Jenni Lloyd: What is Brighton Digital Festival, and who is it for?

Jenni Lloyd, Brighton Digital Festival
Jenni Lloyd, Brighton Digital Festival

There have been various iterations of a digital festival in Brighton and Hove going right back to the late 90s - proving just how embedded digital production and culture is in this city.

The current version of the Brighton Digital Festival (BDF) was started in 2011 by arts organisation Lighthouse and digital agency Clearleft as a way to bring together the arts and creative industries in the city.

Later, it was managed by Wired Sussex, a membership organisation supporting and advocating for the growing cluster of digital businesses in Brighton and Hove. But in 2015 the BDF was constituted as an independent CIC (community interest company).

When I took on the role of chairing the festival at the beginning of this year I thought it was the perfect time to reflect on what this history meant - if the BDF was no longer a project belonging to other organisations, what was it? What could it be, what should it be - and how could it best benefit Brighton?

So we undertook a consultative process in which we asked a set of questions:

• What is Brighton Digital Festival for?

• Who is it for?

• Is it Brighton’s digital festival or a digital festival that takes place in Brighton?

• What good does it do?

• Who does/should it benefit?

The end result is a manifesto which we published in June. It’s a commitment, a statement of purpose, it’s both what we are and what we want to be and will help us to continue to develop in the right direction in the years to come.

I was also aware that as a grassroots festival, open to anyone who wants to host any event, that it was hard for the festival to have its own voice - a way of making our position and politics clear. Conversations about this prompted Laurence Hill, our director, to establish our own one-day conference.

Called the Messy Edge, the conference will be the closing event of the festival on September 13. Hosted at the Attenborough Centre, the day will be an exploration of the frontiers of digital culture, a challenge to dominant perspectives and a place to think about a more human version of the ‘cutting edge’ so beloved by technologists.

We have a compelling line-up of international speakers reflecting the arts, academia and business, all of whom will help us explore how we can build a future without just replicating the flaws of the present.

We’ve deliberately kept the prices low to encourage as a diverse an audience as possible and are hoping that we can contribute to Brighton’s reputation for the kind of radical thinking that leads to great creative leaps and social benefit.

I’m really proud of the quality of all the events being produced for this festival and enormously grateful to everyone who’s working so hard to make it all happen.

I’d also like to thank our generous funders and sponsors, particularly EDF Energy who has committed to being the headline sponsor for the third year running and Arts Council England, whose ongoing support is crucial and greatly appreciated.

Jenni Lloyd is the chairman of the Brighton Digital Festival Community Interest Company (CIC).