BWW Interview: Director of Culture Central Erica Love Looks Ahead To This Weekend's MIDSUMMER FESTIVAL

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BWW Interview: Director of Culture Central Erica Love Looks Ahead To This Weekend's MIDSUMMER FESTIVAL

This weekend sees a free one-day arts festival being streamed online, created and produced by the West Midlands Culture Response Unit (WMCRU). The Midsummer Festival will mark the Summer Solstice and celebrate the popular arts culture in the West Midlands. We had the opportunity to talk to the Director of Culture Central, Erica Love, about this exciting upcoming event.

What can viewers expect from the Midsummer Festival?

Midsummer Festival is a real celebration of arts and culture from across the West Midlands - featuring music, dance, art, photography and theatre. The day really does have something for everyone. We're also encouraging festival-goers to join in with the fun at home, with singalongs, craft sessions and even a dance party!

Can you pick out a few highlights of the festival?

It's so hard to choose, but I'll try and pick a couple to whet everyone's appetite!

Compton Verney are presenting a newly edited excerpt from A Midsummer Night's Dream in their grounds for a socially distanced live performance, which people can actually attend. To make it even more special, Compton Verney was the setting for the 1968 film starring Dame Judi Dench and Helen Mirren.

The festival will end with our Midsummer Closing Party, which will be hosted by DanceXchange's vogue dancer and teacher, Jason Andrew Guest. He'll be teaching audiences how to strike their best pose and vogue before letting loose on the dance floor for a dance party.

The event features unseen footage from some companies. What exclusives can we look forward to?

We've been very lucky that companies such as the RSC, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) and ACE Dance and Music have chosen Midsummer as the moment to unveil their new works.

BCMG will be sharing part of their new series, Soliloquies - Dialogues, which was commissioned in April and comments on life in lockdown. The wonderful ACE Dance and Music will be sharing their new work inspired by Ira Aldridge, celebrating his life and achievements as an African American actor in the UK.

The RSC will also be creating new content inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream - we've been extremely lucky!

Is there a link between Midsummer and Refugee Week happening this week?

The festival is taking place on World Refugee Day 2020, so it is important that we mark that moment in our programming. The theme for 2020 is around the concept of Imagine. Ikon Gallery and Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham are presenting Soapbox, which consists of 20 home-produced videos based on what it means to imagine. Birmingham Opera Company will be sharing an inspiring collection of digital shorts sharing refugee stories, and Maokwo will also be sharing Imagine, my reality, which is an artistic showcase and panel discussion.

This is the first event of its kind in the West Midlands. Was the festival in planning (in some format) prior to the Covid-19 outbreak or was that the trigger?

Covid-19 has made us all think and do things differently, and our response was for the cultural sector across the region to come together to support each other and our communities. The festival, inspired by Midsummer, has created the first of many moments for our organisations to celebrate and share with communities across the region to find moments of joy, reflection, connection and happiness.

Can you please explain a little about what the WMCRU aims to achieve with the Midsummer Festival and beyond?

We created the WMCRU as a direct response to the Covid-19 crisis. The team are busy working to co-ordinate a response on behalf of 100 arts organisations in the West Midlands in the short, medium and long term.

One of our aims is to respond to this crisis in a loud and collaborative way, and Midsummer is just the first in a series of moments we are looking to create during this time to bring our industry together and shout loudly and proudly about the talent we have here in our region. We'll be releasing details of our next project after Midsummer, so keep your eyes peeled!

The arts has always been a collaborative industry. Do you feel this lockdown period has brought venues, industry workers and audiences even closer together?

Absolutely, and I think the Midsummer Festival line-up is a great example of this. Midsummer features a range of disciplines being presented by both larger and smaller companies, rural and urban. I'm proud that we have over 30 organisations taking part in what is the first collaborative event of its kind from the Midlands.

The team working behind the scenes at WMCRU are also made up of people from regional arts organisations who are all working voluntarily during this time for the sheer love of the industry, whether that be whilst on furlough or in addition to their current roles.

Do you feel the industry has been sufficiently supported during such an unprecedented time?

There has been support for the sector that has been extremely useful in the short term, such as the Arts Council England's emergency response, the staff retention and self-employed scheme. However, there are a significant number of organisations and individuals who fall through the gaps of the available support.

In the medium to long term, the sector needs significant financial support to survive, and to implement ways of keeping audiences safe and innovating to do create experiences in new ways. The WMCRU is asking our MPs and all of us who love culture to make sure that that support is there, as one of the last sectors to be able to open our doors safely and recognition that the majority of the sector are charities/not for profit.

We are doing all we can as a sector and as the CRU to support organisations and individuals to do this.

Do you feel people's hunger for the arts will outweigh their trepidation when returning to theatres with our 'new normal'?

Indigo's 'After the interval' survey suggests that people are really missing live events, but are cautious to return to theatres without safety measures being in place. What is exciting though is that they also suggest they would be happy attending outdoor events, which could provide lots of opportunity. It's great news that Compton Verney have been able to use their outside space for their socially distanced performances this weekend.

What can audiences do to help/support your cause?

We are asking Midsummer audiences to donate to the Freedom Fund for Black Artists with MAIA. Ongoing, you can support our amazing wonderful sector in many ways; by watching or taking part online, writing to your local MP, donating the price of your tickets, treating someone to a gift voucher or membership, or by simply sharing the love online!

Can the Midsummer Festival performances be accessed following its livestream?

Yes, we'll be streaming our scheduled content from 11am-11pm on the Make It WM website. We've had such a fantastic response from organisations that we've actually filled our original schedule slots - but fear not, all other performances and content not in the main live stream will also be accessible through the Make It WM site throughout the day!

Tune in and watch the Midsummer Festival this Saturday (20 June) at

Photo credit: John Haynes

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From This Author Jenny Ell