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Something WickED this way comes

Hackney Wick will buzz with colour and activity as the fourth Hackney WickED festival spills out of artists’ studios and throughout the Wick on Friday 29 July.

But with next year’s Olympics in the midst of a community in which one in seven people is either an artist or involved with an arts centre (MUF Architects, 2009), things are set to change.

I catch up with Laura May Lewis, one of the directors to discuss this year’s festival and the challenges posed by the future.

“I think it’s inevitable that the changes in the area will be reflected in the festival,’ she says. “But the festival itself is quite organic. Spaces are constantly changing, as people leave and others open up their buildings to us, but it’s always been about connecting events and spaces,” she says.

Simon White, of Elevator Gallery and also a director of the festival agrees. “It’s always changing, but in some ways it’s always the same,” he says.

So do they feel that the festival is a reaction to the space it’s in?

“Absolutely,” says Laura, “and that’s something that can be seen in this year’s site-specific pieces. They’re on a much larger scale than in previous years and it’s really exciting to be able to involve the area, see things lit up on buildings and relate the outdoor spaces to the indoor spaces.”

“Buildings which you have seen derelict for years suddenly spring to life and there’s all sorts of activities going on inside,” says Simon.

According to Sara O’Donnell, who is working on the WickED’s PR: “There’s an in-the-community tradition to the festival which I think is what makes it work so well and allows us to integrate different parts of the area.”

I certainly get the impression that the festival is a product of its environment, both artistically and practically. An educational programme will run again this year, setting up dialogue between artists and local residents through a series of workshops. Community involvement starts long before the festival though, with local volunteers pitching in.

“In the build-up, everyone’s running around and helping out, doing bits of paint here and there and putting up shelves – it’s a really nice atmosphere,” says Laura.

“It seems to create a welcoming environment and word about the festival’s family-friendly feel has spread a long way, with families driving from mainland Europe to attend last year.

“We get such a mix of people, from people who want to buy art to people who just want to see something a bit different.”

With outdoor screenings, live music, a flea market and the Fish Island Street Party planned for this year, there definitely seems to be something for everyone – not to mention the light installations, open studios and pop-up spaces. So, is it established enough now to have secured its own future?

“Sustainability is the big challenge,” says Sara. “Whilst there’s investment in the area’s infrastructure at the moment, protecting its artistic spaces and art works is also important.”

“Public funding would certainly help in that respect, whilst allowing the festival to retain its identity – we are passionate about keeping things organic and unbranded,” says Laura.

In allowing the festival to form its own identity and with exhibitions such as Elevator Gallery’s The Tomorrow People showcasing artists of the future, it seems that artistic development will remain at the heart of Hackney Wick’s development, at least for the time being.

As we leave, Laura tells me that ‘We recently tried to get the Hackney Wick sign listed, but as it was made out of MDF, we had to get the letters cut out of steel instead.’

“It’s a visual sign of what’s happening here,” says Simon.

Hackney WickED runs from Friday 29 -Sunday 31 July 2011.

More at Hackney WickED Festival.