Q&A with Keynote Speaker Kresanna Aigner
Based in rural Scotland, Kresanna Aigner is the Artistic Director of the biennial Findhorn Bay Festival. She has previously worked across a spectrum of arts sector roles both in Scotland and Northern Island, including being the former Edinburgh Touring Circuit Coordinator, Audience Development & Event Manager for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Audience Development & Folk Music Programming for Belfast Festival at Queens and the Artist and Promoter Liason for the Celtic Connections Festival. In addition to this Kresanna developed the programme for, and produced the inaugural Culture Night Belfast, where over 100 arts and cultural organisations took part in a one-night showcase extravaganza, drawing an audience of 15,000 families.
Produced by Findhorn Bay Arts, the Findhorn Bay Festival attracts an attendance of over 13,000 people and engages with over 600 local participants and 100 volunteers. The Festival has an estimated economic impact of almost £875,000 to the region, and as a result, secured the 2015 Creative Place Award for the Forres area. For Artstate Bathurst, Kresanna will be sharing her experiences with regional creative economies in her keynote Making Creative Things Happen on Saturday 3 November.
We recently had a chat with Kresanna about the role of arts festivals in regional locations, and what she’s hoping delegates will take away from her Artstate keynote!
Image: Kresanna Aigner. Photo supplied.
1. You’re the Director of the Findhorn Bay Arts. Can you tell me about the organisation and its festival?
Findhorn Bay Arts is an award-winning creative producer of cultural events and activities rooted in the communities of Moray. We produce creative events and experiences across different art
forms that engage with Moray audiences and entice visitors to the region.
Driven by a passion to celebrate and promote the area as a place of outstanding arts and culture, Findhorn Bay Arts was established in 2012 as a non-profit organisation and company limited by
Situated in the West of Moray amongst the coastal communities of Findhorn, Forres and surrounding rural villages, our early work was set against a backdrop of local economic uncertainty; in 2011 the closure of RAF Kinloss drained the region of hundreds of families and in 2013 the Moray local authority completely withdrew funding for the arts and culture sector.
Recognising the vitality of the Moray creative sector and the opportunity for arts and culture to contribute to community regeneration, education, and local development, we worked to establish a year round programme of arts and culture activities and events. Through our work we have forged strong connections, developed our audiences, and built partnerships across the arts and local communities.
Since April 2013, we have delivered creative activities aligned with Creative Scotland’s ten year strategy, Time to Shine Youth Arts Strategy and the Moray Cultural Strategy. Our projects have developed to showcase the talents of the local creative community, have contributed to creative learning, and have strengthened relationships and networks within the sector whilst also attracting substantial inward investment.
2. Can you tell me about the role arts and culture has played in the Moray region?
One of Moray’s strengths is the diverse and incredibly vibrant cultural sector. The region is rich in creativity where traditional expressions of popular culture are complemented by new work and fresh initiatives by the arts and creative sector.
Moray is the only Scottish Local Authority to experience the entire withdrawal of funds to support the arts and culture sector. This context presents a pressing need to find diverse activities and sustainable income streams to make the area an attractive and thriving community. The creative community within the region has responded to this context by coming together and building new partnerships and ways of working to help create a thriving place.
The opportunity to garner collective strength and experience in economic adversity has created new ways of thinking and new ways of working. Local evidence has shown the positive results achieved by working in partnership. Strong visitor numbers are recorded across the region at events and festivals throughout the year and include those delivered by Findhorn Bay Arts, demonstrating a positive return in investment and generation of increased visitor spend.
By facing financial challenge, opportunity has arisen within the sector. Through the Moray Place Partnership (an award supported by Creative Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise), the local authority is again engaging with the arts sector, recognising the benefits it brings to the region.
3. You’ve previously worked for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Belfast Festival — how does the Findhorn Bay Arts Festival differ in your opinion?
Presenting and producing in a rural context presents different types of challenges and considerations such as;
- Withdrawal of local authority arts funding and many other regional services/
- Although the population here is steadily growing, the region has a declining birth rate and experiences a consistent net migration of young people between 16-29 years of age. The resulting demographic profile is becoming increasingly older, placing distinct challenges on service provision, infrastructure and economic prosperity.
- Digital infrastructure and connectivity in the area, although improving, lags behind the national standard/
- Forres is connected by a trunk road extending 30 miles west to Inverness and 80 miles east to Aberdeen. The area has recently suffered from cuts to buses servicing Forres into the evening and from rural services to the surrounding villages being withdrawn/
Producing in a rural context requires sensitivity and care. After producing an event I cant just slip away into my part of town, and hide away… if I need to buy milk, bread, fuel my car…everywhere I go I will bump into people that our creative activities have impacted on one way or another. In a sense this can make me more vulnerable and all the more reason why sensitivity, care and attention to detail is required.
It is important to make the time to meet with people; hold focus groups, attend community conversations, & coffee mornings, take part in other local events and happenings. We aim to demonstrate through action and deed the many benefits of creativity being immersed in the local small community can bring; it is important to bring the local community on the journey with us.
The other challenge can be about event resources: equipment, experienced event staff, equipped venues and so on. We embrace this challenge through our approach to skill development — building skills locally, and also bringing in expertise when it is needed. This helps to develop networks and means we don’t work in a silo.
4. What do you hope people can take away from your keynote session?
Insight into the challenges, opportunities and strategies in engaging rural communities in arts, drawing from my experience of producing activities and events in the rural region of Moray in the NE of Scotland.
5. Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at Artstate Bathurst?
Making new connections, experiencing the creative explosion that looks set to take place and exploring the potential for future collaboration.
For more information on Kresanna Aigner visit her biography, and keynote Making Creative Things Happen.
To register for Artstate Bathurst‘s Speakers Program, click here.