The month of May usually sees Oxfordshire’s artists fling open the doors of their studios and galleries, as visitors from around the county and beyond explore their creations. In response to the coronavirus lockdown, the festival has moved online, and Virtual Artweeks is currently in full swing. We chatted with Esther Lafferty, Director, about what she’s enjoyed so far, and what’s coming up…
Daily Info: What were the challenges of moving Artweeks online? Have there been any unexpected advantages?
Esther Lafferty: We announced that we were taking the festival online as soon as the lockdown started, back in March. At that point we didn’t have a clear vision of what that meant, or whether some venues might still be able to open cautiously, and we were doing a lot of frenzied head scratching behind the scenes. The challenges have mostly been in man-power - as Artweeks is organised by two of us, both of whom are part-timers and had COVID-related challenges to manage in our own home lives too - and technological. Previously, the Artweeks website was a support for the physical festival which offered additional information. In six weeks we transformed it into a multimedia experience, with literally thousands of images and hours of varied video footage, to illustrate the surprising breadth of art on show within the festival and showcase each artist individually. Visitors can see art and more by over 600 local artists.
Although the circumstances would never have been of anyone’s choosing, I am proud to say that many of the county’s creative community turned their talents away from the easel, the potter’s wheel or the silversmith’s workbench to embrace new video-editing software and apps, flipbooks and virtual exhibitions, and have even scheduled live-stream events. These skills and the virtual offering we have developed as a result will now be part of the festival in future years which is great – it enables people to ‘visit’ venues they wouldn’t normally be able to reach easily and to visit far more artists than they could normally reach driving between them. It’s a green way to enjoy the festival - and people from around the world can come along too!
DI: What has been your favourite thing about the virtual festival so far?
EL: One of the innovations we have introduced is a rolling art wall, so you can watch a festival ‘live-stream’ of fresh art from all the artists involved. I love that every time I hop over to that webpage there’s an entirely new selection of pictures – it’s a great one to bookmark. And now it’s behind me, I can say in retrospect that I enjoyed the creative challenge of developing the virtual platform!
DI: There's a huge amount of art on the website. What approach would you recommend for new viewers wanting to take it all in?
EL: To help visitors navigate the huge array of art on show, we are showcasing a different theme each day (although viewers can choose to follow an alternative art trail or choose their own from 24). Each of the trails begin with a video ‘taster’, and there are some suggested highlights, or you can explore artists’ galleries that include art on the theme, simply choosing those that catch your eye.
These offer you, for example, a trip to the coast that even includes fish and chips and an ice-lolly, or a day in the garden. If, however, you’re suffering from wanderlust in lock-down then there’s an Adventures Abroad option, with art to explore inspired by places from the Arctic to the Antarctic! You’d be amazed by some of the journeys you can take through the eyes of Oxfordshire artists.
DI: What trails are you most looking forward to coming up over the next few days?
EL: I’m particularly looking forward to the ‘Into The Woods’ trail on Saturday (16th) as there’s such a variety of art, from jewellery to sculpture inspired by forests and trees as well as unusual pieces created from wood. At this time of year, many of us would normally be walking in local bluebell woods, enjoying the flowers, birds and country wildlife, and I hope it will offer a flavour of that to people stuck at home. We also have an intriguing take on Alice’s Wonderland for the final day of the festival (25th) which promises some surprises. With a quirkier flavour, it will offer something a little bit different from the other trails.
DI: Have you already got plans for next year's Artweeks?
EL: The dates for Oxfordshire Artweeks 2021 are already set: May 1st – 23rd. I hope we’ll be able to bring together the usual annual exhibitions across Oxfordshire and this new virtual event, for a bigger art extravaganza than ever!
Today's trail: rivers and lakes!