I could hardly have asked Alpha Hopkins for an interview at a more difficult time; the 21st Dulwich Festival, of which she has been its Director since 2005 was a week away, she needed to get home from her job in Alleyn’s music department to get the children’s tea and her mother had broken her wrist and had come to stay.
But her dual role as a working mother and director of what must be South London’s largest, most successful and most intensive week of events has never been easy.
When the two remaining organisers of the original Dulwich Festival, Alison Loyd and Marguerite Weedy (they had started the Festival with Valerie Thorncroft in 1993) decided to pass on the reins, Alpha and her friend Nina Jex were among those who expressed interest. Alpha was supremely qualified for the role, having run dance companies, theatre companies and been the organiser of the London International Festival of Theatre’s tours. Like her predecessors, Alpha was also a working mum, with two children under the age of 5 when she took over the Festival with Nina. Nina would later move away but Alpha is delighted that she is likely to be returning to Dulwich.
Alpha explained that she did not expect the Festival to grow so much and says that part of the reason for this is that it has always been a team effort, and the team is constantly renewed. “People’s lives change, and what they can do changes.” Like the Marguerite and Alison, many others still continue to be involved with the Festival, perhaps in changed roles.
Have you received sponsorship during the recession?
“We print 40,000 programmes and 20,000 Artists’ Open House guides which are all distributed free of charge and we get amazing sponsorship from local businesses. It was difficult during the recession but I feel that things are getting a little easier now and businesses are actually coming forward and asking what they can do to help”
How much of a concern is finance?
“Finance is always a concern, a little less of a concern now as we have built up a reserve and have a team of four trustees whose role it is to oversee me and the management of the Festival. We have no public funding. The downside of this means that we cannot plan ahead so much. The upside is that the Festival can be moulded to the skills of people. The financial safety net we now have does mean that some events can be planned well in advance and I am hoping that many of next year’s can be put in place by June of this year as venues have to booked further and further ahead.”
What do you look for when considering what to include?
“I am constantly looking out for items to include in the Festival. I prefer a healthy mix rather than entirely local ones. I would like to think that we include elements that would not be out of place at festivals around the country, in places such as Hay on Wye. By securing high profile inclusions in the programme it ensures that local participants can attract the same level of attention.”
Tell me about Artists’ Open House
“The Artists’ Open House” was begun by Judith Whittaker in 2005 and she expanded it in 2006. It has been a huge success and has grown enormously under the direction of Rachel Gulyas and Liz Boyd, and now 200 artists participate. “
Some people describe the Dulwich Park Fair as a great success, others as an environmental disaster- “It was a great shame that the Dulwich Park Fair could not be held this year. We heard in January that Thames Water were to carry out major works in the Flood Alleviation scheme and we had to cancel it. The Fair used be called ‘Party in the Park’ and was run largely by Southwark Council. In recent years it has been handled much more sensitively by a small team of volunteers and has involved the Dulwich Park Friends. It is a huge amount of work for them, but is a very popular event attracting very big crowds. We are holding our breath to see if it can be staged next year.”
What would you like to see in the Festival?
“I really would like to see all the choirs in Dulwich come together to celebrate music with one great concert. It would be inspiring and inter-generational. I would also like to see the art panels at North Dulwich Station, sponsored by the Dulwich Festival and made by the former Wlliam Penn Academy, restored. They are in a parlous state. And I can’t see why we might not have similar panels put up at other local stations like East and West Dulwich.”
Tell me about the Street Art initiative
“Dulwich’s Outdoor Gallery of Street Art attracted the participation of 19 of the world’s leading street artists to reinterpret pictures in Dulwich Picture Gallery and has been an outstanding success and is a tribute to the vision and enthusiasm of Ingrid Beazley. It is now recognised all over the world as a brilliant example of street art.”
And with that, I left Alpha to rush home to get tea ready for her children and her injured mother. And the Festival was only a week away!