Access to art: Cowley Road Carnival
"Beauty and relevance"
Recently, Danielle Battigelli stood down as executive director of Cowley Road Carnival, after seven years in the job. Johannah Aynsley, key in helping redevelop Abingdon Guildhall and former creative director of the Liverpool Film Academy, has filled her shoes.
“I had a good predecessor, she’s put a lot of things in place,” Johannah says of Danielle, before going on to mention the team of freelancers she has surrounded herself with as the event looms ever closer. “I can delegate lots of the creative stuff to people who really know what they’re doing. My part is a lot to do with the logistics and raising the funds still outstanding on the amount needed to turn Carnival around. That’s a bit daunting because in the current climate it’s trickier to get people to put their hands in their pockets – but we’ll get there.”
The director went on to cite why securing these funds is important to the East Oxford community. “They might not necessarily have access to anything like this all year round,” she states. “So what we’re doing is bringing art and cultural activities to their doorstep – so they have access to some amazing stuff for free. Plus it’s in an environment where they don’t feel intimidated. If you’re not in the right salary bracket or educated to the level you feel you should be, Oxford city centre can be very intimidating and that can put people off going to the theatre, art galleries or the like. Art shouldn’t be like that: it should be a platform to bring people together.”
The carnival’s theme this year is appropriately ‘All the world’s a stage’. Johannah tells me: “It can be about Shakespeare or it can be a very open brief which all the different cultures and groups we work with can interpret as they wish.”
I forget just how staggering it is for a figure to die and still have events themed in accordance with their work 400 years later.
“It’s amazing,” Johannah says. “He probably should be celebrated more.”
Oxford’s St. Gregory The Great Catholic Primary School join this celebration, using A Midsummer Night’s Dream to inject fairies, potions and spells into the procession. They have the RSC visiting in June to run a workshop with the children – who are also joined by pupils from the St. Gregory Secondary School.
“We had to bid for the RSC workshop,” Foundation Stage Lead Teacher Natalie Wilson says. “When I told them we wanted to bring this experience to the children of Cowley and this area I think that’s what swung it for us.”
I’m not jealous of school teachers, at all really, but specifically I don’t envy them having to keep children on their feet and active in this world dominated by screens, and it’s a domination that seems to be able to grip the youngest of kids. Natalie says there has been no struggle here.
“Anything we do at school they just lap up,” she reveals. “They love singing, dancing…anything that’s fun and exciting. Sometimes I like to try and bring visual literacy in. We can inspire them with a clip from a film. They can use it as a starting point and take it off in so many other directions.”
Moving up the age groups, last year the carnival’s chief sponsor was Oxford Brookes. While the university does not have that role this year, its sponsorship continues.
Paul Inman, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty that includes Built Environment, talked to us at a Cowley Road Carnival exhibition hosted by Brookes Built Environment students. The exhibition showed their ideas regarding how best to spread carnival goers into each pocket of the upcoming event.
“I’ve been involved in various things over the years that have taken art to people, art projects that have grown out of predominately working class areas,” Paul says. “I’ve enjoyed that and we’ve continued to do that here.”
The carnival’s theme changes each time it comes round, but Brookes seem focused also on a sort of constant theme. Paul elaborates on this:
“There’s a view that with art and culture you need to make people look at horizons beyond their immediacies. Sometimes you can think you’re better than somebody else and you need to pick them out of where they are. I’m not very good at being in camps, but if I was in one it would be that which stays where people are every day and sees the beauty and relevance of that. So whatever the carnival’s theme is, Brookes will always have a version of that at play.”
Cowley Road Carnival takes place 10th July. “This year we’re working with some local charities that we’ve never worked with before,” Johanna Aynsley says, expanding on what we can expect, “as well as with minority groups around Cowley Road which means being closely involved with the Asian Cultural Centre.
“And we’re raising the artistic content this year. We aim to do that year on year with the view to making it world class.”
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