I Am Festival: It takes a village… 

Ross Bolwell-Williams reflects on his experience of delivering our Cultural Ambassadors work experience programme

25 May 2022

The phrase “it takes a village” has become a leading light on the upcoming I Am Festival. As a sector, we are great at making things happen - making them look like seamless slick magic. There's a lot of people-power down in this engine room making I Am Festival happen and I wanted to take the opportunity to pause and share with you who the people are and what’s been happening in this village.

My role on this project is Creative Freelancer. This is possibly the most nebulous job title I’ve ever had, but also the most accurate. It encompasses many things from scheduling, leading engagement sessions, partnership development and most importantly, making sure the Cultural Ambassadors have meaningful points of engagement in all aspects of the programme.

The theme of the festival this year is Unity. This feels extremely apt considering that I Am Festival and the Cultural Ambassador programme is the first ‘in-real-life’ event A New Direction has organised since 2019. For many of us, this is the first significant event we have worked on in three years that hasn’t been instigated through some kind of screen or digital platform. This feels like a massive opportunity and what a privilege it is to be in a real space with real people, outside the confines of Zoom, our plans spilling into REAL places!


"This project has let me learn new things, do lots of activities and it has given me the confidence to travel independently." - Franc

The Cultural Ambassador programme is at the centre of I Am Festival. The group is made up of disabled and D/deaf young people who are supported by the charity AFK. They are Amy, Franc, Titus, Matthew, Renee, Adam, Elijah, Sutharsan and Darius. They are many wonderful things, but if I had to sum up their role in the festival I would say that they are part curators and part instigators/activators. Their unique experiences help to imprint and decide the direction of the activities at all points in the programme. Their opinions, ideas, desires and participation are key. They drive everything.

We meet weekly with support from Lynne Brackley (Festival Content Producer, A New Direction) Chloe Randall (Programme Manager, A New Direction) and Jake Watson and Victoria Havard (Service Delivery Facilitators, AFK). Our days together feel like village meetings at the town hall - we reflect, we learn, we share, we make. Over the 16 weeks, we have broken down this village meeting into looking into and growing the different elements associated with the I Am Festival.


"I've really enjoyed seeing and working with the different creative companies and taking part in what they do." - Matthew

Helping us along the way have been five commissioned festival partners: Graeae, Digit Music, Wood Street Walls, Corali and English National Opera (ENO). These organisations are trailblazers, each of them encompassing different art forms which have helped to enrich the programme and approach of this festival. Our village meetings would sometimes become masterclasses where artists would share their art and practice, giving the Cultural Ambassadors first-hand experience of what they do and how they do it.

Beyond this opportunity to develop skills and talents, the Cultural Ambassadors advise the festival partners to hone their offer for other disabled and D/deaf young people like them, as well as informing a series of interactive sessions/experiences which would take place in special educational settings and schools across London. So far, these have included exploring leadership through movement, co-designing immersive environments for opera and using new audio technologies to create music of unity.

The culmination of each of these projects will be shared as part of I Am Festival which will take place in various locations from 20th - 24th June 2022. More information about the festival can be found here.

Some other highlights have included…

  • Creating a playlist of “feel good” music

  • Drawing music

  • Route planning

  • Composing music using gadgets

  • Making model box sets

  • Passing the marble around a circle

  • Purchasing materials

  • Sitting in a circle of chairs

  • A Street Art walk in Walthamstow

  • Creating a flag of unity

  • Breading break with an opera designer

  • Creating images of unity using shapes

  • Drawing movement pathways with tape

Ross is a freelance Creative Producer and Participatory Artist. You can keep up with Ross on Twitter and Instagram using the handle @RossBolWill