The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The City of London Festival is an arts festival that has taken route in the international financial center of the City
Kathryn McDowell
The festival seems to focus on a country and its culture each year — what is the concept behind this?
Again, it has greatly to do with the nature of the City. We think of the country chosen as the theme as a trading partner of the City, rather than a country. It was the 9.11 in the year I took the festival job. When I saw the people gathering in St Paul’s looking totally devastated, I had a strong impression of how close they were feeling towards New York — and I realized they were in a special relationship, holding open-line conferences and so on. In a way to the people working in the City, New York means more than other cities in the UK, through their day to day business together. So I thought of looking at countries and introducing them from the angle of the City’s trading partners. I wanted to show that a global trading place such as the City can reflect a cultural exchange that mirrors the financial exchange that goes on every day.
Last year we focused on South Africa on a big scale, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the country’s democratization. This year features Holland, which also has a long history of trade with London. We’ve invited Ton Koopman, one of the world’s leading performers of Bach and his ensemble, the ICP Orchestra, the legendary Dutch jazz group, and a lot of other individual musicians. There will be the Dutch cinema in the Barbican, and a Dutch artist is bringing in his installation of light and sound called ‘Stalagmites’.
Next year is Japan. Needless to say Japan has a deep relationship with the City. Japanese companies play an enormous role there, and their presence has been always very strong since the Fifties. I felt from conversation with business people that they were thinking it would be a good time to concentrate on Japan. The Lord Mayor for the next term is also very familiar with Japan, and has worked in Japan for many years. So it will be a big event like last year’s South African festival. As I’ve mentioned, I am strongly aware of ‘contemporary’ as oppose to ‘tradition’, so it will be a programme in which the long history of Japan and cutting-edge arts can be well contrasted. We are planning on a double-bill production of Noh and 20th century opera, there may be a ‘syomyo’ performance lined up along with club music — not only the performing arts but there will also be opportunities to see Japanese ‘anime’, fashion or even food culture all of which are very popular here. I listen to the advice of and closely work with producers, agents and specialists in each field who know a lot and have strong connections with Japan, so I expect it will be a wide-ranging, rich programme.

Who runs the festival and how is it funded?
The festival is run by City Arts Trust, which is an independent, charitable organization set up for cultural and educational activities. The core source of funds is the Corporation of London, and it works on a matching system with other partners from the business sector with whom we have a positive relationship. PricewaterhouseCoopers is the principal sponsor of the festival, there is a company sponsoring education programmes, and companies who support particular events of the year. And we receive grants from funding bodies and sales from our box office. For promotion and publicity, we have a media partner that changes every year — this year it’s the Times, last year it was Independent. We also have a strong relation with Radio 3, through which 15 to 18 of our concerts are broadcasted every year enabling people outside London to experience the festival.
One of the greatest joys of the City of London Festival is that the director is hired both to devise artistic plans and then seek financial underpinning to deliver them. So I have both roles as artistic and executive director, which I think is a good discipline. In the City we see that business is all about risks — calculated risks — one must always research and evaluate what one is going to do. In the same way, I need to explore new artistic ideas while being realistic about what is possible.
Every year after the festival, I immediately gather the whole team, before our part-time staff gets dispersed, to review every single event from different view points. We look at previews and reviews in the press dealing with artistic quality, get the reaction from our business partners — whether they and their clients were satisfied, saw an enhancement of the companies’ branding — see our ticket sales, look back to see if we could have run the events in a better way. Most importantly, we pay attention to our audience — whether we could attract new people, or whether they reflected the wider London community we have now. After all these meetings we submit a comprehensive report of the festival to the Corporation of London.

In what way does the festival contribute the revitalization of the City and its neighbouring community?
Our festival puts lots of emphasis on education and community programmes. We have a core team that works all year round to take the essence of the festival outside the City. With our business partners we have special projects using the arts to create leadership development and team building in companies. And in contrast to all these international companies in the Square Mile, we have communities just a few steps away that are some of the most socially-deprived areas of London, where people from various different backgrounds live, people who have few opportunities to be in touch with the arts. I think it extremely important to understand the cultural diversity of the city. So in order to engage these people in the arts and in the festival, we provide programmes that run throughout the year. We go to schools and create music, dance and drama with children based on the history of the City and London, and present these during the festival. This year for example, the children are making banners with their image of the city’s history — such as the Great Fire, the plague of London when many people died and so on — then each child will hold their banner and march in the procession into the City on the opening day of the festival. Other community projects involve local dance groups of all genres and ages — from teenagers to senior citizens or ‘recycled teenagers’ as they like to be known — who take part in the opening of the festival and dance on streets and outdoor spaces. These are people who normally never come inside the City. We had a fascinating event last year, when that great trumpeter of South Africa, Hugh Masekela took the lead and got some 2000 people singing in chorus in St Paul’s. They had never sung before, but absolutely stole the show in the end. If arts organizations can offer projects of good quality that can relate to their own area and problems, and engage the people in a way they never forget, it will certainly benefit the revitalization of the community.
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