The annual celebration of digital culture that is Brighton Digital Festival celebrates its 10th birthday in 2021. And after a one-year pandemic-related hiatus will be relaunching with a 10-day programme [29 Oct– 7 Nov] directed by Brighton-based arts charity Lighthouse. We chatted to Lighthouse’s Artistic Director & CEO Alli Beddoes to find out more.
Q. Tell us about Brighton Digital Festival?
Brighton Digital Festival was launched in 2011 by Lighthouse working with digital agency Clearleft and Wired Sussex as a way of bringing together the arts and creative industries in the city. We wanted to provide a platform for people of all ages to play with and explore the creative possibilities that digital technology presents.
Q. What can we expect from this year’s festival?
For 2021 we’re reshaping the festival as a biennial event that’s city-led and city-wide – in the broadest sense of the word ‘city’.
Alongside its commissioned events, the festival has always presented a crowd-sourced, open-programme which means that anyone can independently organise an event, submit it to the festival programme, and present it on the festival’s platform.
For 2021, this independent events programme will remain at the core of the festival and we’re holding a virtual town hall event on 28 July to start to plan this and hear from anyone interested in running an event.
Excitingly, this events programme will be complemented by a collaboration with Hull’s Freedom Festival and Lincoln’s Frequency Festival on a new national Arts Council funded project led by Threshold Studios, which we’ll be announcing soon.
We are extremely grateful that the festival will continue to be supported by Brighton-based digital consumer intelligence platform Brandwatch, which has been a key sponsor in the festival’s history supporting more than 30 commissions and projects over the years.
Q. Unequal access to digital technology has been a well-publicised issue during lockdown. How will the festival respond to this?
The experience of lockdown has really driven home the role digital technology plays in connecting people to culture – whether it’s attending virtual performances, visiting digital galleries or taking part in Zoom pub quizzes. Now, more than ever, we need to make sure everybody has equal access to the production, consumption and understanding of digital culture.
Lockdown has also shone a light on the kindness and generosity of people who are willing to help and donate tech and equipment to homes where people don’t have access to it otherwise. This is a great start and Brighton Digital Festival is a brilliant platform to continue conversations about equality and access as well as increasing provision. It’s that vision that’s at the heart of Brighton Digital Festival.
We need to make sure the digital space is an accessible one and a safe one for everyone. There will be a series of masterclasses and workshops in the lead-up and during the event, where we will empower people to enjoy using tech safely and manage the challenges of being online.
Q. What have been some of your highlight events from the past 10 years of the festival?
It was a true honour to present the Brighton Digital Festival pop-up 5000 Miles by ITHACA Studios, which was an immersive sound art piece installed in St Ann’s Well Gardens for two days during Brighton Festival. It was a really poignant example of how technology can bring people from far flung places together – something that’s been really acutely felt by many of us in the last 18 months. It was also really heartening to see the impact that cultural experiences in public spaces can have on us all – small shifts in the daily rhythm of life can have significant and positive impact on our outlook and wellbeing.
Laurence Hill’s Messy Edge conference was always a major highlight in the Brighton Digital Festival programme. It asked important questions of and unpicked terminology such as ‘cutting edge’ and ‘radical thinking’. The speakers were always incredible: intelligently challenging the dominant narratives in digital culture and encouraging debate about how we can make real change in tackling social issues such as racism, homophobia, and climate change. My greatest wish for this 10th edition of Brighton Digital Festival is to carry on that legacy from the Messy Edge conference and weave it throughout the festival programme, and the city itself.