Creating an international arts festival during lockdown
Rachel Mason is a multi-award-winning singer, songwriter, vocal coach, public speaker, workshop leader and musical director. Rachel has directed over 20 choirs during her career, both professional and amateur, and mentors choirs across the world to help encourage a musical community of unity, kindness and support.
In our latest blog, Rachel answers a few questions on her international arts festival, Unlock Your Talent.
What inspired Unlock Your Talent?
During lockdown I learned that a local mental health charity, Vine Counselling Services, was struggling for funds. The organisation saved my life 13 years ago when I went through a mental health crisis and nearly died. Since then I have put on many concerts with my choirs to raise money for them, but during lockdown such events can’t take place. More people have needed access to counselling in this extremely challenging time, so I decided to create an online festival to raise the necessary funds.
Initially, it was started as a small competition for just the local area, then after speaking to the charity we decided it should cover the whole south west of the UK, then when people from other parts of the UK expressed interest in entering we widened it to cover the whole country. Then to our surprise people from Africa, Australia, America, France and Ireland messaged us to ask if they too could take part… so it became an international festival after the incredible responses we got!
How did you secure the celebrity judges panel?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked on a variety of projects all over the world and have met some absolutely incredible people whilst doing so. I love making friends, so tend to keep in touch with everyone I work with, and during lockdown have been checking in on them via social media to make sure they’re alright.
When I first had the idea for Unlock Your Talent, I envisaged it just being a local singing and songwriting contest which I would have judged alone. Then my lovely friend Karen Hauer from Strictly Come Dancing said she’d love to help the charity so I created a dance category. My friend Ruti, winner of The Voice, said she’d like to help me judge the songwriting category as did the spectacular human that is Joanna Forbes L’Estrange. Kevin Fox of The Swingles came on board for the choral category, as well as BAFTA-winning composer Jeremy Holland-Smith followed by Pitch Perfect’s Deke Sharon. Cast members from Wicked, Hairspray and Hamilton, poets, artists, film makers, composers, photographers all said yes to my request to be a judge and were happy to give their time and expertise completely for free so the charity could keep every penny donated.
Each of the 50 judges is very special to me and I’m completely overwhelmed when I look at the list of these incredible people knowing that they all said they’d be delighted to be involved.
How can others create something similar?
You will need a lot of tenacity, time and the right contacts. I created the entire festival in less than two weeks in order to get it up and running during lockdown, but I wouldn’t recommend that timescale as it’s really stressful!
In terms of the technical side, I’ve set up the donations to come through Just Giving and we have a large amount of storage for the digital entries that are sent in. We’ve tried to keep everything as simple as possible but with more time and money you could create something more hi-tech and exciting.
How did you generate press coverage about the online festival?
I promoted the festival myself by using social media and personally contacting radio stations, TV shows, newspapers and celebrities. It is also great to be part of a professional body such as the ISM which has been kind enough to promote the festival on their social media channels.
How can people get involved?
Anyone of any age and ability from any part of the world can enter any category in the festival. Categories are singing, songwriting, poetry, instrumental, choral, short story, short film, art, graphic design, make-up, drama, dance and photography.
To enter visit the Vine Counselling Services website where for a small donation per entry, which goes straight to the charity, you can enter your work. The deadline for entries is Sunday 14 June.