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Working on arts festivals

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An Interview with 
Lucy Farrant, director of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival, talks about her career in festivals.

Lucy Farrant has a personality that seems perfectly suited to her role as director of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival (YNAF), running this year from 6-15th July in venues across Norwich. Her friendliness and focus on her work made her stand out as someone meant for the role.

Lucy’s career had a surprising beginning. After graduating from university she spent the first part of her career as a solicitor.

Following the birth of her children, her workload became increasingly difficult to manage and she stepped back from legal work.

When the first YNAF was created by Steffan Griffiths, headmaster to Lucy’s children in 2013, it immediately appealed to Lucy’s creative side.

“I’d always had a huge interest in all things creative. I was the sixth former who was in the school play, and the orchestra, and the choir. I absolutely loved it”

This love for the arts continued right through Lucy’s adult life, and she immediately got stuck in with Steffan’s project. After writing the report for the festival she became fully involved in 2014, and the journey from solicitor to festival director was complete.

Lucy’s hard work and determination has expanded the YNAF from a small project to an incorporated charitable trust, running year-round activities for young people in Norfolk.

What does it take to work in festivals?

Lucy says the biggest and most difficult job is fundraising. Funding is often difficult for arts organisation to come by, and it is a particular challenge since the activities the YNAF offers are free.

To overcome this, Lucy works tirelessly to build up partnerships and positive relations with organisations in the community. When I saw her, she had just finished writing a bid to Arts Council England, but a large proportion of funding and support comes from local partners.

When not raising funds Lucy is in charge of programming the Young Norfolk Arts Trust’s (YNAT) events for the year. Large-scale events often need planning months, and even years in advance. “I’m currently doing as much work on the 2019 festival as this years” she admits.

Not all doom and gloom

While Lucy is quite candid about her disdain for fundraising, she proudly tells me how much she loves her job, especially when a project comes to life: “That’s the bit I really love: putting projects together, having ideas, making them happen.”

One of her recent undertakings involves bringing slam poetry to the YNAT, an opportunity she created after seeing a local slam poetry night. “I contacted the Poetry Society and said ‘Hey, can we do something with you?’ So I’m just in negotiation with them at the moment about what that’s going to look like.” She says.

With everything Lucy works on she expresses her gratitude to all the people she works with, whose positivity and willingness to try are essential in getting things going. “99% of the time people are trying to make things happen, it’s rare that I come across somebody who says ‘no you can’t do that’”

The YNAF Communications Team

Lucy praises the collection of secondary schoolers, college students, and undergraduates she works with as part of the YNAF communications team. “They are very motivated and very interested in what we do, and they know that it’s real work experience.”

The communications team provides a work experience opportunity for young people to get involved in the running of the festival. They handle a mix of photography, journalism, stewarding, and running the YNAF blog.

“Start small and give it a whirl”

This was Lucy’s advice for anyone looking to work in arts organisations and festivals.

While a degree is useful it is not a necessity to the work Lucy does. Instead, she emphasises the value of internships and work placements. “Anything that gives you a chance for real experience” is a great first step.

For Lucy, young people are also in a great position to create their own opportunities.

There are those who hunt down their own internships, run their own blogs, and manage their own projects and that’s a potential way into the industry. Indeed she encourages young people to put their own events together.

“If you have a project that you’re really interested in, if you want to have an open mic night because you have friends interested in that kind of thing who are potentially good performers, then start small and give it a whirl.”

Isaac Holden is an undergraduate English Literature student at the University of East Anglia. His interests include theatre and arts administration, and in his free time he works on the production crew for Off Topic Theatre. Upon graduation he hopes to pursue a full-time career in arts administration