Truth And The Power Of A Creative Community – Birmingham Design Festival 2019

As some of you may know, two weeks ago I was at this years Birmingham Design Festival (BDF), the second of its kind after 2018’s successful event.

I was able to collaborate with this year’s festival and 99 Percent Lifestyle was also named an official Media Partner too (it still feels weird looking through the BDF booklets and seeing the 99 Percent Lifestyle logo next to some huge brands).

After taking some time to reflect on this years event, I feel overwhelmed with inspiration, motivation and the power that comes with being involved within a creative community.

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

The Birmingham Design Festival was started but directors Luke Tonge and Daniel Alcorn (both of which have been featured on our weekly newsletters and Luke also has been heavily involved with Volume 4 of 99 Percent Lifestyle. You can read Luke’s newsletter here and Daniel’s here). Speaking before this year’s festival Daniel told me that, “BDF is founded on the belief that great design education should be easily accessible. In 2018 we launched a programme that contained over 80 free events from world-class designers and in 2019 that ethos is no different. We continue to bring amazing talent to Birmingham to offer creative insight at a price anyone can afford, regardless of your position on the career ladder.

“Expanding upon the success of the festival last year, BDF has grown in size and ambition. Bigger venues, more publicity and more speakers from further afield, with several flying in from Europe and the US. We’ve refined certain aspects of the programme to make it easier to take in as much content as possible which should deliver a festival experience that delights even further.”

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

After this year’s festival, I managed to ask Luke Tonge a few questions about BDF and here was what he had to say:

Why did you want to start a design festival in Birmingham?

We (Dan Alcorn and myself) felt like there was a real audience and enthusiasm for a big design event here, and having been a part of the scene here for a number of years, we felt uniquely placed and connected to make one happen. It took a lot of hard work, teamwork and determination, but with over 6700 tickets in our first year, and almost 10,000 this summer, we feel vindicated and delighted that our hunch has been proved right. We both feel passionately that everyone should have access to events like this, whether a student, a grad, or seasoned pro, so we make them as accessible and affordable as we possibly can – so most of our festival is free to attend!

Now you have had some time to reflect on this year’s festival, how did you think it went compared to last year?

We’ve loved them both – our first time was full of excitement and nerves, and we learned so much! I think it will always feel special and unique as we launched in a big way, and it (almost) all went according to plan. This year was a bit tighter, smoother, and more successful from an organisation point of view, but again it taught us so much and was a really important part of our journey – proving to ourselves and the industry that year 1 wasn’t a fluke or flash in the pan. Having Aaron Draplin headline in our first year still blows our minds, but all our speakers are very special to us and amazing so there’s no point comparing.

Why should people become more connected within their local creative community?

I’m really passionate about this, to the point that I sometimes feel really disheartened and frustrated when anyone isn’t playing a part in their local community. I’m an introvert so I know how hard it can be to put yourself out there – the fact I have to be on stage at these events is hilarious as only a few years ago I would’ve been crippled with nerves at the thought of it! But it is so rewarding to be part of your local scene, whether just turning up and supporting, or by playing a more active role, I believe it’s vital for the health of any creative community that people get stuck in. It will stretch you, encourage and inspire you, and in turn, you’ll inspire and empower others – there is no downside. Turn up. Contribute. Support. Don’t be ‘that guy’ or ‘that girl’ that has no presence or visibility – our industry runs on reputation so whether you like it or not – people notice if you’re a contributor or a can’t-be-bothered-er. It saddens me when we get messages from local designers saying they’re having problems finding work or meeting other people but they’ve not come to a free world-class event on their doorstep.

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

Something that Luke mentioned in one of his answers is that “everyone should have access to events like this”, and this has to be one of the key factors I have heard people speaking about, regarding BDF. BDF is equally accessible to the young talent emerging through education as it is to experienced creatives. This doesn’t just apply to design based events, but there are many events around the world that attract big-name guests and put on fantastic events across multiple days, but they charge close to £1,000 for tickets and some even exceed this figure, which, as you can imagine, prices out the 99.9% of students and the next generation of talent coming into the industry.

At BDF 2019 I saw tonnes of young creatives volunteering and listening to talks across the event venues. No matter which sector they will end up working in, young emerging creatives are the people who will have a big say in shaping our future, and getting the chance to learn from the best is a great way to become more creative and inspired to do great meaningful work.

This years event saw the likes of Veronica Fuerte, Mina Lima, Richard Small and Chris Do deliver inspirational, insightful and eye-opening talks that showcased their work, thoughts and ideas around the theme of Truth.

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

Every speaker I had the chance to see, delivered a different spin on the festival theme whilst offering some unique takeaways the audience was able to absorb. Yes, you are able to absorb information from talks that are filmed online, but there is something about attending these events in person that helps the information stick better. Asides from being able to catch speakers after their talk to ask follow-up questions, at this years BDF, you were surrounded by creators no matter what talk you were attending. The festival was buzzing with creative conversations about work, life, health and how design impacts all areas of the world we live in. There was an atmosphere that you couldn’t escape from at this year’s festival, an aspect you could never experience without attending an event like BDF.

My biggest takeaway from this years BDF is the importance of being involved in a community such as the local creative one BDF has brought together. This was something Luke said he felt very strongly about, and I have to say, its something I do too. Not only has this event led me to make some great friends and contacts personally, but in terms of working as a creative, it has boosted my motivation and inspiration levels to work on new and exciting creative projects.

Those of you who have had the chance to read a copy of Volume 4 of 99 Percent Lifestyle will have seen that I recommended the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger. In this book, Sebastian speaks about how it takes around 25,000 years for a species to adapt to a new way of living, and it has only been around 10,000 since the spread of agriculture. As a society, we are still hardwired to live in tribes from our hunter-gather days. In a nutshell, the book talks about how we work and live better when we are apart of a community and surrounding ourselves with more people.

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

Working on this magazine, 99% of the time (no pun intended) in isolation, is tough to stay productive, and over the past 12 months I have made sure I have put time aside to attend more events, be that the Photography Show at the NEC or the smaller Digbeth Arts Markets every few weeks. By attending at least one of these events each month (as a guest or having a stall), I have noticed that my productivity and motivation has shifted in a positive way.

If there is one takeaway you should have from reading this article, then try to set some time aside to become more involved within a creative community, whether that be by attending Glug, BDF or Ladies Wine and Design in Birmingham, or for another creative meet up/event taking place near your location.

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

To wrap up this feature, I asked Luke Tonge where people could find out more about BDF and get involved in the local creative Birmingham community:

“If you’re interested in creativity in any form, please follow GlugBrum and come to one of our quarterly nights at Mama Roux’s in Digbeth – there’s amazing food from DDC and it’s always a lovely warm atmosphere with fantastic talks. If you’re of the fairer sex, get involved with Ladies Wine & Design, the Brum branch is run by two of our fantastic ladies, Lisa & Lindsay, and they will make you feel very welcome. Last but not least, if you’re not already following BDF on social media please do so (@designfestbrum) as we’ll be announcing some exciting things about BDF2020 over the coming months, including some big announcements you won’t want to miss!”

Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019
Birmingham Design Festival 2019

Over the past 12 months since being introduced to BDF, I have had the pleasure to feature many creatives on the weekly newsletter and print magazine. If you would like to find out more then visit the newsletter archive page here to browse all previous issues, and you can also see all the creators involved with each of the issues by clicking the following links:

Volume 1 of 99 Percent Lifestyle

Volume 2 of 99 Percent Lifestyle

Volume 3 of 99 Percent Lifestyle

Volume 4 of 99 Percent Lifestyle

Pictures by Thom Bartley, Fraser McGee and Martin O’Callaghan.