It’s time to come together to make the festival work

It is no surprise that John Sorrell has lofty ambitions for the London Design Festival, which kicks off this September. Such is the way with the man who masterminded the Design Council’s transformation from being an unwieldy bureaucracy to becoming the more effective and focused organisation we have now.

But even he is going to have to work particularly hard at sustaining his vision if the festival’s centrepiece, the World Creative Forum, is to become the creative industries’ equivalent of the annual Davos economic summit. And he’s going to need a lot of friends.

The obstacles notwithstanding, Sorrell’s hopes for the event are laudable. What better way to celebrate and promote creativity than to put it in a broader context. By bringing business, politics, science, economics and other arts to the party, he and his festival partners can only enhance design’s reputation, portraying it as integral to decision-making and communication.

And what better way to pull a top-flight international audience from a broad spectrum of activities and attract inward investment than to align the forum with an array of enterprises rather than purely with design. This promises to be no self-congratulatory ‘creative luvvies fest’ as most design conferences end up being.

It’s easy to be critical about the forum’s aims and even after this year’s inaugural event there are likely to be doubters. No-one has pushed for a repeat of British Design & Art Direction’s similarly ambitious – though less international – SuperHumanism conference, for example, delegates to which were left feeling they didn’t quite get what they expected from the event.

But great things can be achieved by such initiatives, given time, provided the vision of their instigators remains intact and the format changes as needs develop. Cape Town’s now annual Design Indaba is a case in point. Despite its humble origins, it’s sixth incarnation, last month, was a first-rate international event, albeit for a largely local audience, thanks to the continued commitment of Ravi Naidoo and his team at Interactive Africa.

We can also learn from past shortcomings. It would be great, therefore, to see SuperHumanism fans pitching in with Sorrell to create complementary events under the London Design Festival umbrella or joining the forum. Better that than dilute the impact by setting up rival events such as the conference mooted by D&AD and London’s Business Design Centre for spring 2004.

If the UK is to maintain a strong reputation for creativity in all things, all-embracing initiatives such as the London Design Festival deserve our support. Without a big idea such as this, we do not stand as much chance against newer contenders for the creativity crown.

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