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Spark Festival - a delegate point of view

We are really proud of The Spark Festival delegate programme. Louisa Bartlett-Pestell, Director of Programming and Participation at artsdepot shares the festival experience from a Delegates point of view.


Returning to my role as Director of Programming and Participation at artsdepot in January, after a year of maternity leave, was quite daunting. Despite having just spent 12 months immersed in baby yoga and sensory classes I certainly did not feel particularly connected to the world of theatre for young audiences so The Spark Festival delegate programme came at just the right time.

Despite the rude awakening of a 5am hotel fire alarm, my first morning at the festival filled my heart with joy as I watched Mimbre and Daryl & Co’s Look Mum No Hands in a primary school hall packed full of delighted children. It was hard to see a young face that wasn’t completely engrossed in the unfolding narrative of the performer’s friendship and there were a couple of children who became completely unaware of anything else around them as they mimicked what they saw. As I watched it reminded me how hugely important, potentially life changing, access to such experiences is at that age.

Similarly, the last show I saw was the Derby Theatre and Take Art Making & Believing production Let’s Play Messing Around and watching with a nursery group allowed me to experience the emotional journey with them. I saw the quivering bottom lip of one boy early on as he empathised with one of the actors. I watched as that turned into a big fat tear rolling down his face before giggles and dancing with his neighbour ensued when the performers reconciled. As a programmer, the insight this provides coupled with a bus journey to discuss and debrief with peers after is invaluable.

Outside of the shows, the delegate programme included an intriguingly named Vital Spark Sensational Relational session described as a lively interactive gameshow style event. Despite spending most of my time organising for people to participate in the arts I can’t say I was hugely enamoured by the prospect of this, quite the opposite, but how wrong I was!

Hosted by the innovative Spark team, who weren’t afraid to give their all to creatively demonstrating ACE Investment Principles whilst channelling Cilla Black, the event introduced us to the new cohort of Vital Spark Relationship Programme Artists. Let’s just say the diverse provocations this brilliant and interesting collection of artists gave us descended into creative chaos. The fellow children’s programmer lobbing ping pong balls at me from across the room shall remain nameless (you know who you are). Whilst being highly silly in the best conceivable way it was also thought-provoking and engaging. Not only did I find myself laughing and getting (a tiny bit) competitive, but I was making personal notes of things I could or should be doing for artists as the conversations developed and gave me new perspectives of thinking.

What is unique about Spark?

The care, consideration and generosity Spark use for delegates and artists is aspirational. From the friendly welcome to the delicious food to the careful scheduling including space for much needed conversations. It is a difficult time for artists and arts organisations currently; the more we can work together to support each other as a sector, the better for all, but what Spark reminded me was… to make it fun.

Artsdepot have been a Vital Spark partner for several years now and being part of that family is important to us. We are introduced to new artists and collaborate with other partners to support new ideas. We know we can’t do everything on our own and this partnership provides an opportunity for us to amplify the support we can offer.

It is a difficult time for artists and arts organisations currently; the more we can work together to support each other as a sector, the better for all, but what Spark reminded me was... to make it fun.

Vital Spark

The ‘Vital Spark Ignites’ session in the schedule showed the breadth of work supported by this mutually beneficial programme. It was exciting to hear about the projects being developed and then brought to life through the conversations in a room filled with so much industry knowledge.

It is easy to worry about precious time away from a desk or being present in our organisations but the concentrated number of high quality shows I saw and golden nuggets of conversation I had at Spark informed my work in a way I couldn’t have achieved otherwise. The human connection the delegate programme created space for sparked (pun intended) ideas I can implement for artsdepot’s programme. It reassured me of the decisions I have made, informed how I support artists and initiated new collaborations I am excited to develop.

Thank you Spark and I look forward to seeing you next time!

Louisa Bartlett-Pestell,
Director of Programming and Participation, artsdepot

Find out more

Take Art
Daryl & Co

The Vital Spark behind everything we do

We believe that all children should be able to experience arts and culture, and that they should be able to see themselves represented in these experiences. This is not yet the case for every child and we’re committed to changing that.

Our response is Vital Spark, and it's at the heart of everything we do. Vital Spark is about challenging and changing the lack of diversity in children’s arts and culture; it’s about diverse-led artistic decision making; it’s about not being afraid to stand up for what’s right.

We do this by supporting artists who are currently underrepresented in children’s arts and culture. We also work with partner organisations to create world-class opportunities for these artists and share best practice.