Absolutely London catches up with Vestalia Chilton, founder and director of Kensington and Chelsea Art Week

Kensington and Chelsea Art Week is looming, and with the launch of the inaugural Kensington and Chelsea Festival in West London, Vestalia Chilton is on a mission to create a summer-long festival of arts experiences, putting culture at the heart of the pandemic recovery. Here we find out more…

Open Doors Vestalia
Vestalia Chilton, founder of KCAW next to Joe Rush sculpture, photo credits Graham Fudger

The curatorial theme this year is ‘REIMAGINE’ – a very fitting theme for the current climate we are living in. Where did the theme originate from? And what was the purpose behind the setting of it?

Every year, our Advisory Board offer ideas for the theme that reflects the current key issues in society at large. Last year it was ‘transformation’ and this year, because of the Covid impact, ‘Reimagine’ felt that it represented our need for finding better ways to be and live.

We run an Open Call for submissions every year, in order to give greater visibility to locally based creative talent, to submit artworks to be displayed in a variety of public spaces for one month or longer during Kensington and Chelsea Art Week from 24 June-4 July. Over 100 submissions were submitted, and the shortlisted proposals were selected by an Art Committee of names from across the visual arts, culture, literature, and media including:

Tim Marlow OBE (Chief Executive and Director, Design Museum)
Sara Blonstein (Blonstein Creative Production)
Michael Forbes (artist)
Marie Cudennec Carlisle (C&E and Co-Founder, Goldfinger Factory)
Bolanle Tajudeen (Founder, Black Blossoms and Independent Curator)
Tabish Khan (Art Critic; Visual Arts Editor, Londonist)
Councillor Gerard Hargreaves (Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea)
Faisal Abdu’Allah (Artist)
Kensington & Chelsea Foundation (KCAW21 Charity Partner)
Sokari Douglas Camp (Artist)

​We are delighted to confirm this year’s artists are: Amy Jackson, Anthony Garratt, Gold & Ashes, Lee Baker and Catherine Borowski, Lauren Baker, LR Vandy, Rand Abdul Jabbar, Yan Skates and Zak Ové.

Additional installations include the ‘Walk of Fame’ in Notting Hill Gate brought to you by Notting Hill Arts Club and Sights + Sounds of Gen Z Kensal Canalside brought to you by Jarelle Francis.

From 24 June, the Art Trail will take up residence at beautiful and iconic sites including Napoleon Garden in Holland Park, Duke of York Square, King’s Road Curve, Earl’s Court, Notting Hill Gate, North Kensington and Chelsea Physic Garden with most displayed until early September.

Following on from the theme of this year’s festival, and reflecting on KCAW’S mission to create public spaces that encourages conversation and exchange, what change/difference do you hope to see moving forward from the implementation?

KCAW was founded by a group of volunteers by holding a public consultation in 2018. It was a moment in time when collectively it was felt that there was little cohesion between cultural organisations in Kensington & Chelsea, it was perceived we all worked in silos. We aimed to open the doors for conversation and collaboration cross-sector and cross-borough by inviting local cultural institutions and organisations to come together for one weekend, to elevate the amazing local heritage, and to amplify the big and the small – small not necessarily being less important or valuable. We started as a weekend and are now a regular fixture in the London’s calendar, for 11 days every summer. The Art Week aspires to connect the Borough through Arts and Culture. I think we are succeeding!

Liz West Photo By Bea Campbell

Since 2018, you’ve had 450,000 visitors enjoy these impactful and incredible installations. Obviously Covid has had a large impact on the number of visitors being attracted to the Royal Borough, so, in your opinion, how do you plan to attract the same number of visitors, if not more, to these amazing murals?

We always believed that cultural activity is best driven by unique and incredible organisations based locally if our festival is to make any real impact and stay authentic. As a result, the more participants take part (over 130 last year), including school, restaurants, bars, music venues, then the festival essentially promotes itself. With thanks to our team who work tirelessly to support the festival activity through the year and the advisory board who volunteer to steer the festival activity, Cadogan and other sponsors enable us to continue our work – our collective goal is to serve our community. I think the success of the festival is due to this joint effort and the quality of events hosted by local organisations and artists.

I wanted to introduce you to one our advisory board members who has become a key part of our core programming: a project titled ‘Chelsea Windows’ launched during the darkest hours of Lockdown. Many artists lost the opportunity to exhibit with almost all shows cancelled, similarly, retailers were struggling to attract attention to their stores. Here comes a dating service! We set up a webpage for retailers and artists to get in touch with us. We then matched the artists to retailers. Caroline Boseley, who has extensive expertise in curatorial projects, took this to a new level (read more below). We had 10 art windows on King’s Road last year and will have many more again this year. We are grateful to Sloane Stanley for support. Chelsea Windows generates income for the artists who may have lost exhibiting opportunities and, in turn, retailers have access to free beautiful displays in their store windows in King’s Road. Additionally, this year, part of the sales of prints by artists (purchasable via a QR code) will support our official 2021 Charity the Kensington & Chelsea Foundation.

KCAW Advisory Board Member Caroline Boseley – picture by Emma Marshall Photography

 

Upon arrival to the festival, what is the most important thing for visitors to take away from this exquisite display?

I would visit the Gold & Ashes mural on Freston Road and take the Art Trail tour across the whole borough, visiting all the sites and looking at our culture map https://map.kcaw.co.uk/ or grab the printed guide (volunteers usually distribute the guides next to the installations in key locations) or visit any participating venues to get your copy of the guide, find participant venues here: https://www.kcaw.co.uk/kcaw21-programme. Use the filter to plan your dates or chose what you want to see or participate in.

How have you gone about making the installations family friendly?

The children have always enjoyed the Public Art Trail, this year we have added a new location on Warwick Road, Earl’s Court and the Alternative Trail by Amy Jackson. I really recommend popping by King’s Road Curve to see a floral life 2 meter dog by Netflix’s Flower Fight contestant Yan Skates (installed in fond memory of Sarah Farrugia, KCAW advisory board member and a devoted King’s Road resident) and then pop by the incredible Chelsea Theatre to see Alison Jacksons A Day in Your Life Photography competition and Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition inside the venue. Cass Art in High Street Kensington also have some incredible tutorials for all the family to take part in and make sure to check out the Design Museum website, some incredible kid-friendly activities are listed there:

https://designmuseum.org/whats-on/families

It’s well known that the project supports the KCAW21 charity partner, the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation, how can the public/visitors who attend donate? What opportunities are there for them to give their support?

Please visit: https://www.kcaw.co.uk/kcaw21/KCAW-x-Chelsea-Windows and go on the King’s Road tour to snap up the QR codes for the prints to be purchased. Very affordable all under £50 and the proceeds go to the artists and the K&C Foundation our 2021 official charity.

Finally, obviously you are not able to disclose the theme for next year, however, are there any themes you would like 2022 to highlight for the festival?

We would like to offer the curatorial theme to be suggested by the residents – please send us your thoughts to [email protected] and we will discuss with our advisory board in the first planning meeting for 2022 edition, usually held in September. Make sure to list your contact details if you would like us to credit you in the announcement.

Caroline Boseley, Special Projects KCAW, has taken a space in North Kensington to continue to devote her efforts to supporting emerging artists. Here she explains her involvement in KCAW

What will be its main focus in terms of artists representation? Its focus will be on emerging London based contemporary artists but also supporting and working with the vibrant arts ecology locally in North Kensington.

Why did you decide to open a gallery? Studio West will be a welcoming and accessible space which I hope will become a cultural hub in W11. It will engage with and support the local arts ecology, showing the work of a diverse selection of upcoming (mainly) London based artists, provide a focus for my curatorial practice and be a space where I hope to be able to pass on my excitement about contemporary art and artists.

What’s your background and how did you get involved in the arts and KCAW?

I was formerly a solicitor working as a litigator in the City. Realising my true passion lay in the art world, I gained a Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s Education and then completed an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from Royal College of Art. I am passionate about working with and mentoring emerging artists and firmly believe in the power of contemporary art to engage and benefit a wider community. I really enjoy projects which have a social cause at their centre, that enrich our urban environment and build engagement. I was introduced to Vestalia Chilton, Director of Kensington + Chelsea Art Week and from then have been a passionate supporter of this wonderful and positive festival of arts and culture in the borough. The Advisory Board is full of really talented and dynamic individuals, who work tirelessly on numerous projects which support local arts and cultural producers and bring wonderful experiences to the residents and the wider public, in many exciting ways.

What is the best thing about working on Art In Windows 

The windows project is an fun opportunity for local retailers to support upcoming artists and poets, showcase their work to visitors but also the project helps draw attention to the retailer’s brand, increase footfall to their stores and contributes to the creative ecology and vibrant community that exists around the King’s Road and in Chelsea as a whole. What is so exciting is finding a synergy between stores and certain artists and when the collaboration results in an ongoing relationship, which continues after KCAW or if the artist is able to sell work as a result of the increased publicity, then this makes the project even more positive.

Featured image: Zak Ové,  AUTONOMOUS MORRIS, part KCAW Public Art Trail displayed on High Street Kensington next to The design Museum, Image courtesy of the artist and Vigo Gallery, London / Photographer Justin Piperger