Lewisham’s London Borough of Culture 2022 programme We Are Lewisham launches on Friday. Proud borough resident NIKKI SPENCER looks forward to the year ahead.
After being postponed for 12 months due to the pandemic, Lewisham is finally set to have its year in the cultural spotlight with an array of events that will put the borough “on the map, not just in the capital but nationally”, says André Bourne, the council’s cabinet member for culture.
Lewisham, which was awarded the annual festival by City Hall in 2020, follows Waltham Forest and Brent in being the capital’s borough of culture.
Highlights include the UK premiere of the theatrical installation Sun and Sea, which will see the Albany theatre in Deptford turned into a beach for three weeks over the summer.
Mass Dance, an intergenerational dance performance which celebrates the contribution of mass migration to the borough, will come to Beckenham Place Park in October. Breathe: 2022 will be a striking new public artwork about air pollution which pays tribute to Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah.
Lewisham People’s Day – the council’s free festival in Mountsfield Park in Catford – is also returning in July after a four-year hiatus.
“The We Are Lewisham programme is very much community-led and will focus on our history and our culture and how strong we are in our activism. We are the first council in the UK to become a borough of sanctuary and we are proud of that,” says Bourne.
Back in October, Little Amal, a 3.5 metre animatronic puppet representing a nine-year-old Syrian refugee, visited Deptford High Street, bringing visitors from far and wide. Bourne is keen to replicate the atmosphere he found that day.
“That is the buzz we want,” he says.
“I was blown away by the number of visitors who came along that day. I spoke to people from west London and also families from Manchester and Newcastle. That event was just a snippet of what this year could look like.”
Friday’s opening celebrations will be a taste of what’s to come over the year with music, dance and art events from morning until night.
“Day one has been scaled down slightly due to Omicron but there will be things happening everywhere,” says Bourne.
Between 9am and 10am, Commotions will have Trinity Laban music students and music groups popping up at local rail stations – including Blackheath, Deptford and Lewisham – while Art on Your Doorstep will feature local artists performing or running activities at cafes and shops, and other venues.
You can write a Love Letter to Lewisham or create a portrait at The Migration Museum in the Lewisham Centre, join a dance workshop at the 999 Club in Deptford, listen to Irish music at Arlo & Moe in Crofton Park or create a sculpture at Brockley Jack Theatre.
Back at Lewisham shopping centre, you can also help make an Identity Tapestry with the American artist Mary Corey March.
At midday over 40 schools in the borough will take part in the first of 12 monthly creative challenges by doing the LBoc Bop, a signature dance which has been choreographed by Irie! Dance to music by The Midi Music Company.
After darkness falls on Friday, a new short film about Lewisham will be projected onto the Lewisham Centre and other buildings. It will be shown simultaneously on a big screen in Leicester Square.
The programme is not all finalised – and there are still opportunities for individuals, local people and business, to get involved.
“We have planned about 60-70% of the events but things are still evolving which is very exciting,” Bourne says.
Throughout the year, Revolution Through Music will celebrate the borough’s rich contribution to British music – a heritage that includes Squeeze, Blur, Dire Straits, Kate Bush and Test Dept to Sound System pioneers Smiley Culture and Dennis Bovell, and continues today with Kae Tempest, Novelist, Jessie Ware, Moses Boyd, MNEK, Ray BLK, Tirzah, Mica Levi and more.
In March, Mercury Prize nominee Dave Okumu will curate Love is Attention, where high-profile artists are paired with emerging talent. In May Rebel Music will trace Lewisham’s activist history with Linton Kwesi Johnson, and includes a Vogue Ball hosted by Turner Prize nominees Black Obsidian Sound System. In October, Novelist will curate Underground Lewisham which will spotlight the borough’s thriving grime, Afrobeat and drill scene.
The borough’s landmark creative institutions – Trinity Laban, Goldsmiths University, the Rivoli Ballroom, the Albany and the Horniman Museum will all be part of We Are Lewisham. But the Broadway Theatre in Catford will be out of action for most of the year for a major refurbishment.
“Covid came along and put everything on hold but fingers crossed we will have it finished ready for the finale in December,” says Bourne.
Festivals are a big part of the year’s celebrations. In March, Inua Ellams, the poet, playwright and performer who wrote the acclaimed Barber Shop Chronicles, presents a spoken word festival, 05Fest, at the Albany.
Lewisham People’s Day, the borough’s huge free music, art and community festival, which usually attracts up to 25,000 people, returns to Mountsfield Park on July 16. Acts are yet to be confirmed but past headliners have included reggae band Misty in Roots and singer Tippa Irie.
Beyond Borders, a global music festival, will take place in the Horniman Museum and Gardens in August and the borough also will host this year’s Liberty Festival, which celebrates the work of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists. Performances, installations, workshops and symposiums will take place from July 22-25.
The climate emergency will be a major theme in We Are Lewisham.
Hope for Justice, on June 17 and 18, is a cross-artform work which is a rousing call to climate action that has been commissioned by Trinity Laban. Climate Home will be a new low carbon pop-up venue in Deptford designed and built by young people in the borough. It will house a programme of performances and events focused on climate.
The historic Master Shipwright’s House on the banks of the Thames in Deptford will host the world premiere of The Gretchen Question, an outdoor performance by Fuel Theatre that looks at the roots of the climate crisis and runs from September 22 to October 2.
One of We Are Lewisham’s biggest draws is expected to be Sun and Sea at the Albany, with tickets going on sale in the next few weeks.
The theatrical installation, featuring 13 vocalists, won the coveted Golden Lion award at the 2019 Venice Biennale. It will transform the Albany into a beach with ten tons of sand, making the Deptford venue a sun and sea festival between June 23 and July 10.
It is a major coup for Gavin Barlow, the director of the Albany and creative director of We Are Lewisham.
“People from across the world were scrabbling to have this, but the Albany is made for it as our theatre is in the round, and you can view it from the balcony,” he says.
“I think we will still be finding sand 10 years later!”
Full details of what’s on and how to get involved are at wearelewisham.com.
NIKKI SPENCER is a freelance journalist who has also written for The Guardian, The Independent, Lewisham Ledger and Peckham Peculiar.
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