Rusthall calling

Rusthall Arts Festival

Artists, musicians, performers, poets – if you’re a creative type, the village of Rusthall wants you for its first arts festival, as promoter and artist Karen Gardner explains to Fred Latty…

So Karen, the new Rusthall Arts Festival is due to take place in summer 2016. What can people expect?
I think it’s going to be an interesting mixture. There’s a grandiose idea I can imagine us realising in ten years’ time, with the stage growing and the acts getting bigger. But in the first year, we’re hoping for music, visuals, performance, installations, sculpture and more. Perhaps there will be an art trail including public spaces and local businesses will most likely be involved. Maybe there will also be land art – the common is crying out for someone to create something against that beautiful green backdrop.

Do you think it will be easy to find talented local people?
In our first year, I think the artists will mostly come from Rusthall, although we will invite people from outside the village. Our first task is to draw attention to the fact we’re having a festival and find out who we have; we hope people will step forward and say, “I want to be part of it and to learn something about my community”. We are separate from Tunbridge Wells and we’re still finding our identity. We have a lot of creative people, so Tunbridge Wells residents should come and see what we can do.

How did you get involved in the new festival?
I offer artistic workshops at my studio in Rusthall and the people who come are from the village. Promoters Lynne and Steve Lane asked if I’d like to come to a meeting to give ideas for a festival. I gave them three ideas, which they liked, so they asked me to come and see the Rusthall Village Association. Now we’ve formed a kind of triangle, with the RVA as an overseer, administrator and resource, Lynne and Steve looking after the music and myself with the visual art. I think we’ve got the perfect ‘shape’ to organise the festival.

Are local people willing to volunteer and help?
We’ve got some amazing people. We’ve had brainstorming sessions and covered an entire wall with sticky notes of ideas. I think people will start to claim areas to be responsible for. I went into my favourite charity shop and there was my neighbour who teaches yoga. She asked if there was anything she could do and I said: “Actually, there is!” So she said she’d run yoga workshops. We’ve got about six or seven people who are really keen, let’s see how much they can do.

Which venues will be hosting the event?
In future we imagine it could take place across the village, but in the first year it’ll need to be manageable. We envisage some installations that will bookend the festival area, possibly themed. I’m going to propose the theme ‘let’s get a move on’, so it would be something kinetic, with motion. I imagine a map leading you through the main community areas of Rusthall: including the new farm, Sunnyside Hall, the green, the shops and the common. The rocks are important too. Many people who love Rusthall remember climbing on the rocks as kids. It was memorable, I think it’s about looking at those rocks, finding out how children experienced them and keeping that experience as an integral part of the festival without hijacking it.

How will the festival be funded?
I don’t think the amount required is going to be huge. We have some funding for promotion, which is great. There are options such as crowdfunding, and I think we’d qualify for grants. We have a supporter – I don’t know if we can mention his name yet, but he brings a wealth of experience.

The Tunbridge Wells area already boasts a vibrant cultural life and a good number of festivals – can residents support another?
We’ve got the momentum and the talent. The first thing we need is to do is get everyone’s attention. As for footfall, you only have to look at our annual bonfire night, which is magnificent. There’s the parade to the huge fire – which to me, as an American, seems amazing! We’re all there, we’ve got people who buy into that. I think our festival will be unique because we’ll create something in public spaces.

Can anybody get involved?
Absolutely! I started as an illustrator and painter, then when I came to England I started doing installations and sculpture. I don’t know if I will exhibit in the festival – I’d like to have people come to my studio who are constructing things and realising they’re worthy of sharing, I think I’ll do installation workshops. I’d much rather the art came from other people. I believe everyone is an artist.

If you are a creative who would like to contribute to the festival, or for more information on volunteering, email Steve and Lynne at or leave a message for RVA chairman Alex Britcher on 01892 549 184.

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