Normal? Festival Of The Brain

Normal? Festival Of The Brain has been an event in Folkestone’s calendar since 2015.  At the time the festival began the town was under a rapid period of growth. The curators wanted to know what were the things that united us as a town, what connected us to each other.  Susanna Howard, one of the curators, spoke to Folkelife about the evolution of the festival.

“For me, and the work that I do with Living Words, it’s about being non-judgmental.  I wanted to open up the routes of communication and exploring how this change is having an effect on our brains. What happens in our environment does have an impact on our brain.  So, we started a festival that focused on wellness and the brain.”

Community mind

“Every year it’s grown.  We’ve tried to theme the conversations; one year neuroplasticity was a big topic, other years have focused on sleep, death and so on.  There is a community that’s grown up around the festival and we keep in touch.  We’d started thinking about the themes for 2020 when the festival was planned for May.  In conversation with this community the common areas of interest were ‘Growing vs Knowing’, Power and Touch.  

“Now, we all know how 2020 panned out, and the festival in the spring was not to be.  But those topics were so pertinent to what was going on.  We’ve decided to run the festival over the winter months.  We had a meeting a few weeks’ ago in Radnor Park with about 30 participants, and some had not been out since lockdown.  What we’re going to do is announce events at the beginning of each month.  This way we can adapt accordingly to the situation.  A lot of the festival will be online, with virtual performances and so on, but if it’s possible for us to meet in a socially sensible way, then we’ll make that happen.”

Victoria Melody Credit Steve Ullathorne
Suzanne Alleyne
Dadders Normal

A festival that punches above its weight

“We’ve got a fantastic line-up already.  You know when you send an email off to someone you respect and admire professionally, and they respond saying they’d love to be involved?  Well, that’s happening here.  We’ve got performance, a bit of talk, a bit of something you can get involved in practically… Our focus has always been to be based within our local community, but we’ve been able to get in the top experts in their fields down to Folkestone.  As many events will be virtual, we can record them so that if you can’t make the live transmission, you’ll be able to catch up later. 

“We’re starting off on Saturday 10th October with a Speakers’ Corner event in Payers Park.  Using one of the Performance Plinths, anyone can speak for 10 seconds or 10 minutes on any topic they like. Running up to Christmas we’ll be getting creative with projects for people to make.  The New Year will see more live events too, taking us into spring.”

covid conversations

“It’s inevitable that the pandemic will feature in our conversations.  In organising Normal? I have also been through some really tough personal events with members of my family becoming ill.  I’ve rung people who would usually be quite upbeat, and they’re down.  It’s having a huge affect on our lives, not least with dealing with the uncertainty of it all.  Now that Boris Johnson has said this will continue for the next 6 months, it ties in with the duration of the festival.  Hopefully we can be a bit of cement to help hold our community together through this winter. 

“The themes – growing vs knowing, power and touch – are all relatable to our current situation.  Because we’re community focused, we hope we can hear from those who feel powerless as well as those who feel they have power. Normal? is all about hearing both sides of the story, from different areas of the town, and this year…beyond it too!”

You will find the monthly rundown of events on the Normal? festival website.

Susanna Howard – Living Words Folkestone
The Festival Of Looking – Urban Room Folkestone
Banksy’s Art Buff – The Folkestone Plinth
The Warren – One of the Most Beautiful Places on Earth

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