EFFE Laureate - Walk & Talk Azores
Until recently the Azores were some of the most inaccessible outposts of Europe. They sit in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where the three plates that carry North America, Europe and Africa meet. A pedantic geographer (or bored Passport Official) could have fun deciding which of the 9 islands belong to each continent. Luckily they have all been Portuguese ever since they were settled in the 15th century.
Rather less exotically it has been low cost airlines flying from Lisbon and Porto that in the last two years have opened the Azores up to normal tourists. The Walk & Talk Festival has been able to expand as a result but is still true to its roots. It began in 2011 as a reaction to the desperation caused by the financial crash and austerity.
At that time, says its founder and Director, Jesse James, “we had a small elite arts scene versus some popular events. The local heritage and culture is interesting but there was nothing really exploring it. We wanted to connect the different audiences and talk in a more international context, escaping from the insular context and attitudes.”
“That's why we went outside the institutions and into the streets – it was anyway the high point of street art.” For the first few years Walk & Talk concentrated on architecture, design and public art, with a dose of philosophy thrown in. There has been a permanent legacy as the festival has left a trail of public art across the main island, São Miguel. As time has gone on, and the festival has used more places and islands, music and the performing arts have been integrated into the programme. “Now we can occupy any space we want,” says Jesse, “we can go inside more and the performing arts help us to create a collective memory.”
He sees great advantages in having the festival in a small city (Ponta Delgada) on isolated islands. “Ours is a fragile structure with not much money but it is honest and transparent. We are not too small – about 70 artists this year – but we are not too big either. There is a lot of goodwill and it is easy to do stuff here. We do not force artists to collaborate but once they are here it's easy for them all to meet at the cantina where we all eat – and everybody (artists, audience and local people just passing by) mingles in the bars.”
By Simon Mundy for EFA