Above Caffè Nero in Ashford’s town centre, plans are being hatched amid a flurry of activity masterminded by Betsy Aidinyantz – the organiser of Ashford’s yearly ArtiGras Arts Festival. After seeing a shout out for volunteers, I went along to the Centre of Creativity and Enterprise (CCE) to speak to Betsy and find out what ArtiGras is all about.
Sensing Betsy is – like me – a non-native of Ashford, I asked her how she ended up here. She told me, ‘I lived in London for about thirty years, then I developed a serious illness and needed some peace and quiet. I thought Kent would be the best place to go to.’ She looks thoughtful for a moment, then says, ‘I don’t want this to sound like a sob story but I had cancer.’ I say nothing but, as if reading my mind, Betsy continues, ‘Do I have cancer now? I don’t know, but I live every day as if I am clear.’
Although she came to Kent for the peace and quiet, Betsy has thrown herself into Ashford’s creative scene, being immersed in it since 2007. ‘It got to a stage in my life where I knew exactly what I wanted but I hadn’t found it in any jobs I had done previously, so I went back to university and did a degree. While I was doing my degree I set up Joining Hands, which was my first social enterprise.’
Betsy’s love of the arts is obvious. The CCE’s walls are adorned with paintings by local artists, and handmade cushions, bags, scarves, jewellery and other crafts drape every available surface. There’s even a huge painting taking up one wall in Betsy’s office created by her artist mother. I wondered how ArtiGras came to be.
‘ArtiGras was something that I came up with with Becky – a volunteer who worked for me – and we were already doing a festival called Ashford Festival of Arts and Technology but I really wanted something to be the festival that reminds people of spring. A festival that says sunshine, happiness, rebirth, rejuvenation. ArtiGras says all that.’
Loving the name ArtiGras, I asked Betsy where it came from. She smiles and says, ‘Becky came up with the name. It was the coolest moment – it was this eureka moment – where I just had a blank, I just couldn’t think of any names, then Becky ran up the stairs shouting, “I’ve got it, I’ve got a name! ArtiGras!” and people just love it.’
Betsy is keen to emphasise that ArtiGras isn’t about her, it’s about bringing together and showcasing the talent within Ashford. It’s also totally not-for-profit, as Betsy explains. ‘I don’t personally make anything out of it. It’s run by volunteers and it’s for the creative scene in Ashford. It’s to enhance the town culturally, it’s to get people into Ashford to see the art. We have amazing artists and amazing art and it’s also to showcase local talent. It’s about the art, the makers, the crafters, the dancers, the musicians, the theatres, the schools, the film groups. It’s nice to get us all together doing something with a common theme.’
Speaking of themes, this year’s ArtiGras theme is ‘Heart of Ashford’. Creating the piece de resistance is award-winning artist Phillip Long who, as part of Nagual Creations, helped design and make the giant urinal in Herne Bay for the Duchamp Festival which created a lot of interest in the national press. Betsy asks me if I saw it. I nod knowingly. She tells me, ‘Phillip’s creating the piece de resistance but we’re not going to tell the public what it is because it’s a surprise.’ She then shows me a photo of what it is and if I were you, you should definitely make the effort to come and have a look. It is – as the young people say – awesome.
So what will be happening in Ashford over the two days? The High Street and Park Mall will be taken over with craft stalls, live music, pop-up galleries, workshops for children and adults, and 3D printing, along with a parade along the High Street on the Saturday. Anyone is welcome to walk or cycle in the parade as long as they make and wear a mask or a costume. If you’ve got no idea how to make a mask go along to one of the free mask-making workshops specifically for this purpose on Saturday 2 May at the CCE from 10am to 4pm or Friday 15 May. Register for the free workshop here.
As mentioned above, ArtiGras is a not-for-profit festival but as we all know, festivals need money and people behind them to enable them to happen in the first place. ArtiGras desperately needs funding to pay for the volunteers’ expenses and food but they especially need funding to pay for the marketing, e.g. the flyers, banners, posters, etc.
Betsy also needs donations of timber, plywood, aluminium, Perspex, fibreglass, lycra and LED lighting for the secret project as well as any loans of bicycles for the parade (don’t worry, they won’t be painted or adapted and your bicycles will be returned to you safe and sound). Donations of raffle prizes will also be gratefully received.
If you can help with the funding (a sponsorship pack is available with more information), would like to volunteer to help out on the day or would like a stall, please get in touch with Betsy by:
emailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org;
calling her on 07837 896122;
popping into the CCE at Castle Buildings, 2C New Rents, Ashford, Kent TN23 1JH (above Caffè Nero) Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm; or
booking a stall online.
ArtiGras Arts Festival is taking place in Ashford Town Centre throughout the day on Friday 15 May and Saturday 16 May 2015 with live music taking place in various venues throughout the evening.
For more information: