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Q&A: Kate MacTiernan, Artistic Director of the 'Strange and Spontaneous' Shuffle Festival

Kate MacTiernan and Lizzy Daish. (c) Lewis Khan

Shuffle Festival returns to Mile End this year, bringing the community together for two days of culture in unusual places. Kate MacTiernan is the Artistic Director and we asked her to talk us through the festival, how it all started and what we can expect to find in and around E3 on the weekend of the 26th and 27th of August.

Eli Goldstone: Can you tell us a little about Shuffle Festival?

Kate MacTiernan: Shuffle is a film, music and arts festival that happens every summer in Mile End. It is unlike any other festival - its more like I imagine ancient festivals were, kind of strange and spontaneous and coming directly from people taking over the city and changing the everyday interactions into something a little more special for a while. There is feasting, performance, films and music and its all in a beautiful public park that happens to be London's densest woodland and a 35 acre former cemetery. The trees and the nature really add to the experience and we love how people can move freely around - without hoarding and crowding. We show films and organise artists workshops and talks around themes that we think are interesting.

Eli: How did it first come to fruition and how has it grown over the years?

Kate: Shuffle was started in Mile End as part of a community land trust project (a social housing project which is now built) in 2013. We had access to the beautiful old building - which was a former asylum and everyone in the area was aware of the space but had never been inside. One of the local people happened to be Danny Boyle and we pitched to him the idea of running a community arts festival that helped to breathe a sense of life and creativity into the development. He helped us to get it off the ground and many other local people also pitched in doing any jobs they could to help it to happen.

There is this lovely spirit that was generated that first year and which remains today of DIY collaboration between local people and other Londoners to get it off the ground. Our sponsors are also amazing - all have come back every year for 5 years to help fund it. We started off with 1 cinema and we now have 5. We use to have some bands play after the films and now we have musicians all day and night. We also are trying to realise our long term goal of a permanent cultural space built out of the energy and ethos of the festival - which is closer to happening than ever before!

Eli: In what ways does Shuffle Festival connect and engage with the local community?

Kate: Lots of the young people from the area works for us. Our office is in the community centre of one of the social housing providers so we have a lot of interaction with all different groups. We show the work of community groups such as Mile End Community Project and we work with The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park to make sure the festival is sympathetic to their work with the planting and management of the park. We are very open to proposals form local artists and we have many involved and we do free workshops at Tower Hamlets Schools in the run up to get some of the kids work in the festival as well.

Eli: Is there a theme to the programming?

Kate: The theme this year is PUBLIC / PRIVATE. So we are doing fun things to explore this theme. We have a moving public mural, that is actually people being painted rather than a wall. We have films about corruption in planning, as well as stories that express private lives that are rarely revealed. And of course - we use Public space how it was intended o be used - as an outlet for citizens to come together.

Eli: How can people get involved and help out either this year or in the future?

Kate: We always need volunteers. People to manage the spaces and cinemas, help with ticketing, run the bars, keep the artists happy, serve the village feast..... we can't do it wihout an army of people helping. You can sign up online here

Eli: Finally what makes E3 special?

Kate: E3 has a kick to it - especially when Shuffle is on. There is tower blocks, solid square brick towers rising up and then this wonderful jewel of wildness and nature in the park. There is a lot of people here as well, its really densely packed with different cultures and something about it is intriguing, so I think it attracts artists and film-makers, which has been great for programming the festival as we can just find a lot of the people we need walking around the streets!

Shuffle Festival

26th & 27th August

Tower Hamlets