Member Spotlight #7: Sarah McBriar
Founder of AVA Festival & Up Productions
Interview by Tara Gardner
Sarah’s work is a no-brainer for her. After traveling the world and working/learning with others in the festival industry she identified a need, channeled her passion and created her own version. Sarah’s audio, visual and arts festival, AVA Festival, will be in it’s third year this June.
The multifaceted structure and creative energy that pours from the festival comes from the best origin story there is: a group of friends coming together to do what they love and know best. Talking to Sarah, you get a real sense of confidence and willingness to dive in no matter the challenge. Passion is the driver, the rest will fall in line…
Founder of AVA Festival & Up Productions
shesaid.so: What was your experience like starting off in your career? Were you anxious, passionate, confident?
Sarah McBriar: When I started I had a lot of fun! I have always cared a lot about my work — so being passionate about what I do is really important to me. Like anything, the unknown is fun, and slightly scary but that’s what gets you really into it!
ssso: You’re coming up on the third edition of your Northern Ireland audio, visual and arts festival — AVA Festival… can you compare your first year of the festival with this latest edition? How have you grown and what have you learned since you first started up?
SM:The Festival has grown a lot. When we started back in 2015, it was really all mates, both the DJs and attendees. Now — going into year 3, we are really honoured to continue to grow and invite International artists such as Jeff Mills and Marcel Dettmann, and continue to book the best emerging talent and established talent in Ireland.
ssso: What inspired you to start your own festival? How does AVA set itself apart or what is the overall goal of the festival?
SM: I had worked on festivals in mainland UK, at Glastonbury, Block 9, MIF (Manchester International Festival) and Warehouse Project. I had travelled to many in Europe too, Sonar etc. I wanted to create a truly creative electronic music festival, merging the music with the visual art. I didn’t think that one existed in Northern Ireland, and I wanted to create a platform for all of the incredible talent coming out of Ireland, as there was so much — for those within Northern Ireland and those who had left but were doing great things elsewhere… a reason to come back and showcase their work. So AVA was a response to wanting to create this.
ssso: Working in the festival circuit, there obviously comes that time of the year when a festival is nearing its start-date and things get particularly crazy — what are some things you to do keep your wits about you?
SM: Exercise. Chocolate. Yoga & meditation (need to do more of that!) Laughing with my Girlfriends.
ssso: How have the positions you held in the past set you up for success in running AVA Festival and/or starting your own festival?
SM: My previous experience has played a huge part in setting me up. I worked for the Block 9 team for 6 months on Glastonbury which in my opinion is the best festival in the world, it’s a mini city set up for 5 days — it’s incredible. I supported the core team and assisted the producer, working on the pre-production, understanding the level of detail required and the time it takes, along with on-site experience. I also worked for MIF [mentioned above] which is such an incredible event, across 3 weeks — across the city, a combination of interesting spaces, arts & music and International debuts of work! It really is one of the best. I worked across a series of events on the operation side in a voluntary capacity and again learnt from the scale and variation of the projects and sites.
Similarly, I was part of a team who developed a tourism project within City in Manchester, which grew across 4 years. I learnt a lot about teamwork, marketing, staff and operations and the business side of things which really taught me the other side of running a festival — and the major challenge of staying within budget.
I have also lived in a number of cities… Belfast, Manchester, London, Barcelona and Vancouver — learning lots about different cultures and art forms, and about tourism; all areas which really feed into developing a festival!
ssso: What are the most important takeaways you’ve been able to transfer from these past experiences to running the AVA Fest?
SM: 1. Have a core ethos, both in how you programme and how you manage — and keep to it! It is what you are and what you will be long-term!
2. Develop strong relationships that last long term — value you them, they stick with you.
3. You have to watch your budget every day.
4. Enjoy it. If it doesn’t make you happy — something isn’t right!
ssso: If you could pick one — what artist, that you’re featuring at the festival, are you particularly excited about?
SM: Jeff Mills [also mentioned above] — he is debuting a lighting and live project with the incredible Parisian lighting designer Guillaume Marmin — I can’t wait to see this.
… Also Fatima Yamaha and New Jackson!
ssso: What are some lesser-known, but equally amazing festivals out there that we should know about?
ssso: Why do you think we’ve seen the popularity of festivals rise on the recently? Do you think it has to do with the live music aspect? Brand partnerships? What’s your insight/take on this?
SM: I think the whole industry has grown. I think people love to experience music in a live capacity, as music is so easily and readily downloaded, people seek the live experience now. The growth of the sector, the opportunities there are for festivals, interesting spaces and live acts has all led to the growth of festivals.
ssso: What are you currently listening to on repeat?
ssso: Who/what gives you you strength?
SM: Great vibes, great music, a class team, amazing friends!
ssso: What else should we know about you or what you’re currently working on?
SM: The AVA emerging talent competitions are super special. Since starting in 2015, we have found some serious talent!
PLUME is a collaborative project I work on with Oisin O’Brien where we create art directed, high impact visuals, installation amongst other things- it’s super exciting work and was born out of working together on the festival.
The AVA Festival runs for June 2–3 in Belfast.
Tickets here | Lineup here | Watch the AVA highlights of 2016 here