Emma Clarendon chatted to The Vault Festival’s Mat Burtcher and Andy George about the early closure of this year’s festival and its future.
Hi – let me start by saying how sorry I am about the early closure of the VAULT Festival. How are you both feeling?
Thanks for saying that. We’re disappointed and very sad to be honest, and we’re scared about money and the future. We’ve worked non-stop for a long time to get the Festival to where it is and to face the idea that it might not recover from this is painful. We are very grateful to have each other, and so much support from our wonderful team and the affected artists. The camaraderie and outpouring of support we’ve received this week has really kept us going. We’re trying our best to remain positive at these difficult times and those moments of support keep us afloat.
Obviously it was a difficult decision to make but what was the moment for you like when you decided to close the festival early?
We were on the phone. Monday is the only day we don’t have to be on-site at the Festival, so Andy was using that time to visit his brother and their six-day old baby out of London, and Mat was at home with his wife. We watched the PM’s press conference while on the phone and knew what it meant pretty much immediately. It was really hard not being together. There were some tears, rants, deep breaths, and collections of thoughts. Then we pressed on.
The following hours were spent drafting statement after statement, phone call after phone call. We’d created the outline of a provisional plan in case of having to close early the previous week. We hadn’t expected to actually have to use it, but as our heads were both swimming and spinning now, we were glad we had. We arranged a conference call with the senior team that night to let them know of the decision, and outline the plan. The whole thing was sad beyond belief but it was the right thing to do, though. We knew that. In the midst of this all, Andy managed to put down the phone and laptop long enough to spend 20 minutes meeting and holding his new nibling for the first time; experiencing a momentary surreal feeling of calmness in the eye of the tempestuous storm.
With this situation putting a lot of people out of work at the moment, how do you think we could support those in the arts right now?
There are some wonderful suggestions floating around amongst the community. Lots of artists and venues are taking their work online, so watch their streams, download (rate and review) their podcasts, and keep engaging with them. They’ve got so much to give, and they want to keep filling your lives with culture and colour. Once we’re out of lockdown, get out there and show up!
We’ve seen a massive switch to last-minute ticket booking over the past couple of years, and the best way to support artists (in our opinion) is to BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY. That way you save them the stress, anxiety, and fear that they haven’t sold enough tickets and means they can hopefully sleep better at night. But we’re also aware everyone is suffering at the moment and we hope people are looking after those closest to them and the most vulnerable first.
Since the change in situation for the VAULT Festival – what have you both been doing? We’ve been busy, which is a small mercy as it keeps the spectre of the big picture at bay. The physical pack down started the morning after we made the call, and there’s a lot of work involved in contacting every artist, audience member, our partners, and the team. And
many many smaller decisions and their consequences to think through. There’s also our partners and families to think about, like everyone else, so there’s not been a lot of reflection time for us yet. We’re now social distancing and working from home with regular video chats. We’re continuing to wrap up the digital and financial aspects of these festival
and beginning the long and arduous journey of trying to get back to £0 so that we can survive into the future.
I know this possibly a difficult question to answer – but what do you hope for in terms of the future of the VAULT Festival? If there’s a route out of this, we’ll do everything we can to find it. If this is the end of the
Festival, so many people will lose out from what it has to offer in the future – artists, staff, and audiences. But honestly, we do not know. We don’t have financial reserves and we don’t get any public funding support, so at the moment the picture is a bit bleak. Whether we can continue at all will be dependent on what happens over the next few weeks. We’re
not an NPO, or a permanent venue, and we don’t have any PAYE staff, so like a lot of other artists and event organisers, nothing the government have announced so far helps us. But we’re remaining hopeful that we won’t slip through the cracks. We’re determined not to just yet.We’ve got some time to try and get our heads around the big questions, and the support
we’re hearing and seeing is giving us the energy to carry on through these difficult times.
By Emma Clarendon