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In Conversation With: David Tovey, Founding Director Of The One Festival Of Homeless Arts

In this edition, our Community Manager Rose Alexander sits down for a conversation with David Tovey, who is an Artist, Activist, and Founding Director of the One Festival of Homeless Arts – initially Artist in Residence at Old Diorama.

What was the biggest factor in driving this project over the past 4 years to become what it is today?

My stubbornness to be honest with you. I got so fed up with people putting homeless people down all the time and I could see how great they can be if they are given the space to share their work. This keeps driving me. When your project changes ones life then you know you are doing it right.

Can you tell us about being a representative for the homeless community yourself, do you feel your story acts as a beacon for other people struggling with homelessness?

I hope so. It is a difficult one because I feel that sometimes because I have been recognised for my work it hinders me a bit. I don’t want the festival to be about me, I want it to be about other people, I’m just the one who puts it together. I want the festival to be about the artists, their work and their stories.

I see it as – I’m trying to turn my life around and if other people can get something from that then great. I’m quite shy about it all.

How can the One Fest help others in adverse situations take the next steps in their life?

It gives people an opportunity to get their voices heard and work seen.

I don’t really like the word ‘empower’, but the Festival sort of gives people the confidence that their work is important, plus all the people who use Old Diorama or work at Regent’s Place or are just passing through also get to see the work.

So, David if you could say one line to anyone about the festival what would it be?

It is a place to come and have your perceptions changed. That is the whole point.

Can you outline some of the toughest aspects of delivering the One Festival?

My health, my mental health, not being a charity, just being me – sometimes I wish I was 10 people it would make it so much easier! Also funding – and this is where Regent’s Place, Old Diorama and Camden People’s Theatre being on board makes all the difference, I really couldn’t do this otherwise.

What is the most important factor when you’re pulling together this event?

The Art. First and foremost. When you’ve got the art you build the festival around it. 

There is so much you can do with a pencil and a piece of paper, it can change lives. That is why I have the pencil drawing next to the oil painting, it is all relative. To get someone to focus on just 10 minutes drawing makes such a difference, I see it in the workshops I do – just the emotional change from being completely angry to smiling and calm.

I imagine seeing all these people come together to celebrate artforms, all created by those who have been suffering with homeless must be immeasurable. How does it make you feel seeing this all come together?

Emotional. Just even thinking about it, I never thought I’d be able to do this to be honest and now it is 4 years in a row. I started organising this year’s festival back in January, 10 months of hard work so in a way it gives me relief. It also makes me feel so proud.

The thing is I’m still going through some of the same things people exhibiting are going through so yeah, it makes me feel very proud to be honest.

Can you tell us about the artwork to be displayed and about the curation process?

A lot of it I didn’t see until it arrived – SHP, I knew what was coming from them, Geraldine Crimmins – I know her work well but the international art – like from America – I didn’t have a clue! The theme this year of bringing the ‘Outsiders In’ really helped with the curation this year.

If you weren’t the organiser and was attending as a visitor, what would be your top three must-see elements of this year’s festival?

Ooh.. the theatre, of course the artworks and Streetwise Opera performing at the Launch Event. Also to see all the other visitors… it is the community, and to see everyone mixing, it gives such a special feel. You get all walks of life you really do – people in suits hugging people rough sleeping.

Last of all, could you give us a little glimpse into the future of the One Festival of Homeless Arts – what would you most like to achieve in the next few years?

What is great about it, although it is London based, is that it is also in Manchester and Gloucester this year. I hope to see more cities and exhibitions in the future, the festival is about everyone getting involved, so to do more would be great.

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