After heading the Dulwich Festival for eighteen years Alpha Hopkins is handing the baton over. The Festival, which began in 1993 was originated by three local working mums, Marguerite Weedy, Alison Lloyd and Valerie Thorncroft. Their successors, Alpha Hopkins and Nina Jex were also working mums when they took over. In the following year, Dulwich Artists’ Open House, curated by Rachel Gluyas and Liz Boyd was launched to compliment the original Festival’s format. The Dulwich Festival has, over many years, maintained a very high standard and has been a much looked forward to annual event. Even during the restrictions of the past two years, the organisers have managed to stage both the Festival and Artists’ Open House online. What a remarkable record! The Journal has asked Alpha and Rachel to reflect on the events of these years.
Alpha Hopkins, Director, The Dulwich Festival 2004-2021 writes:
As my time as Director of the Dulwich Festival comes to an end, I look back on all the events and endeavours with joy and no small amount of amazement that the Festival team and wider community brought so many diverse and wonderful experiences to Dulwich during those eighteen years. I can still hear the rapturous applause at the premier of The Mozart Question with Michael Morpurgo and The Dante Quartet; still feel the compassion in the audience as author Judith Kerr related the facts surrounding her escape as a child from Nazi Germany and her immense gratitude towards Britain and its then ready acceptance of refugees; and still sense the buzz of excitement at the visit of performance group, The Last Poets, from the US in 2018. And that is just a fraction of the moments that spring to mind. We eventually commissioned Icelandic film-maker, Odinn Orn Hilmarsson to document each Festival & Artists’ Open House and these can be viewed on the Dulwich Festival You Tube channel as a vibrant reminder. I just wish we had captured the many other inspirational performers and speakers in action, including amongst many others John Hegley, Jo Brand, Patrick Holden, the Chilingirian Quartet, Max Porter, Andrew Motion, Craig Sams, The Swingle Singers and Imelda May.
In some years we adopted an over-arching theme to the Festival, which worked incredibly well, including: the Dulwich Street Art Festival in 2013 with Ingrid Beazley; an exploration of the history and musical life of Christ’s Chapel during its 400th anniversary year in 2016 with the Dulwich Estate; and free taster sessions at all local sports clubs in celebration of the London Olympics in 2012, with great support from all involved.
Holding the position of Director of the Dulwich Festival has of course been a responsibility, ensuring that the charity is well managed financially and is meeting its artistic objectives, but it has also been a privilege to work with many dedicated colleagues including the Trustees, who are so generous with their time and expertise. We have been supported by many local organisations without whom it just would not have been possible to create the Festival, including The Rotary Club of Dulwich & Peckham, the London Wildlife Trust, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Friends of Dulwich Park, Dulwich Going Greener, Bell House and of course, the Dulwich Society. It has also been remarkable how we have been welcomed in by so many churches, sports clubs and schools who have hosted events, and generously supported by many sponsors including long-term partners Suzanne James Catering, R. Woodfall Opticians and Ludlow Thompson.
Whilst each year has brought the challenge of creating a new programme, the unifying thread has been the amazing Festival team. There are so many colleagues I would like to thank for their unstinting support, I know they will forgive me if I just give a huge vote of thanks to Alison and Marguerite who have remained kindly guides since they too stood down as Directors, Nina Jex and Simon Edwards who initially ran the Festival with me, Ken and Barbara Deller who were Trustees and continued to support the Festival for many years, Alastair Hanton who quietly guided me in our environmental and social justice events, Ingrid Beazley who brought such energy to establish the Dulwich Outdoor Gallery, Rose Chapman and her family who have continually supported the Festival, Rachel Gluyas & Liz Boyd who have developed the Artists’ Open House with tremendous drive and good humour, and Mark Arn whose graphic design has elevated the Festival beyond measure.
I am already missing creating next year’s programme but definitely looking forward to the new chapter in the Dulwich Festival story.
Rachel Gluyas Co-ordinator of Dulwich Artists’ Open House writes:
The Dulwich Festival Artists’ Open House takes place over two weekends in May. What began as a small event with around 25 artists has grown to include over 250 artists at 170 venues. At its heart it is still very much a community event which aims to celebrate local talent and give a platform to both emerging and established artists, showcasing work in a variety of media from Fine Art to Furniture, Glass, Ceramics, Jewellery, Homewares and more.
Many of the artists who take part have done so since the early days and it is wonderful for those of us working on the organisation to see the breadth of talent involved. Many are professional artists who enjoy the opportunity to connect with the local community but the event is also a good springboard for artists who are developing and evolving their talent and who are keen to receive feedback from visitors and for whom working towards an exhibition helps inspire, consolidate and curate their best work. Many of the artists we work with have become friends but new artists are always welcomed and this ebb and flow keeps the event fresh.
Now approaching its 18th year Artists' Open House has become so established in the local calendar that visitors return each year to revisit their favourite artists and also to discover new talent. A large part of the appeal is that visitors can see art in a domestic setting normally closed to the public and in a relaxed atmosphere. Working studios also open their doors and this gives visitors a unique opportunity to see the creative process at work. The experience of seeing the artists’ materials, smelling the paint or seeing molten glass emerging from a furnace and being blown into an exquisite vase is thrilling.
Connecting with the Artist directly is an integral part of its appeal, making the viewing and buying of a much loved piece of art a very personal experience.
While most of the artists live locally some invite friends and family to show with them making it an opportunity to throw a good party too. This hospitality is often extended to visitors and is also a great opportunity for neighbours to get to know each other and new friendships to be made.
The internet and social media have transformed the organisational process. Its now hard to believe that less than 15 years ago many people did not have fast internet access or even email, so in the early days much of the communication was through letters. Social media has also meant that we can publicise the event in a much more direct way and give live updates.
This has not diminished the popularity of the Artists' Open House booklet which features all the artists taking part including an image of their work on show. Visitors will often visit an artist with the intention of buying that particular piece so the image that they choose to promote their work is key. 20,000 copies of the booklet are printed and distributed to local shops, bars, cafes and galleries before the event and it is a delight for us to see visitors wandering around the area consulting their copy of the booklet.
While most of the Open House venues are private homes and studios other venues also participate including Dulwich Picture Gallery - Britain's oldest public gallery which has opened its permanent collection free to the public on one day during the Festival and hosted local artists involved with the Gallery enabling them to show their work.
The permanent collection at the Dulwich Picture Gallery also served as inspiration for The Dulwich outdoor gallery. Founded by our friend and colleague Ingrid Beazley (1950-2017), her idea was to bring together some of the world’s most prolific street artists - Stik, Thierry Noir, Connor Harrington and Remi Rough to name just a few, resulting in a unique marriage of fine art and street art with Old Masters from the gallery reinterpreted on walls around Dulwich. It is pleasing that Ingrid’s street art walking tours have been continued by Amanda Greatorex. In this way the Baroque art of the Old Masters is brought to a new audience of people who love street art and vice versa, just as Ingrid intended.
Making art open and accessible to all is really what inspires all of us involved with the Dulwich Festival. To support local artists and make it possible for people to meet them and see their work in a relaxed and informal setting. Over the years we have been so inspired by the generosity and hospitality of all the artists taking part. While Liz Boyd and I have decided that the time has come to step down from our organisational roles we look forward to helping a new team for next year and to enjoying the Dulwich Festival as visitors.