The Legacy of MESA: Fi.ELD Festival 2020
17 May 2021
Image Credit: Tillie Ridge
Created by the 2020 Fi.ELD cohort, MESA Festival was an interactive, online multi-arts festival exploring the concept of family. It showcased young creatives, elevated underrepresented voices and provided a seat at the table for all. Five incredible events took place across seven days in October – celebrating the concept of family through a series of online workshops, discussions, screenings, audio-visual installations and a real world guided trail.
The Fi.ELD (the Future Innovators of East London Dance), is a pioneering programme that enables young artists to gain expert training in event production. The Fi.ELD is an East London Dance programme, funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and supported by Sadler’s Wells.
“MESA was an inspiring, discovering, supportive, inventive, and breathtaking festival born from the minds of 11 emerging artists motivated to create in the midst of a pandemic.” – MESA Participant
Click above to watch our video celebrating the festival and all it achieved. Film edited by Alice Underwood Films. Subtitles are available, once the video is playing click the captions icon on the screen to access them.
The festival had five key events; Blood + Water, a podcast series and audiovisual installation about family, Generate, a postal pack of dance instructions to get people of all ages moving, Mothxrhood, a series of panel discussions around motherhood and parenting in the arts sector, ScreenShare, a mentoring programme, screening, workshop and panel discussion all about the rise in screendance, and The Street Movement Project, an audio dance trail through your local area! Read the event reviews here.
MESA also partnered with the Next Choreography Course at Siobhan Davies Dance to share ideas about creating an online festival during a pandemic, and engaging in creative conversation exchanges. We were also introduced to One Dance UK Dance Ambassadors which sparked connections allowing for a later partnership with RISE Career & Networking Event.
“Floating and gliding and disco-dancing through my local streets like an alien, I realised the core of the project was a wish for play” – Nikhil Vyas, The Street Movement Project Audience Member
“Congratulations for producing such a great event. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the mentoring programme and wanted to commend you on how fantastically it was organised.” – James Cousins, Choreographer & ScreenShare Mentor
Journey to MESA: A Timeline
A timeline of MESA from planning to delivery. Credit: L U C I N E.
Our Fi.ELD experience began at Stratford Circus Arts Centre with in person workshops, fun outings and team building. In March 2020 the pandemic hit and we were forced to move the course online. Like many others, we took to Zoom and started working out how on earth we were going to plan and produce a whole festival digitally.
The Impact of MESA: Learning Taken Forward
When the pandemic came, many of us had reservations about moving the programme online, especially when we thought it might all be over in a few months. Perhaps we could just delay the festival until then? But like true Future Innovators, we persevered, shifted our attitude and opened ourselves up to the fact that this challenge might just be an opportunity for even deeper learning.
“Team MESA worked twice as hard learning new skills, and then quickly having to adapt them for a digital space.” – Vicki Igbokwe, Fi.ELD Facilitator
The learnings we gained that we’re taking forward into the future:
Equipped Us for Digital Practice, Delivery and Engagement
- We were the first cohort to do an purely online digital festival, an experience that makes us much more versatile in our skillset and ultimately, more employable.
- The whole sector is shifting to digital events, delivery and audience engagement. Things will continue to work differently post pandemic and because of MESA, we’re now ready for this.
“The shift to the online/digital world was definitely a challenge but it taught me so much about communication and problem solving and I don’t think I would be where I am right now without going through that journey.” – Hattie Harding, Fi.ELD 2020 Participant
Increased Our Commitment to Access
From the beginning our whole cohort talked about how important access was and how we wanted access to the arts at the heart of our festival. The experience and learning made us reconsider how aware we are of accessibility needs and how we could meet them.
- We used our wildcard Know How session to further educate ourselves, inviting Laura Jones from Stop Gap Dance who told us about the Social Model of Disability & examples of access provisions.
- We made lasting partnerships with Stopgap Dance Company, Diverse City and Sightlines Audio Describers.
- We made and will continue to make these considerations standard practice e.g. always having BSL interpreters, captions and audio description as non-negotiables in the budget and delivery of the overall project.
Inspired Our Future
Planning and delivering an online week-long festival was not without its challenges. The experience:
- Nurtured our ambition
- Pushed us out of our comfort zones
- Taught us the skills needed to achieve our ideas as future entrepreneurs
- Showed us that even in great times of uncertainty we can create wonderful things
“What they created was an entirely digitised engagement and learning experience with a production that reached a truly global audience.” – Gemma Griffiths, East London Dance Producer & Fi.ELD Facilitator
Connected Us with Audiences & Artists
- Total Participants: 833
- Total Audience Engagement: 2,961
- Artists & Volunteers Contracted: 65
- Countries Reached: 21
We received some amazing feedback from our audiences. Here are some of our favourites:
“Family has a much wider and deeper meaning than I imagined. It was a nice journey and interesting to listen to other people’s stories and some I found very relatable.” – Blood + Water Audience Member
“It was nice to have something physical and posted, something to open up like a gift. It was like having a friend in a letter reminding me to take time for myself and showing me different ways of moving. It was a lovely experience.” – Generate Participant
“The conversations of the talk were so raw and honest and really gave you insight into what the panel had experienced. It was really interesting and felt needed to be heard.” – Mothxrhood Audience Member
Since MESA, many of the Fi.ELDers are now working as producers either as freelancers or within arts organisations and some are working as artists and practitioners. Relationships created during the festival have been maintained and the legacy of the learning lives on.
“MESA allowed me to think outside the box and to connect creatively with people in new ways, by taking an experience to them. It helped me discover new parts of myself and things that inspire me that I didn’t even know were there. Rather than it being about the event, it became more about the people and planting a seed, which could then blossom in an individual way.” – Philly Rule, Fi.ELD 2020 Participant
“Out of this experience my voice has come through and I find myself understanding what I’m working with now. I didn’t expect to learn this understanding that creating helps me mentally as well as helping others.” – Maria Evans, ScreenShare Mentee
The MESA Team
Adina Dumitrascu, Alison Thomas, Anna Dighero, Emily Adams, Hattie Harding, Kajsa Sundström, Kim Chi Le, L U C I N E, Michelle Mutuleasa, Philly Rule, Tillie Ridge
Made possible by: East London Dance, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Sadler’s Wells, Arts Council England
With thanks to our partners: One Dance UK, Next Choreography (Siobhan Davies Dance), Represent Creative