Lauren Fletcher is another one of the Festival team’s Jack (Jill?) of all trades, having been involved in many projects over the years. This year, as the curator and project manager of the Creativate Digital Arts Festival as well as a project manager for the Virtual National Arts Festival, Lauren has her hands full keeping up with the ever-shifting goalposts. We mailed her a set of questions – and she, of course, replied before deadline!

Tell us a little about yourself – how did you end up involved in the Virtual National Arts Festival?

I have had the pleasure of working on many wild and wonderful National Arts Festival projects over the years – from site-specific post-apocalyptic performances in army bases and abandoned taxi ranks to working in the Festival’s technical office. Outside of this Festival, I have worked on the management of other creative events such as the FNB Joburg Art Fair and the Design Indaba.

Three years ago, the National Arts Festival team approached me about project managing a new mini-festival – the Creativate Digital Arts Festival. I was elated to be presented with this opportunity because I am a digital arts nerd (I wrote my Masters thesis on merging physical and virtual reality, before I had ever experienced VR). I have been working on Creativate ever since, this year as curator and manager. I am also on the curatorial team that oversees Virtual National Arts Festival submissions. This role is exciting as it provides an even greater space to work with artists who are playing and experimenting within digital spaces.

Last year, you co-curated the Creativate Programme, which is supported by Standard Bank, at the Festival. Can you tell us some of the highlights from that experience? 

One of the highlights was having the opportunity to work with some of the digital creatives that I have been reading about and following for so long. Within the Creativate Talks programme, it was so exciting to hear about how they view the world, and their art practice. Another great highlight was curating the Creativate Exhibition Hall, showcasing incredible emerging talent alongside established artists and experiencing their fascinating new ideas and techniques. Cirque Alfonse’s performance of I Am Somebody – was quite an experience, with their incredible use of tech meets circus. I had to watch it twice because it was just too much fun. Overall, imagining a space and a programme for months and seeing it all come together to create and highlight a community of creative innovators, is its own piece of magic.

We are all learning a new normal – Zoom meetings, hang-outs, long WhatsApp calls… How have you found working during the Lockdown?

The whole team is discovering new features in Google Sheets every day. I do enjoy having Zoom meetings in my slippers. I assume that everyone else does that too, and that’s the new work uniform…?

Given that vNAF is really a brand-new version of the Festival, what have you found the most exciting aspect of being involved in its inception?

It’s important to understand that not all works suit a digital medium – however, what I really enjoy is when tech is used to elevate a storytelling technique and used as a medium to bring extra layers into a work.

For example, on a digital platform, you can click on a painting and have the artists whisper secrets about the work into your ear, or zoom into an existing ceiling fresco and see details that you would never be able to see in person. It becomes really exciting to work with artists and begin using digital tools to reimagine and create an experience that may be really difficult or impossible to experience within a physical representation of the Festival.

Even more importantly, building up anything from the inception requires a space for the imagination to run wild with ideas. To make the ideas come to fruition, however, requires many skills. Together the Festival team is reimagining what the Festival can be, and learning new skills sets to make it happen. What is exciting about this is that what is learnt here can be brought into future editions of the Festival, instilling the platform with more tools to highlight the arts and artists.

Conversely, what will you miss most about the live version of NAF in Makhanda?

I lived in Makhanda for many years, and something special happens in the lead up to and during the Festival: the air of the town changes, the Festival becomes tangible in the atmosphere. This feeling of festivity is important, and we are exploring ways of how to make this tangible in the digital form. In addition to this, the local community in many ways forms the heart of the Festival, and the vNAF team is exploring all potential avenues to ensure that this focus is not lost. On the flipside, because the Festival is not situated Makhanda for this year, the work from our fantastic local talent has the potential to reach even wider audiences locally and internationally.

What is your favourite form of escape – book, movie, music, recollection…?

I spend a lot of days in my head and on a computer – for me reconnecting with nature is important to stay balanced. My form of escape is working in my veggie garden, and the occasional online game. 

What is the one thing that really gets your teeth grinding?

Rude people and late people: respect each other and each other’s time. On that note, some days I feel like I spend most of my time waiting for my laptop to catch up – slow computers bring out a different side to me.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would that be and why?

The world is a tricky place right now. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than home.