LAST weekend I visited Staithes Arts & Heritage Festival, although most people refer to it as Staithes Art Festival, and this year visitors to the two-day event were able to see work from 130 artists exhibiting in 90 locations around the village.
Staithes is a former fishing village on the North Yorkshire coast; complete with a harbour and an RNLI station, and since the fishing industry began to contract and the trawler-men left to follow the work it’s the art galleries and tourism that now bring the money in.
The village does, however, have a bit of “previous” when it comes to art; between the mid-1800s and the First World War it was home to the Staithes Group of Artists (also known as the Northern Impressionists).
Like many ex-fishing villages along that stretch of coastline it was forced to reinvent itself to survive. Staithes is twee, so twee it’s almost off the scale, so it didn’t take long for the houses vacated by the fishermen and their families to be sold off as second homes or to be bought by investors as holiday lets.
And then the artists slowly began to return, looking for solitude and inspiration, and then the art galleries, boutiques, gift shops and cafés followed. And then in 2014 a group of volunteers started the art festival.
Last year 3,000 people descended on the village to view (and buy) works of art, listen to talks, go on walks, eat and drink, hear music and attend workshops.
Before heading there I looked at the festival website, and then went to Twitter to see what was being said about it.
The website is good; and bear in mind that the festival is run by volunteers so they have to use whatever resources are available to them. The site told me who would be exhibiting, where I could stay (but not where I could camp), where I could eat and drink and where I could listen to music and who the sponsors were.
What it didn’t tell me was how I could connect on social media. There is a Facebook community organisation page, which I only found through searching for news about the festival; and there’s definitely no Twitter, Flickr, Google Plus or Instagram.
I searched on Twitter for #StaithesArtFestival and #StaithesFestival and there was a bit of activity on both but not what you’d call a community.
There was also very little on Flickr, nothing on Google Plus (no surprise there) and on Instagram there were 63 posts for #StaithesArtsFestival; 21 for #StaithesArtFestival, four for #StaithesArt and one for #StaithesFestivalOfArts.
It would be great if next year the festival could have a Twitter page using @StaithesFestival, and a dedicated hashtag – I recommend #StaithesFestival – which it could promote via the website and all of its other marketing material to help create an active online community; one that the artists could join in with and utilise to promote their work.
However, there is a major issue with Staithes. There’s no phone signal if you’re on Vodafone or Three (I can’t vouch for the other networks but I suspect they are the same). I do know, however, that if you walk to the far end of the north breakwater you will get a signal there.
What this means is that real time Tweeting, for example, is a no-no unless you can access wifi.
Ah yes, wifi. There is broadband in the village, courtesy of Superfast North Yorkshire, but as far as I’m aware there is no public wifi. This is real shame because social media operates in real time (like you didn’t know) but to be able to see your own and other people’s updates in an instant – and to be reminded of events about to start – would really add to the Staithes Art Festival experience; and who knows a Flickr stream could even be projected onto that gable wall near Staithes Gallery – you had to be there to appreciate that!
Social media for events such as the one in Staithes isn’t just about marketing it to boost visitor numbers; it’s also about creating a community and a richer experience for everyone tasking part. Fingers crossed for next year!
Since writing this blog post, Bridget Wilkinson from the festival’s has been in touch to say there is a Twitter account (@StaithesFest); unfortunately it’s looks very spammy. Would you click on a link without knowing what to expect?