Luke Das, Wednesday 04 July 2012
Sutton High Street is alive with the sound of steel drums.
Each chime vanquishes the rain clouds and brings out the sunshine for everyone to enjoy. As parents and their children parade in time to the music, Eirini Kotzaki-Edleston speaks to them about Imagine 2012. As Arts & Events Officer for Sutton Council she has been present throughout the festival, often with a stack of leaflets under one arm and a brightly coloured banner under the other.
‘This is the sixth year of the festival and I am really pleased with how everything has worked out,’ Eirini explains to me afterwards. With an academic background in theatre and cultural policy she is the ideal person to organise such an event. She tells me more about the ethos of the festival. ‘Every year the council awards grants to local artists and associations. They are encouraged to put together a participatory event and to engage with the local community in some way. I think it is the free access and inclusive aspect that draws people to the festival.’
During Imagine 2012 I took part in a singing class, contributed to a fabric painting workshop and learned about film making in the foyer of Sutton Library. Eirini and her team collated an impressive range of activities that enticed many residents to get involved. ‘The Big Dance Bus was one of the highlights this year. It was part of a pan London project and we were fortunate to have the bus stop in Sutton. My favourite events were the ones that included young people. Given my educational background I can never escape my area of interest.’
‘The logistics of organising the festival were a major challenge but luckily we had lots of volunteers to lend a hand,’ she shares. I am able to recall Eirini and her husband James rolling up their sleeves and ferrying equipment back and forth on many occasions. Participants had to endure the elements at times, however, the celebratory tone of the festival was never dampened. ‘We are not a huge team and the rain meant one event had to be postponed,’ she adds.
After the crowd disperses and the steel band packs away their instruments I am interested to learn about Eirini’s intentions for next year. ‘My ambition is to get more young people involved,’ she says. ‘Also I would like more professional artists from the community to take part. I feel I have now developed enough personal relationships to increase the scale of the festival. Until then, Sutton has the privilege of hosting plenty of cultural activities throughout the year. I would encourage residents to visit our theatres as often as they can and to get involved with local productions.’