team (CAT), though we work with a larger Dream Team for bigger events, such as the festival or when we need a member’s specialist skills. We also brought on two youth members, Ash and Charlie, for this year’s festival who both played important parts in making it happen (thank you!) and we plan to involve more young people in future projects.

  • Miia, Curious Agenda’s Director of Imagination, has a background in education, including as a teacher and leader of an array of creative clubs. She has also previously run immersive superclubs and worked as a creative consultant. She has spent her life surrounded by performers and artists, witnessing the workings of events, exhibitions, etc from behind the scenes. She is also more than a little obsessed with cats, one of the reasons you may notice cats appear in various places across the business/branding/projects. We abjure that well-known curious cat quote at Curious Agenda HQ, going with “Curiosity Thrilled the Cat” instead!
  • Kate, Producer of Wonder, also runs Create & Gather alongside Rachel from The Pop-Up Emporium. They work to support local makers and creators through pop-ups, workshops and meet ups. She has been working hard preparing for their pop-up shop launch on Wednesday 5 June in St Andrews Mews, which the whole team are very excited about, especially as it will be selling the work of two Curious Team members! Kate will not only be co-managing it, but also selling her beautiful upcycled Snag it Society pieces (including her coveted fringe jackets) and Ruby will also be displaying her ceramic wares.
  • Ruby, Curiosity Coordinator, has tried out every creative venture one could think of! Originally an actor, Ruby is now also a writer, ceramicist, drama teacher and all-round storyteller. She is also very capable and efficient at getting through admin, much to Miia and Kate’s relief, as it is something they would rather hide from.

JUDE: Let’s look back in a bit more detail at the dreams we had during the festival and the art. I loved all the bed installations, the living bed in the festival cave and the hypnotic bed, ‘BE GOOD’ was a bit scary. And the colourful installations that took over the Observer building really set a fantastic mood for the expressive workshops. It generally was a riot of colour and atmosphere.  Can you tell me a bit more about the art installations, did your dreams come true? What worked particularly well in your opinion?

MIIA: Well, our dreams certainly came true in the sense that we were blown away by how the space looked once everything all came together. It’s one thing for us to imagine how it’s going to look before it’s all up, but then when we could actually stand in the middle of it all, it just looked fabulous and colourful and curious beyond our wildest dreams! It was also wonderful to be able to give the artists full creative license when it came to the bed installations, because the theme of ‘Dreams’ was interpreted so differently by everyone. We ended up with four wildly different bed installations, and it was just so interesting to see where each set of artists took that prompt!

Seeing Harper’s Caves transformed was special and you felt you were transported to a new world in each one, from black and white Ottopian madness to a magical woodland. The living bed, Imagication was dreamt up by Miia long before the festival planning started and it was such an honour to see horticulturalist Kiya-Ellen Rose bring it to life alongside Radiator Arts. Look out for the evolution of the bed in Coastal Currents.

We loved seeing everyone get curious in the spaces and spotting hidden artwork and curios, such as Mark Daniels’ foxes and badgers and Kate Bruce and Charlotte Rose’s many wood pieces. It was gratifying to see people spotting new pieces each time they returned to the spaces. Kitty, half of our wonderful festival photographer team Lineker, said she managed to spot something new every day and they were there for the entire duration of the festival looking at everything carefully through a lens! This is exactly what we hoped for and will be something we build even more on next year. There may even be plans afoot already for not only a kid’s treasure hunt, but also an ambitious treasure hunt for adults, because who doesn’t love finding treasure! Hastings is great for finding treasures every day, whether an unusual charity shop find, shell on the beach or someone’s story.

We want to encourage people to keep looking around their surroundings with that sense of wonder as there are hidden curiosities, beauties and stories to find everywhere you go, you just have to be looking for them. We will continue to look for opportunities to encourage this: look out for curious mini trails for kids coming soon and grab a free copy of the Old Town Story Trail map created for the festival (available all year around Old Town, or though us, just drop us a message) and listen to the wonderful audio story trail that encourages you to really experience your surroundings.

JUDE: Performances can be stressful, getting everything right on the night is so hard as so much can go wrong. Was there any moment at which you thought – oh no what’s going on?… is this all out of control!? It’s a nightmare!

MIIA: Luckily, we had a few mini stresses but no absolute disasters, as far as we can remember. But you’re absolutely right, there are always things that are bound to go wrong on the night, no matter how well you plan. The train strikes happening over three of the five festival days also threw a bit of a spanner in the works and we had to call in several last-minute favours of lifts/accommodation, as did several of our performers. Luckily all of our acts managed to make it, even if some attendees from out of town couldn’t.

A catastrophe almost occured when Miia, running on very little sleep in the lead-up to the festival, started getting a migraine that could have knocked her out for the whole festival. Luckily she made the executive decision to miss out on Drag Bingo, which she was devastated about, to go home to stick her head in some icy water and lie in the dark heavily medicated which did the trick and we didn’t have to try to run the festival without her at the helm! Miia still got to catch Heather Duster doing her drag sing along for the festival close, so she could join in the Duster fan club with the rest of the team.

JUDE: Little Mashers shop on Kings Road together with ZEROH did so many lovely family workshops; I loved the butterfly wings project, and I saw the artist Loulou Cousins running a very interesting small book session. There was a combination of family and adult-focused entertainment, so you really worked hard to meet the needs of different ages to create an inclusive festival atmosphere. Can you tell me something about working with different groups in the same festival and how you managed to do this?

MIIA: We definitely wanted the festival to have something for everyone, and we hope we did a good job at that. The evening shows were mostly adult-only and so it was really important to us that we had enough stuff on the schedule for kids too, especially since it was half term. It was a joy to us when workshop-runners said they didn’t mind what age groups came to their workshops, because it’s always lovely when you have a 10-year-old and a 50-year-old in the same room, getting inspired by the same thing. It kind of proves our whole ethos; that a childlike sense of wonder is something that we think we lose as we get older, when really it has just been hiding away. We’re here to bring it back out!

We got some lovely feedback from parents who said how refreshing it was to have a festival which kids could enjoy and the parents could too, even if they didn’t come to the adult specific events.

Whilst parents spent time studying art work, watching performances or chatting with friends there was plenty to keep children curious, with artwork and curiosities to look at everywhere, crafts/fancy dress/books/toys and more in the kids area, new noises to create in Lifesize CIC’s Sonic Garden, hook-a-duck to play (we witnessed one child’s determination to get them all when we returned almost half an hour later to see them still at it), bubbles to dance in, unusual characters to encounter and more. To top it all off there was even a real life singing mermaid! It was an absolute joy seeing so many children (as well as some adults) so mesmerized by Esmerelda and running down Gotham Alley excitedly telling people what they had seen.

The spaces were designed for both adults and children to get curious in, with such a wide variety of things to discover – even within the same age group what we are curious about differs widely, so it is hard to guess what will grab someone’s attention. We hope we provided enough variety to get everyone feeling at least a little curious.

JUDE: I love the way you are bringing people together. The energy rolls forward. What can we expect next from Curious Agenda?

MIIA: Planning is already in process for next year’s festival, which we are very excited about. We won’t be announcing the theme quite yet, though we aren’t keeping it a guarded secret either. We have mentioned it and planted the seed with some artists and performers already, and there are some really exciting ideas already starting to sprout.

We will be including many of this year’s dreamy creatives again, as well as bringing in some exciting new collaborators! While we do reach out to some artists and performers – for example if we have recently discovered them and felt like they could create something amazing to fit the theme – we are unable to do as much of this as we would like, so we would love to hear from anyone who would be interested in getting involved. Hastings is jam packed with amazing artistic individuals and groups and there are still so many more we have yet to discover. We may already love your work and follow you on Instagram, but we won’t be able to look through all the amazing creatives we follow, so please just drop us a message expressing interest and if you happen to already have an idea of something you would like to create or perform/a workshop you’d like to run, we are all ears. We also welcome all involvement by groups from the community, including children and young people. We will do our best to try to facilitate as many people’s ideas as we can.

We are also looking to include more outdoor activities in next year’s programme, using the natural world in a way we weren’t able to this year. We had an enormous amount to accomplish in a short space of time before A Curious Town Dreams so we couldn’t incorporate more spaces too. We’d like to branch out around Hastings & St Leonards more next year. We are still working on the logistics, but the plan is to have some of our events, such as our workshops, spread out over several weeks, to allow for even more variety and give people more opportunity to attend multiple workshops. We want to help facilitate the workshops that people want to run as much as we can.

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Posted 20:27 Sunday, Nov 5, 2023 In: Festivals

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