Annie Lloyd

The co-director of Compass Festival on the commissioning process. It takes place around Leeds until 25 Nov

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The first Compass Festival in 2011 was a modest affair – a handful of small projects over one weekend supporting a symposium on interactive live art in public places. We attracted almost 3,500 people and the response was so positive we were hooked. We programmed that festival through a combination of inviting artists we know and love, and making a national call-out. And that model has stood us in good stead ever since. The call-out is especially rewarding – we like opening up the process and it brings us into contact with new artists.

What’s changed over the intervening years is we’ve got bigger and more ambitious. We realised quite early on that the projects which made the biggest impact were those created especially for Leeds that involved the artists being embedded in the city over an extended period of time, building relationships with people related to the projects’ concerns.

The arts development team helped us secure the historic 19th century courtroom in Leeds Town Hall as the perfect location

We don’t theme the festival or ask artists to respond to a particular place or building. The artists tell us what they want to explore and with whom and we put them in touch with interested people. Then we consider where the best location might be and approach the buildings or places that could work best for the project. For example, when Jack Tan proposed re-imagining medieval animal trials to explore our contemporary attitude to the environment and animal sovereignty, we invited him to Leeds and put him in touch with the RSPCA, Meanwood Valley Urban Farm, the Canal and River Trust and National Sheep Farmers Association.

He ran a symposium at Leeds Law School discussing the legal personhood of animals with law academics and PhD students. We introduced him to barristers and solicitors in Leeds. And the arts development team helped us secure the historic 19th century courtroom in Leeds Town Hall as the perfect location. So when festival attenders take their places on the jury or in the public gallery this November they will witness playful, unusual performances – live animals, real barristers, new court procedures that draw on many legal precedents – that have been deeply informed by dozens of collaborators active in legal and animal welfare issues. And they’ll experience the context of the Town Hall adapted through skilful signage and exhibition materials suggesting the animal court has always existed: “Aquatic entrance this way”.

This is a very complex and involved way of making and presenting art projects. It can take two or three years to bring a project to fruition. We think this intersection of art with the actual functions of the professional, commercial, academic worlds and people’s everyday experiences makes for especially potent and relevant work.

So we’re excited about Compass Festival 2018. We’ve learned over the years the advantages of commissioning new work alongside some already existing pieces. And we’re proud that all the work in the programme is new to Leeds (oh, apart from Bethany Wells’s wonderful live art sauna, which we commissioned in 2016 and is back by popular demand) and half of the programme has been especially commissioned and never seen before.

Check out the details of all festival events:

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