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Ben Evans discusses the role of design festivals in cities

In a conversation with STIR, Ben Evans talks about the role and impact of the London Design Festival and London Design Biennale on the city.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Sep 25, 2022

London is a melting pot of people, cultures, ideas, and perhaps most importantly, activators. These activators manifest in different ways. Sometimes they are organisations that cast a wide net of support. Sometimes they are individual people that connect the points of creative output and ground them in the reality of their context. These translators of culture are an important aspect of any cultural and design fair. In relation to the city of London, there are perhaps two key design events that come to mind. The first is the annual London Design Festival and the second is the London Design Biennale which takes place every alternate year.

To better understand the curatorial approach and the impact of these two events, Amit Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of STIR, spoke to Ben Evans CBE, Director of the London Design Festival, and Executive Director of London Design Biennale. Evans established the Festival in 2003 with Co-Founder Sir John Sorrell. In 2016 the first London Design Biennale was held at the Somerset House for three weeks. Over the course of our conversation, Evans not only talked about spearheading city-wide creative festivals but engaged in a deeper conversation about how these festivals impact the city not just in economics but also in terms of engaging the public.

He explains the role, "we are public-spirited, and we always have been. One, we believe in supporting our constituency, our community. Two is to support the wider city and the people that live there. The starting point is that there has been a transformation in audiences' interest understanding, and confidence in their design choices. Therefore, I take the view that design is for everyone. We just need to find a way to remind them of that or provoke them. That has led us to the programme that we have run for many years where we put our major installations in very very public places. That is done deliberately. While we have a dedicated audience that will show up for anything we do, I am also interested in the passerby. "

In addition to the Festival and Biennale, Evans initiates, commissions and curates projects for the event including an annual residency in the V&A Museum. He has been a Governor of the University of the Arts London, a Board Member of the Roundhouse, and a Trustee of Artangel. Since 2017 he has been the Chairman of the Mayor's Cultural Leaders Board - a statutory advisory group to the London Mayor. In 2010 he was awarded an honorary degree from the Royal College of Art, he graduated from the RCA in 1989 with an MA in History of Design. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), for services to the creative industries in 2019.

While the London Design Festival 2022 comes to an end, we look forward to the upcoming iteration of the London Design Biennale, directed by the Het Nieuwe Instituut led by Aric Chen. Previous Directors of the biennale include Dr Christopher Turner in 2016, Victoria Broackes in 2018, and Es Devlin in 2020/2021.

Click here to know everything about London Design Festival 2022. Celebrating its 20th year, the festival takes over the city of London with installations, exhibitions, and talks from major design districts such as Brompton, Shoreditch Design Triangle, Greenwich Peninsula, Design London, Clerkenwell Design Trail, Park Royal, Mayfair, Bankside, King's Cross, William Morris Line, and Islington.

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