Acts of Radical Imagination 4: Electric Medway 

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Electric Medway 2022

Ahead of next month’s Electric Medway Festival we sat down with Creative Director Kevin Grist to understand how Electric Medway champions everyone’s right to be a digital storyteller.

Why digital art?
Because it’s accessible. These days, people can create and experience art using a mobile phone. A lot of what we do is about giving people a sense of pride in where they live. If you can give people the chance to see their town presented in a slightly different way, or the chance to tell their own stories and give them a voice, those two things are really important in building up communities – and people’s lives.

Why Medway?
Why not Medway? It’s a really interesting place with lots of hidden stories and places to uncover. There’s scope to harness some of the energy of Medway’s huge DIY indie scene. Our learning programmes help people get into jobs in TV, coding, AI, film and gaming along the Thames Estuary Production Corridor.

Festivals are at the core of Medway’s cultural offer. How important is this aspect of your work?
It’s really important. It gives us a chance to show off all the amazing work created throughout the year by local people and artists. Everything feeds into the festivals.

How do you build your audience?
By making work that’s new, innovative, relevant and tells the stories of Medway. It’s about engagement on a hyperlocal level; working with people over a period of time.

Electric Medway 2022

Photos credit: Rikard Osterlund

What do you mean by a hyper local focus
We run projects within a specific neighbourhood, street or residential area. And we’re trying to do that over a longer period to build trust and have real impact. This year, the festival is working intensely along the Old High St Intra, Melville Court in Brompton and Luton Library to deliver projection mapping, 3D scanning and augmented reality projects. It wouldn’t happen without great partnerships – housing, libraries, health and co-funding from other arts orgs such as Ideas Test, The HSHAZ Cultural Consortium, and MSL Projects.

Are there challenges of working sustainably with immersive technology? How do you go about tackling that?
Of course. The pace at which devices go out of date means batteries and components often get thrown away. We are building a repository of equipment to loan people in our Electric Medway Hack programme to reduce waste.

You seem to work with an incredible range of collaborators from fabricators to coders, composers and animators – how do you seek them out?
Mostly through open commissioning. We also challenge the notion of ‘the artist’, a lot of creative people locally wouldn’t call themselves artists so we try and keep it very accessible. We have worked with hundreds of brilliant creative people from Medway and beyond.

You are very passionate and generous about skills sharing and training for young people and creatives, tell us more?
Our Electric Medway Hack programme upskills artists, teachers and young people. We work in an area where it’s easy to be left behind in terms of technical skills. A lot of people want to know how to tell stories, teach and deliver workshops in new mediums like VR, augmented reality and game engines. Over 45 people have engaged with Hack so far, most of whom are women which is really exciting.

Did you imagine you would run your own company? What are the joys and challenges of that?

No! It’s a mixture of satisfaction and stress, but mostly satisfaction. Freedom to make creative decisions, and working with new tech makes it one of the most rewarding jobs. Especially when you know the work has a positive impact on participants.

What’s your background and training?
I started out as a musician and trained in music production. I cut my teeth in community arts with my first job in a youth centre on the housing estate I grew up on in Brighton where I’d run music sessions, manage projects and fundraise. We gave kids opportunities to record in a studio and make music videos. As a Relationship Manager for Music and Music Hubs at Arts Council England I championed informal learning and technology. That thread of making technology and creativity really easy is now seen in Electric Medway.

What advice would you give your younger self if you were starting out now?
Hold your nerve. Keep knocking at doors. Get good at lots of things, but get really, really good at just one thing.

What do you want to imagine that Medway looks and feels like as a place to live and work in 2030?
We work along The Old High Street Intra and you can see huge potential for change in the area with lots of indie businesses popping up. I’d like to think that a place like Intra (and other parts of Medway) can become really iconic but affordable places for people to hang out, feel safe, and enjoy cultural events – including Electric Medway Festival of course! Find out more about Electric Medway and the Electric Medway Festival 27-29 October 2023 via their website www.electricmedway.org or on social media @ElectricMedway.

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