Dada Masilo

Lady Bay Arts Festival

13 May 15 words: Mark Patterson
One of the organisers of a little arty party south of the river let us in on a few secrets ahead of the community festivities
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What makes Lady Bay special? Brenda Baxter, organiser of Lady Bay Arts Festival, circles around the issue and offers a few ideas before concluding, “It’s just really chilled.” Really? South of the Trent? Because chilled isn’t the word one readily associates with West Bridgford - its career snootiness and rows of pricey coffee bistros included.

But that isn’t Lady Bay, which is the small, self-contained, mostly residential area facing directly onto the Trent across the green and pleasant Hook nature reserve. Here, the quiet sense of separation from Bridgford proper to the south is marked by a large roadside heron sculpture and the annual success of two independent festivals rooted in the homes and lives of local people. One is Lady Bay Gardens in July; the other is the Arts Festival, which takes place on May 16 and 17 and, this year, celebrates its twentieth birthday.

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Image: Mary Wood

Founded by local artists Fran Tristram, Rod Bailey and Carol Crowe to show off the talents of the artists and designers who live in the area, the event has matured into one of Nottingham’s most laidback – yes, chilled – and sociable cultural events. Last year 1,700 people attended the festival, seeing art and design in private homes, art studios, gardens, the local church and primary school. This year will be the same, as more than seventy artists and designers set out their stalls on a walking trail which will also include workshops, live music and children’s stuff. There will be a minimum of artspeak babble, but much cake. A visit to the home of the man who mends clocks, keeps cats and makes strong homemade wine is also practically mandatory.

Brenda herself, who now co-ordinates and publicises the festival, will host a sculptor in her back garden and a book binding demonstration in her living room, while she shows her own video projections in a garden shed. This, though, is a pretty typical setup for the festival. “Your adrenalin certainly starts going when people are walking around your home,” she says. “But, by and large, people just tend to potter and browse.”

The festival’s relaxed, unassuming ambience is, to an extent, a reflection of the way that it’s run on an informal footing and without much of a budget. Support is offered by local businesses, individual local councillors and Nottingham Trent University, while income is generated by admission fees and a 10% commission on artist sales. Last year’s sales totalled £12,000. But Brenda stresses that the festival also remains a community-based event at heart; it simply wouldn’t happen without local people getting together to make it happen.

That brings us back to the question of Lady Bay and its character. Brenda, a former social worker who has lived in the area since 1985, says that while Lady Bay has suffered the usual problems of gentrification, caused and reflected by rising property prices, it still feels a little bit like living on an ‘island’. Perhaps an island of community wholesomeness when compared with its colder West Bridgford relation. For God’s sake, Brenda knows her neighbours and the names of people living several streets away. “There’s a lot of well-being in Lady Bay,” she says.

So, if 2015 is your first visit to a Lady Bay Arts Festival, there’s only one word of advice: chillax.

Lady Bay Arts Festival, Trent Boulevard, Saturday 16 - Sunday 17 May, 11am - 5pm, free/£3.

Lady Bay Arts Festival website

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