Next week sees the return to Leeds of the biennial Compass Festival – a participatory live art festival which offers ten days of exciting interactive events designed to provoke and encourage personal responses and initiate new connections and conversations.
At the heart of the festival’s ethos is the notion of community – and that is reflected in a wide-ranging programme of events that aim to bring people together to share new or thought-provoking experiences. Set up in 2011 as a weekend try-out, the festival has gone from strength to strength in the intervening years. Starting with 3,500 participants for the initial opener, the numbers rose to 6,000 in 2014 and 10,000 in 2016. This year the organisers are hoping to build on that and increase partipation up to 15,000.
“It’s not all about the numbers, of course, but the fact that we are reaching so many people is very encouraging,” says Annie Lloyd, who is co-artistic director of the festival with Peter Reed. There will be encounters popping up in a variety of venues and locations including Kirkgate market, the bus station, Leeds dock and even a sauna. Among the many events, all of which are free, there will be artists looking at the future of the local pub, collecting a thousand handshakes between strangers and polling people from six neighbourhoods on an assortment of personal and existential themes. “We are factoring in more original commissions each time and this year we have some pretty large-scale ones that haven’t been seen before,” says Lloyd.
The commissions are also bold and ambitious. One of these is Jack Tan’s Four Legs Good which will transform Leeds Town Hall into the ‘animal court of justice.’ The piece takes as its starting point the animal trials that took place in medieval Britain and Europe. Members of the public can book a seat on the jury or observe from the public gallery. “It is a fun piece,” says Lloyd. “But it also raises questions about our relationship with the natural world and the animal kingdom.”
Another new commission is Scottee’s Would Like to Meet. “The background to this is that Scottee grew up on a housing estate where everybody knew each other and then recently he moved to a street where nobody knew or talked to each other,” says Lloyd.
Over the summer Compass ran a campaign to find ‘the loneliest street in Leeds’. From the many nominations they received Scottee chose St Peter’s Mount in Bramley where he and his team have been asking residents who they would like to meet. Estate agent-style placards will be placed outside each house encouraging converations around shared values and interests.
“That will be a street exhibition throughout the festival but afterwards Scottee will return to find out whether the interaction has changed people’s behaviour,” says Lloyd. “Like many of our projects it seems simple but there is a lot of ambition in its intention and scope.” The same could be said of the whole festival – and its focus on community, given world events over the past two years, seems increasingly urgent.
“Compass is generally about the importance of coming together but perhaps that resonates more strongly this time,” says Lloyd. “We can’t claim to change to the world or people’s lives but we offer a chance to step out of the everyday and think about things you might not otherwise think about.”
November 16-25 compassliveart.org.uk