Interview with Upfest founder Steve Upfest

Jody - Photography: Neil James Brain

In the lead-up to Upfest’s virtual event ‘Virtually Upfest’, we spoke with the founder of Upfest, Steve Hayles otherwise known as “Steve Upfest”, he founded the festival in Bristol back in 2008.

Since it’s launch, Upfest has gone from strength to strength, establishing itself as Europe’s largest live Urban Arts Festival, attracting more than 50,000 visitors and playing host to 400 artists representing 70+ countries.

The festival has also helped to support the regeneration of large parts of Bristol by working with local schools and artists to reinvigorate high streets across the city.

Consequently, receiving a letter from 10 Downing Street regarding Upfest’s community work.

In​ ​a​ ​personal​ ​letter​ ​to​ ​Stephen,​ ​Prime​ ​Minister​ ​Theresa​ ​May​ ​said“Your work with Upfest is helping to make art accessible to everyone, regardless of their background, and this ethos is inspiring volunteers from across Bristol. You should be proud of the scale of the project, which is now the largest street art festival in Europe.”

Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, Upfest had to cancel their upcoming festival and make the transition with financial support from the Arts Council England, Emergency response fund and sponsorship from Scrawlrbox.uk.

Steve launched ‘Virtually Upfest’ a virtual edition of Upfest groundbreaking art festivals. In this quick-fire interview, Steve gives insights into Upfest and ‘Virtually Upfest’ and what vistors can expect at their virtual edition. 

Q: First thing’s first, for those who don’t know you, please introduce yourself?

A: I’m Steve, sometimes known as Steve Upfest but believe it or not that’s not my surname. I’m part of the original team who founded Upfest back in 2008.

Q: What is Upfest?

A: Upfest has become Europe’s largest live Urban Arts Festival, attracting more than 50,000 visitors and playing host to 400 artists representing 70+ countries. The Upfest organisation also works on creative placemaking projects as well as managing Bristol’s longest-running Urban Arts Gallery.

Jody - Photography: Neil James Brain
Artist: Jody – Photography: Neil James Brain – Summer Editions 2019
Q: Describe Upfest in 3 words?

A: Bright, Inclusive, Agile

Upfest 2008: Claire Robinson | Artists: Ben Slow
Q: When did Upfest start and what was the motivation behind it?

A: Upfest’s debut event was on a rainy afternoon in October 2008; it was initially just a gathering of artists coming together to paint some walls. It started because I had been trying to volunteer for other arts activity in Bristol but never got that call back to get involved. Hence, a group of us got together to do something ourselves, never did I think Upfest would become the international event that it has.

Q: What would you say is Upfest’s primary goal?

A: To provide a platform for artists to have a voice.

Upfest 2017
Q: How has COVID-19 affected Upfest and its schedule?

A: On one hand cancelling our planned festival in 2020 has been extremely tough, but we acknowledge those is a much worse position, we had already taken a fallow year in 2019 so by the time we return it will be three years since our last large scale event. On the other hand, it’s created some new opportunities, such as ‘Virtually Upfest’ with financial support from the Arts Council England, Emergency response fund and sponsorship from Scrawlrbox.uk

Virtually Upfest
Q: What experience can the visitors expect at Virtually Upfest?

A: Whether viewing Virtually Upfest through a VR headset or through a regular screen we’ve looked to create a retro TRON aesthetic allowing the visitor to view the replica of North Street in Bedminster and the commissioned artworks with a new perspective. The longer-term plan is to animate the space for future installations, but for now, we’re proud of what we have created.

Upfest 2013 Photographer: Paul Box
Q: What artists can we expect to see at Virtually Upfest?

A: Virtually Upfest is hosting 30 artists from across the UK; we specifically commissioned an equal mix of Female and Male artists, these include Copyright, Gemma Compton, KoeOne, Sophie Long, Dan Kitchener & Zoe Power to name a few.

Q: What can we expect to see in the 2021 edition of Upfest?

A: You’ll definitely see world-class artwork and be able to watch the creations come to life over an extended three-week programme. We’re conscious of what the world will look like next summer, so we will be planning for various scenarios and activities to bring you something incredible!

https://www.instagram.com/upfest/

© 2020 Upfest, Virtually Upfest, Claire Robinson, Neil James Brain All Rights Reserved.

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