Inside Out Dorset is a biennial festival of large-scale performances in stunning rural and urban settings. Kate Wood describes how it comes together.

Image of Harmonic Fields
Harmonic Fields

Stuart Morris

Inside Out Dorset is a biennial festival started more than eight years ago and run by Activate Performing Arts, which will next take place in September 2014. It is ten days of free outdoor theatre, performance, dance, circus and visual installations in the heart of the rural countryside.

We select a mixture of locations and event partners across the county which best highlight the extraordinary locations and diversity in which locals live and work. Often festivals are located within city centres and urban settings, but it was important for us to focus on what is unique about where we live and to use the stunning rural landscapes, as well as urban centres.

Increased effort is made to network and connect to ensure that artists and communities are not working in isolation

The performing arts sector is always looking for ways to engage new audiences and the same can be said for Inside Out Dorset. The festival includes large-scale performances in both rural and urban communities, allowing people from all walks of life and locations to witness the spectacular presentations. Rural locations have ranged from iron-age hill forts such as Hambledon Hill, sites dotted around Ashmore, a village on the Wiltshire border, and coastal locations West Bay and Bowers Quarry in Portland. Showcase performances took place in towns inclduing Wimborne, alongside more urban sites in Weymouth, Bournemouth and Poole.

One of the main attractions in 2012 was Harmonic Fields, sited on Portland, which drew in crowds of more than 11,000. Many local residents returned several times bringing friends and family, with some asking whether the sound installation could become a permanent fixture. With such ambitious work, it is essential that an event of this scale is staffed sufficiently. Local event partners and community groups helped to plan and deliver the festival, and more than 130 volunteers supported the festival last year.

With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Activate is commissioning nine artists to produce work along the South Dorset Ridgeway landscape in west Dorset, to be presented over a three-day period. The commissioned artists have already visited the location for a residency and met with specialists from the Landscape Partnership, so they can learn about the area’s residents, archaeology, flora and fauna as well as the history to help them develop their work. The Landscape Partnership, led by the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is made up of both heritage and arts partners, and is rich with knowledge and passion for the landscape.

We work alongside a number of arts partners, and our steering group is the Dorset Theatre Promoters Consortium which initiated the first festival. It is a strong and supportive network which puts out wide feelers into each community it serves. The organisation Artsreach, with its focus on working rurally, works alongside us to give us a better understanding of the communities. We have always found that working in rural Dorset, where public transport is more limited, that increased effort is needed to network and connect to ensure that artists and communities are not working in isolation.

We are also interested in developing a much stronger alliance with our tourism and business partners, and building the visitor economy: the festival benefits the county economically, making an economic impact of more than £1 million.

Kate Wood is Executive Director of Activate Performing Arts.

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Photo of Kate Wood