We’ve loved catching up with Big Draw Festival organiser Helen Ackroyd, Libraries & Culture Manager at Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries.
Inspire’s reach is incredibly impressive; they deliver services from 67 buildings across Nottinghamshire and their ever-ambitious programmes are made possible by over 600 people! Last year, Inspire became one of the first Library services to be awarded National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status from Arts Council England to deliver a cultural programme through its libraries. This marks a significant shift in how the function of Libraries are changing.
Inspire has been taking part in The Big Draw Festival for a few years now, with each year bringing unique and - indeed - inspiring events to the Nottinghamshire community! Last year's ambitious programme of events wholeheartedly embraced the theme of #Play2018, exploring the question “What would happen if the Circus came to the Library?”. Find out more about last year's events, and Inspire's plans for this year's #DrawnToLife theme...
Hi Helen! Thanks so much for talking to us today. Could you start by telling us a bit about Inspire: Culture, Learning & Libraries, and your work as Libraries and Culture Manager?
"Inspire: Culture, Learning and Libraries is a community benefit society delivering amazing cultural and learning services across Nottinghamshire. We work in 67 buildings including 60 libraries and we are one of the first library organisations to be awarded Arts Council England National Portfolio Status.
As Libraries and Culture Manager I have the privilege of working with a fabulous team that programme and support Reading, Arts and Heritage to embellish the core offer in our beautiful library spaces.
Inspire Libraries are wonderful places open to all and located in communities that might not have a theatre, a gallery or museum nearby so programming top class exhibitions, workshops and performances, in these spaces brings a cultural offer into the heart of local communities."
Inspire has been taking part in The Big Draw Festival for some years now; what was it that initially inspired you to get involved?
"I have a personal love of drawing that tends to thread through everything I do so there was never a hesitation in getting involved in The Big Draw! I love that we become part of an international festival where drawing - in its widest sense - is celebrated and talked about. Once we had done our first Big Draw Festival, there was really no turning back."
Whilst we are seeing an increase in community spaces such as libraries taking part in creative and wellbeing initiatives across the globe, it remains a reasonably unusual feat. Why do you think that libraries are a good place to get creative?
"I talk a lot about drawing as a vehicle to explore other things. I think The Big Draw festival themes, and the open way you can creatively adapt ideas each year to tackle something that’s right for your space or audience, makes The Big Draw perfect for any community or Library space. It can draw attention to another idea or collection and attract new audiences.
I love that The Big Draw advocates come from all areas of creativity and talk about what it means to them; many of them are writers and illustrators whose work is already part of library life."
Last year for your Big Draw events you worked with local artist Emma Reynard and 12 schools across the county to explore the question “What would happen if the Circus came to the Library?”. Students drew on acetate, using chalk pens to draw lions leaping off bookshelves and strong librarians lifting books while riding a unicycle! Can you tell us a bit more about your #Play2018 events?
"We had such a great time with #PLAY! We had 669 school children working with Emma. The ideas and designs they came up with in visually answering the question “What would happen if the Circus came to the Library?”, went on to inform the commissioned automata made for Inspire by Keith Newstead. Seeing the children with the final artwork and meeting Keith was magical! We then toured all the work to our library galleries around the county and ran 12 public Big Draw workshops in libraries where our library visitors continued creating library circus fun."
How did you find the experience of running these Big Draw events? Were there any particular highlights that you could point to, or difficulties that you faced, which may have affected your plans for this year’s events?
"Every year is different - new ideas, new challenges and the creative processes start almost immediately for the following year. We have done The Big Draw with lots of funding and with no funding and both are equally rewarding. Communication is key, from us as programmers, to artists, to the public and to the brilliant library staff that support the events and help our customers of all ages to join in. My favourite part is when some of our smallest libraries join in with our ‘How To’ kits that are mini versions of the artists offer, but led by our library staff. This way we get The Big Draw to happen right across the county."
What should people expect from this year’s Big Draw events at Inspire, and why should they get involved?
"This year we are working with Kinetic Sculptor Jim Bond and Nottinghamshire’s Special schools. Jim is developing accessible drawing machines that remove complete control from the artist and make expressive marks. He will be working with 6 schools and the work will become a touring show and he will then share the opportunity to draw with the machines in Inspire Libraries for the festival. We are also working on a drawing machine kit for our smaller libraries too, our office is the testing zone! We really can’t wait to see what we get from the library workshops."
This year’s Festival theme, ‘Drawn to Life’, focuses on the vital role of creativity for our health and wellbeing. As ‘social prescribing’ gains greater recognition as an effective tool for living a healthier and happier life, we believe it is now more important than ever to create opportunities for accessible, fun, creative events within our communities. What role will ‘Drawn to Life’ play in your events at Inspire this year? Furthermore, does this theme play an important role in your life and work outside of the Festival?
"We really wanted to run a Big Draw event this year that had no barriers to participation and create a level playing field regardless of traditional drawing ability to create great outcomes. The drawing machines can be used by everyone and are really good fun, changing the way we make marks and removing a lot of our direct control. We know taking part in a creative activity is great for wellbeing, and we will be embellishing our Big Draw with the other opportunities through reading and learning programmes we offer to embellish participant wellbeing.
I personally use drawing for wellbeing as it takes me to another place. I think it’s my meditation, it fills my entire head, slows my breathing and makes me happy. The drawing at the other end is sometimes coincidental."
What are some of the benefits you see of taking part in The Big Draw Festival? Is there any advice or guidance you would give to those that are uncertain about registering to put on their own event?
"Being a small cog is a giant creative wheel is a joy. Watching participants remember or discover they love drawing is great and using it to encourage the discovery of something else is the gold dust.
Registering to be part of The Big Draw Festival opens the doors to being part of a community that love drawing. It brings opportunities for people to share ideas, discuss why drawing is important to them and how it has affected their community. Branding events as part of the international Big Draw Festival gives it a validation beyond your organisation and lifts the event beyond what we can manage locally."
Thank you Helen and the team at Inspire: Culture, Learning & Libraries!
Inspire: Culture, Learning & Libraries is one of our Big Draw Festival 2019 Sponsor Partners.
Watch the teaser video of Inspire's #Play2018 exhibition opening here.
Have you been inspired by Helen's interview and The Big Draw Festival 2019 theme: #DrawntoLife? Why not join our global Festival in 2019? Registration is now open! Find out more about the benefits of becoming an organiser here and other ways to support The Big Draw's mission here.