Returning Wye Valley River Festival to be ‘greenest to date’

Distinctive free community arts and environmental event the Wye Valley River Festival will be the “most green” to be staged to date when it kicks off next Friday thanks to a push by organisers to cut the environmental impact.

This year’s popular open access festival, which runs from Friday 27th May to 5th June, will see a reduction of emissions and vehicle usage along with an increase in the use of natural and repurposed materials, following efforts by organisers Wye Valley River Festival CIC.

The 2022 festival is inspired by the theme of Human⇋Nature. To embody this year’s theme the organisers have ensured performers, producers and production crew, 90% of whom live within a 40 mile radius of the festival, reduce their vehicle usage. The organisers have also encouraged the use of carbon minimising methods.

Among those to take up the challenge are the specially-commissioned cycling performance troop The Bikesplorers, who will tour throughout the festival along a 65-mile route, camping and putting on pop-up performances throughout. To boost the sustainable local impact, organisers have also embedded five local artists in communities since January to co-create work.

The team have commissioned and programmed interactive and entertaining shows, workshops, performances, installations and film running at locations throughout the Wye Valley from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow, including a series of soundscapes by international artists at Tintern Abbey which will run for the duration of the festival from (27th May to 5th June).

WVRF artistic director Phillippa Haynes said: “We strive to leave ‘little or no trace’ except in the hearts and memories of the audience, so the 2022 Wye Valley River Festival will be the greenest we have staged to date through a number of innovations and practical measures.

“Our whole ethos is to celebrate nature and the wonderful setting of the Wye Valley so we are making strides forward to cut the environmental impact of the Festival. Utilising sites with access to public transport and walking routes, importing as little infrastructure as possible, this year we will only have a generator on site for two days out of 10. We use public toilets where appropriate, portaloos only where necessary.

“Given the raised awareness about climate change and lessons learned when we moved to an online version of the festival in 2020, we have redesigned our whole delivery model to bring smaller events to local locations. We still want audiences to be entertained, moved, engaged and inspired by an ‘interactive celebration and exploration’ of the region’s landscape and wildlife, while leaving a smaller environmental footprint than ever before.”

Other steps being taken include:

  • Getting rid of a printed programme brochure and using only recycled paper for flyers and posters promoting the event;
  • This year’s youth banner project using only ethically sourced Murshidabad Silk, a Fairtrade high-quality, 100% hand-woven silk.
  • Screen-printing for the banners being done only with natural pigments from ochre and plants;
  • Artists performing at the Streets of Ross festival day using natural grass for costumes, which they grew;
  • Working with contemporary designers and craftspeople to develop future work and infrastructure made with locally grown sustainable materials.
  • Developing a partnership with a Ghana bicycle maker which uses bamboo as the main material for cycles, which organisers hope will encourage more sustainable forms of rural transport.

The Wye Valley River Festival CIC is an innovative arts organisation, led by artists and communities creating work on environmental themes. The WVRF has been held every two years since 2014 but the 2022 event will be the first live festival to be staged since 2018. The festival moved to a digital version in 2020 due to Covid-19.

The 2022 highlights include breath-taking sound installations at Tintern Abbey, which feature interactive sound making experiences through an immersive soundscape designed by renowned sound recordist Chris Watson along with recordings by actors including Dame Emma Thompson and bilingual poetry by Rhys Trimble.

On Saturday May 28, Monmouth will host a Merry Mischief Day and on June 4 Ross-on-Wye hosts the Streets of Ross, both of which will see interactive circus acts, street theatre, music and parades take over the streets.

Interactive performers Red Herring will appear as the Whistler Conservation Society at Symonds Yat Rock on June 3. Appearing in character as “the elusive Whistlers”, a remote whistling community, audiences will be able to sample their “extraordinary whistling language” up close.

For 2022, the organisers have responded to public demand to create more opportunities to get involved throughout the year. Since January under a new initiative, five locally-based artists have been working as “creative community champions” to encourage arts participation to create work based on the region’s issues.

The community projects include the Exploring Thrutopia project, which encourages young people to explore the relationship and balance of human nature in the Wye Valley through creative games and performing arts. I Live Here is a creative project encouraging young people at schools, clubs and youth groups, to respond to the festival nature theme through collages, poetry and paintings.

Queering the Wye Valley, a project aimed at giving voices to young LGBTQI+ people living in the region, has seen the creation of art cards depicting diversity in nature, along with podcasts and soundscapes. The youth banner project has seen work created by young people in Monmouth, Redbrook, Ross-on-Wye and Chepstow, to be carried during the Festival parades. Community groups have reimagined the space around a Redbrook church through visual arts project ‘Altered places, changing spaces’.

The first Wye Valley River Festival was created and developed in in 2014 partnership by the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund, Arts Council England, the Sustainable Development Fund, the Welsh Government and Forestry England.

Most events are free to attend and do not require tickets, except for the Whistlers shows which need to be pre-booked. Access to the sound installation at Tintern is included with the entry ticket to the Abbey, available on the door or online.

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