Published: Thursday, 26th November 2020

Metal and Cement Fields have announced the first part of their programme for Estuary 2021.

The large-scale arts festival is curated in response to the spectacular Thames Estuary and the lives, landscapes and histories found there. Now in its second edition, Estuary 2021 will feature contemporary artworks, performance, discussion and events that explore and respond to powerful themes resonant to the Estuary, from the climate, to rebellion and imperial legacy.

Estuary 2021’s mix of large and intimate scale visual art, literature, music and film will take place over 23 days, from 22 May to 13 June 2021, celebrating culture, creativity, recovery and renewal. The festival will host site-specific works in the landscape, alongside animating the wharfs, piers, high streets and venues of key estuary towns including Southend, Chatham, and Gravesend.

Originally imagined before Covid-19, festival partners have worked together to reshape the programme to ensure the production of a safe and exciting festival. The programme will feature performance, including a site specific performance by Arbonauts; installation; immersive storytelling; GPS audio, such as the re-imagining of Ness by Robert Macfarlane; murals, walks and tours that present new perspectives on well-known estuary landmarks and invite audiences to explore some of the lesser known estuary environments.

This will be accompanied by an online programme of discussion, bringing together artists, scientists and activists from the estuary and beyond to audiences from around the world. A series of publications will reveal hidden architectural gems, celebrate the great literary heritage of the river, inspire new literary responses and provide maps and guides to walking the estuary. The Estuary 2021 website will display new artworks connected to the wider programme, a specially curated film programme, and a series of artists’ podcasts released throughout the festival.

Celebrating the histories and landscapes surrounding the Thames Estuary

Estuary 2021 curators Colette Bailey and Sue Jones comment: “Estuary 2021 is about celebrating the histories and landscapes surrounding the Thames Estuary. Reimagined in response to the challenges we’ve faced over the past few months, Estuary 2021 celebrates what is best and unique about the area, working with artists, freelancers and small arts organisations in order to continue to foster creativity, culture and renewal in the region. The estuary has long been a place of innovation, of new starts and reinvention, and the widening of horizons, and Estuary 2021 is a celebration of this.”

I’s inspiring that culture can continue to bring us together

Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, comments: “At such a challenging time, it’s inspiring that culture can continue to bring us together… Estuary festival has been identified as key to celebrating the river Thames and its creative and cultural industries, as well as to attracting inward investment and visitors to the area. So I’m really delighted that through DCMS investment, and of course with the visionary leadership with Metal in Essex and Cement Fields in Kent working with a host of partners in local authorities, this extraordinary festival will take place in May.”

Estuary 2021 demonstrates our ambition for Medway to be recognised for its culture and creativity

Deputy Leader of Medway Council and Portfolio Holder for Community Services, Cllr Howard Doe, said: “We are pleased to be a partner for the ambitious Estuary Festival 2021 and we are looking forward to welcoming Bob and Roberta Smith to Chatham. It’s fantastic news that residents and visitors will be able to add to a new work of art in the heart of Medway and I would encourage residents to take part next year. Estuary 2021 demonstrates our ambition for Medway to be recognised for its culture and creativity and the positive impact it has on the lives of our residents. The festival also supports Medway’s emerging cultural strategy as well as Medway’s aspirations to become UK City of Culture 2025, which would create a legacy of opportunities for local people and bring significant economic benefits to the area.”

Announced commissions include:

• An Opening Weekend of live broadcast discussion and specially commissioned online artworks exploring the three key themes of climate, rebellion and imperial legacy. With the working title of Into The Mystery of an Unknown Earth (taken from Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad) the event will be brought together by four artists and curators all of whom know the estuary as home:

  • Jas Dhillon is a multimedia practitioner inspired by the people, script, language, symbolic objects, and poetic experiences, of the love and identity imprinted on her as a first-generation Indian female raised in Kent.
  • Elsa James is a British African-Caribbean, conceptual artist and activist living in Southend-on-Sea. Recent projects Forgotten Black Essex (2018) and Black Girl Essex (2019) explore the historical, temporal and spatial dimensions of what it means to be black in Essex.
  • James Marriott, writer, artist, activist and naturalist, lives on the Hoo Peninsula, and his forthcoming book Crude Britannia, tells the story of Britain's energy past, present and future with a focus on the Thames Estuary.
  • Lu Williams who through Grrrl Zine Fair has been amplifying marginalised voices with a focus on DIY culture, workshops, intersectional feminism and working class culture since 2015.

Bob and Roberta Smith will create a pavilion in Chatham, an open air gallery, where everyone is invited to ‘take a line for a walk’, adding to a new work of art that is created collectively over the 23 days of the festival, exploring how we can Draw Hope, and together find solutions for the big questions and issues of our time. The work is a co-commission with Medway Council.

• The Water Replies is a participatory journaling and creative writing project, being shaped and led by poets Selina Nwulu and Caroline Bird. It invites creative responses from people of all ages living in the towns and villages along the estuary coastlines of Essex and Kent and has been capturing life by the estuary with words and images since March 2020. Over 450 creative journals are with estuary residents with many already completed and ready to share during the festival.

The second stage of this project is launched today with the publication of The Water Replies: Notes on Teaching Contemporary Poetry. Written by Caroline and Selina and with contributions from other poets, the book is designed to assist teachers to inspire their students to write poetry. With the book comes the accompanying invitation to schools, teachers and young people from across the estuary to send us their poems for exhibition during the festival. Partnerships with C2C and Southeastern railways will see posters carrying these poems in stations and other sites across our festival geography.

• Gravesham based Cohesion Plus, culturally diverse producers of community festivals and melas, and advocates for increased diversity within the arts, are making a new film about identity, race and diversity for Estuary 2021. The film will explore Gravesham's diverse communities, looking at how people get pigeon-holed, and the multiple, unexpected and rich identities that people hold.

Sadie Hennessy’s Golden Years, a co-commission with Gravesham Borough Council, is inspired by the pop culture collections of Peter Blake (who grew up locally and attended art school in Gravesend, where he started his own pop culture collection). The co-commission will see a series of shop windows in Gravesend, filled with people’s own collections of memorabilia and ephemera, accompanied by a gold ice cream van broadcasting the stories behind those collections.

• 2021 sees the 20th anniversary of Tom King’s book Thames Estuary Trail: A Walk around the end of the World (Desert Island Books, 2001), the first and to date, the only book that describes the entire estuary coastline as an epic 83 mile walk. Estuary 2021 has partnered with the Thames Estuary Growth Board to commission new chapters for a 2nd edition of the book, alongside a series of artists commissions that will inspire the intrepid among you to set out on the walk of a lifetime. A longer-term project through the TEGB will see the Trail, its footpaths, access to the water, signage and information all improved to create one of the UK’s great journeys on foot. We are encouraging walkers to share their own experiences through #ThamesEstuaryTrail

The full Estuary 2021 programme will be announced early next year.

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