Yulia Ovcharova gets the scoop from the Strategic and Creative Director of the upcoming festival.
For 43 years, Dumfries and Galloway Rural Arts Festival (D&G) have been providing local artists with vast audiences and opportunities for their voices to reach the whole country. As it’s going to open its doors very soon this spring, Melanie Purdie, Strategic & Creative Director behind D&G, has kindly agreed to an interview with The Glasgow Guardian. Here she describes the opportunities this year has brought, shares her experience in working behind the scenes of Scotland’s largest rural arts festival, and talks about the cultural impact that D&G has in the modern diverse community.
The Glasgow Guardian: What is the purpose of the D&G Arts Festival?
Melanie Purdie: We’re bringing people from Edinburgh and Glasgow to travel across the country to rural regions where local artists become central to the world and come to light. With 90 venues across the country, D&G is the largest rural performing festival. We operate to bring work to the local community and provide opportunities to all kinds of people who can invest in the performing arts and culture of the region.
GG: Everyone gets to perform in this festival, from queer folk musicians in Theatre Royal Dumfries to anybody willing to record themselves dancing for #DGDanceDare on the streets. How challenging was it to manage such a load of various events?
MP: Surprisingly easy. We have a fantastic general manager who knows everything about the region. We also regularly work with the venues and artists to program events throughout the entire year for our Arts Live, not just for these 10 days of the festival. What I’d call challenging but also fantastic this year is that we were able to expand our reach as we started planning our work outdoors and online due to Covid. We must program outdoor spaces with beautiful landmarks, monuments, crafting areas, parks, hills, beaches etc. that we’re getting to animate and that come to life with performances. It opens more doors and enlivens the region.
GG: This 43rd D&G programme brings queer community under the spotlight, with “Bogha-Frois: Queer Voices in Folk” opening the festival on 20 May and a Q+A with the artists behind the film THREADS by Sanctuary’s First National Queer Young Company on 25 May. Has D&G always been inclusive or is it more of a recent change?
MP: I’d consider both. On the one hand, this culture evolved along with society over 43 years. Working in rural areas, you’d find out that somewhere communities aren’t as open as in Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example. On the other hand, D&G has always been an inclusive working organisation. There are many marginalised people and queer communities with us today. There’s a huge emphasis on our program where queer voices speak and make themselves heard. It’s my passion to ensure that it’s not merely a segment but a group of stories and opportunities for them to open up. It brings awareness to people outside marginalised communities as well. We try to make it as open and inclusive as possible within the stories that are being told throughout performances.
GG: How can potential visitors get the most out of their visit to D&G this year?
MP: We have a strong online Q+A program for our Scottish Dumfries Theatre show, Sanctuary Queer Arts who are hosting Q+A for their THREADS film screening, and with Egg, which is our Paper Doll Militia show. Audiences interested in meeting diverse creators and finding out more about their work – you need to check this out! You’ll see the show or the film first, then you’ll get a great opportunity to uncover secrets about its content by engaging with the artists directly.
GG: When it comes to strategic planning, few people would instantly link that to creativity. Are you a creative person, Melanie?
MP: I consider myself to be one! I don’t stand on stage in front of the microphone, draw, or paint, but I am creative in terms of how I program or the way I think strategically. I truly believe that anyone who works in the art industry is creative in their own way.
GG: What would you like to tell people who don’t believe that strategic planning can be creative that would change their mind?
MP: That’s cool if you wanna learn more about that! The best advice I’d give is to volunteer with festivals and larger events. You’re going to see people playing different roles: there’s the director, the general manager, producers, technicians etc. It opens your eyes to how rich this world is with opportunities behind the scenes work apart from presenting yourself on stage.
GG: Had you done volunteering before becoming a strategic and creative director?
MP: That’s exactly what I did. I gained a lot of work experience volunteering whenever I could to really get a grasp on what I wanted to do next. I’m excited by the creativity of the industry. Among those people who you’ll meet will be professionals who can give you advice on where to go next if you want to explore a certain area of expertise. Get yourself out there, participate, and keep your eyes open.
GG: Is there any lesson the visitor can learn from attending the D&G festival?
MP: We want to ensure that Dumfries and Galloway are promoted and celebrated as a region of cultural importance. Once you arrive here, you’ll enjoy yourself and the environment, exploring and experiencing the most of it. I want everyone to take that chance to challenge and surprise themselves when engaging with something they weren’t necessarily interested in before.
Dumfries & Galloway Rural Arts Festival 2022 runs from Friday 20th to Sunday 29th May.