Hearts for the Arts Shortlist: London Borough of Waltham Forest, Walthamstow Garden Party

Shortlisted in the inaugural National Campaign for the Arts/What Next? Hearts for the Arts Awards 2017 for Best Local Authority Arts Project encouraging community cohesion.

Walthamstow Garden Party is a free annual festival which celebrates Waltham Forest’s creative and cultural communities as part of the Council’s Get Together programme. Since its inception in 2014, almost 100,000 local people have enjoyed the festival’s world-class music, theatre, dance, film, spoken word, arts and crafts, family activity and food delivered in partnership with local organisations.

The Garden Party works to create meaningful partnerships, engaging local groups and individuals in planning and delivery; it is a truly collaborative, high-quality community event, which aspires to develop local capacity and a sustainable, long-term cultural offer. The Garden Party is funded by Waltham Forest Council and the Barbican (with Arts Council England funding) and is delivered in partnership with Create. Each partner contributes something different to the event, ensuring that it brings together Waltham Forest’s residents in all their diversity through community-driven arts and culture.

In 2016, The Ideas Kitchen, a community-led funding initiative, was piloted in partnership with local community groups. Attendees paid to attend a community dinner to hear local people pitch creative ideas and voted for the project they’d like to receive the money raised. Local cartoonist Tim Reedy won with his open access cartoon workshops project and he delivered his idea at the festival which proved very popular.

The Council and its partners also worked with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to co-produce a light commission by artist Zarah Hussain.  The commission, entitled Magic Carpet, animated the exterior of the William Morris Gallery on the first evening of the Garden Party with a geometric projection inspired by Morris’ interest in Islamic design. This coincided with the start of the Islamic religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr, a key date for the borough’s Muslim population.

2016 also saw the launch of Keep It Free, a fundraising drive to ensure Walthamstow Garden Party remains free for all, while continuing to invest in local artists and organisations and attract the best talent from around the globe.

One third of those attending the Garden Party in 2016 identified as having a low level of cultural engagement and 30% came from a BAME background. One quarter of local residents cite attending Council and community events as making them feel they belong in their local area.  The success of the Garden Party demonstrates the power of culture to bring people together and foster cohesion.

What the judges had to say:

Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, double bassist: “Walthamstow Garden Party is a fantastic example of creative thinking that results in a safe and clear initiative that brings entire communities together. It is wonderful to note the quality of their partners and to acknowledge real focus on highlighting the vibrant variety of cultures in their community.”