Did you visit the Festival of Making?

The National Festival of Making took place over the weekend – filling the streets of Blackburn town centre.

Visitors from far and wide came to the award-winning event which enjoyed its fifth outing with festival goers unanimous in it being the ‘best one ever!’

They were blown away by the packed programme which boasted 180 participating artists and makers across 50 workshops, 10 exhibition spaces and 15 different performances over the weekend.

A real hit with the crowds was the North Light ‘Art in Manufacturing’ installation in Blackburn’s Cathedral’s impressive Crypt.

Working with Darwen’s Herbert Parkinson Ltd – a successful textile mill and John Lewis Partner for 70 years – they transformed the space into a remarkable immersive environment for young families and families with additional needs.

It included interactive visuals, projections, a soundscape and a slide Inspired by Jacquard Looms and the Factory Floor, which were expertly demonstrated by Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, Councillor Parwaiz Akhtar and his Mayoress as they toured the event.

Also popular was a ‘magical chocolate shop’ in Northgate – a collaboration between celebrated artist Illuminos and long-supporter of the festival, Accrington-based, The Cardboard Box Factory.

Illuminos is renowned for its large-scale projections, mapped on buildings around the world, but they brought their work in a miniature scale for the festival, creating the most beautiful work depicting the story of their grandfather’s chocolate shop, opened in Accrington in the 1950s.

In the Cathedral Square, queues of people also lined up for the Volo: Dreams of Flight VR swing adventure that offered the experience of being ‘virtually’ in one of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines, all while enjoying live entertainment and DJ sets from the airstream stage.

And, visitors to Blackburn Museum – which is currently undergoing renovations ahead of its 150th anniversary – also enjoyed a surprise visit from The Great Pottery Thrown Down’s Keith Brymer Jones who dropped in on one pottery workshops being delivered by Pendle Pottery after his sell-out talk with fellow BBC presenter, Patrick Grant from the Great British Sewing Bee.

Speaking at the VIP launch of the event, Festival of Making Co-Director, Elena Jackson said: “The Festival of Making CIC was formed in 2016 to celebrate the unique heritage and contemporary characteristics of this town and the region more widely.

“Through bold commissioning, including the residency programme, Art in Manufacturing, creative projects and artistic programming, the CIC aims to present outstanding outcomes and experiences, as part of the festival weekend and a longer-term cultural programme for local and regional communities and national visitors.

“This supports cultural and economic development and creates a distinctive sense of place, co-created year round by a creative team, diverse partners and stakeholders and committed volunteers.”

It’s estimated that the festival brings in around £1m to the local economy and last year it was awarded the prestigious Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status.

It was one of four new NPOs in Blackburn – alongside Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, The British Textile Biennial and Culturapedia – which secured an additional £2m for arts and culture in the borough over the next three years.

Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley had travelled to Blackburn to visit the festival and was at the launch.

Speaking to the packed audience in the stunning cathedral grounds, he said: “Blackburn with Darwen is a priority place for us and we’re investing money and our time here as we want to create happier lives and the Festival of Making is something that does just that.

“Partnerships are also important and it’s great to see the strength of that happening here. I’ve met with representatives from the local authority, Blackburn with Darwen Council, this morning and they’ve chosen to make culture and the arts central to what they do and they absolutely embrace it. That’s not something that happens everywhere.

“We have amazing people here too – Lauren and Elena, the Festival of Making Directors, are brilliant. They have been visionary and their belief for this place is just incredible.

“And, of course, the support of designer Wayne Hemingway too, he is passionate about Blackburn and he’s here for the journey, as we are. We are really proud to be here in Blackburn with Darwen, this is a place we believe in and we hope this is just very much the start.”

Venues across the town included the Cotton Exchange, Tony’s Ballroom, The Mall, and Prism Contemporary, which was transformed by Cookson & Clegg and artist Ibukun Baldwin with a floor-to-ceiling installation using denim deadstock from the Shadsworth-based factory.

The artist worked alongside the Council and The Calico Group to engage participants who had recently been evacuated from Afghanistan to the borough to be paid Art Assistants – responding to her commitment to support and empower marginalised communities.

The Making Rooms – a place where creativity, technology, and advanced manufacturing come together as a community facility – was also packed out throughout the weekend with standing room only.

Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Councillor Phil Riley, added: “We have always been proud to be home to the National Festival of Making – and more so now than ever before.

“This weekend has been an absolute triumph with record crowds enjoying everything that the festival and our town has to offer.

“The programme had something for everyone and it was a delight to see so many people enjoying the many installations, workshops, talks and performances and so many of our buildings packed with visitors all enjoying themselves with almost everything being free.

“I’d like to say a big thank you to the festival team for such an impressive event, I agree, it’s been the best one ever and it’s a huge testament to their hard work and the strong partnerships they’ve built, including with us at the council.

“I was speaking to one visitor who said that for cultural events, Blackburn is becoming the place to beat, how superb is that!”

Find out more about the National Festival of Making at: www.festivalofmaking.co.uk

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