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The festival in Folkestone celebrating community, collaboration, and connection

Take Up Space lived up its name by creating a more inclusive, diverse, and community led project

By Sophie Perry

Despite its relatively modest reputation on the South East coast, the small town of Folkestone is making a cultural, creative, and culinary name for itself in Kent and well beyond. In recent years the town has undergone a process of regeneration, transforming itself from a grey and forgotten coastal town to an emerging destination for the arts outside of London.

The town is home to an ever increasing and bustling range of independent restaurants, cafes, shops, art galleries, and performance spaces. The cultural hub of this small seaside town, aptly named Creative Folkestone, also boasts an impressive rooster of projects and events throughout the year including the Folkestone Artworks, Folkestone Triennial, and Folkestone Book Festival. I have previously written about the Folkestone Artworks and Triennial for The Gallyry, which sees exclusively created artwork by world famed artists such as Yoko Ono and Cornelia Parker littered throughout the town and its surrounding areas.

It is undeniable that this little seaside town is steadily carving a name for itself as a must-visit destination for arts and culture lovers out there. This year Creative Folkestone added a new project to its already impressive list: the Take Up Space festival. Homegrown in the town itself through the efforts of the Folkestone Women’s Forum, Take Up Space is a women’s festival which marked International Women’s Day 2020.

The festival ran from March 2nd to 8th and was, as the festival wrote themselves, “a five day celebration of community, collaboration, and connection in Folkestone.” The festival brought speakers, artists, activists, and makers together from across the world and consisted of a variety of events, workshops, and exhibitions. This was including, but not limited to, poetry, spoken word, film, dance, and performances.

I spoke with Katy Lockey, Aida Silvestri, and Nico Dunsbee who are some of the key founding members of the Take Up Space festival. Prior to the festival’s week-long run, we discussed the aims of Take Up Space, the importance of such events outside of London as well as the future development of inclusivity, and community engagement.

The festival is described as having “grown” out of different International Women’s Day festivals, events, and exhibitions put on in Folkestone in previous years. With its emphasis on community, collaboration, and connection within the local area, Take Up Space is a festival that was very much made by the women of Folkestone for the women of Folkestone.

Katy Lockey, who runs and co-founded the Folkestone Women’s Forum with Catherine Sangster, described how she has been involved in International Women’s Day events in Folkestone since 2015. “Last year, Catherine and I curated a day of the International Women’s Day Festival and we really enjoyed it. We really enjoyed putting that together and working alongside community groups of women that were also involved. That put us in a great position this year with the Creative Foundation and Folkestone Fringe to co-curate with those two organisations the enormous beast that is now the Take Up Space festival!”

“With its emphasis on community, collaboration, and connection within the local area, Take Up Space is a festival that was very much made by the women of Folkestone for the women of Folkestone.“

In much the same way, both Aida Silvestri and Nico Dunsbee describe how their involvement in Take Up Space stemmed from their engagement in previous years through art exhibitions. Silvestri, who is an artist, explained that both she and Dunsbee, who is co-curator and assistant to Lockey, decided to take part in last year’s exhibition which was “very successful.” It was “brilliant to bring together diverse work and showcase the talent of Folkestone’s women,” Silvestri also added, “so I agreed to do the same this year.” Dunsbee added to Silvestri’s words by pointing out that “we really enjoyed it and made a lot of great connections; we had a fantastic exhibition. So, we just sort went, ‘well, of course we’re going to do it next year!’. It wasn’t even a question to us.”

It is important to note that unlike a lot of other small towns, Folkestone is already lucky enough to have a “rich cultural and creative economy and scene.” Therefore, questions around what the festival can bring to the area, who it can include, and how it differs to other festivals of its kind are complex ones. During the festival’s development process these concerns “weighed quite heavily on us,” Lockey stated.

Dunsbee, who comes from an art history background, noted that “when you usually see arts events, they are high-brow in the sense that they are inaccessible.” In contrast, the founders of Take Up Space aimed to make the exhibitions for the festival, alongside the wider festival itself, as “open as possible.” This was achieved by including artists of all ages, those who may not have exhibited work before and those who may have thought their work could not even be exhibited in the first place. In this way, Take Up Space is about “proper community engagement” and not just including certain groups or individuals “so you can tick in a box.”

Take Up Space is about “proper community engagement” and not just including certain groups or individuals “so you can tick in a box.”“

In fact, the notion of community is at the very heart of Take Up Space. Dunsbee wenton to explain that the “community engagement projects’ held throughout the festival, such workshops with domestic abuse survivors and workshops to empower young girls, were “one of the main parts of the festival.” Lockey reinforced this idea, as she wants Take Up Space to actually help “build community” by “inviting more women into experiencing something they haven’t experienced before, using the arts as a tool.”

By both helping to create new communities and building-on existing ones, Lockey believes the festival can “attract and represent the diverse community of women” that live in Folkestone and its surrounding areas. “Rather than,” she continued, “just include the same ones that would come to any old arts festival.” This focus on a diverse community is important for the inclusion of marginalised groups and those who often feel like their voices are not represented at arts festivals. As Silvestri notes, she herself was “excited to see a lot of faces that look like me” because the minority groups in the town sometimes get “forgotten.”

The inclusion of marginalised groups in Take Up Space holds a particular socio-economic precedence that goes far beyond the usual transparency of equality and diversity measures. Given Folkestone’s locality on the South-Eastern tip of England with its close proximity to the ferry ports of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, narratives around migrancy, belonging, and identity are potent. Often more than not, these narratives are infused with negative, racist, and xenophobic ideas.

Silvestri, in particular, observes the importance of these narratives as her “artistic work is all to do with migrancy and movement.” She points out how “the political position of Folkestone is quite important now,” especially given that “there is a lot of hostility after Brexit towards minority groups.” Whilst she does note that the festival has helped to engage certain groups that are underrepresented and marginalised, she asserts that we still “need to be better.”

Take Up Space is working towards creating a more inclusive, diverse, and community led project in Folkestone...“

Whilst only in its sophomore year, Take Up Space is working towards creating a more inclusive, diverse, and community led project in Folkestone to celebrate both the women of the town and International Women’s Day. With the first Take Up Space festival barely finished, the founders are already looking to 2021 in order to improve upon their reach, inclusivity, and contemporary relevance. Given the success of this year’s project, there is certainly more space to take up in both Kent and beyond.

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