Artist creates a virtual Chorlton to stage the much-loved art festival

Artist Peter Topping has created a virtual Chorlton so residents can walk along the high street and enjoy the work of more than 20 local artists from the comfort of their own home.

The popular Chorlton Arts Festival was originally scheduled to happen in May but had to be cancelled due to COVID-19.

The virtual showcase will now go live on the Chorlton Arts Festival website across the weekend of October 3-4.

Peter’s artwork, which inspired the virtual town, includes local landmarks, and other virtual spaces have also been created by other artists including a watercolour version of Chorlton Ees by artist Anna Violet and the inside of a bin by photographer Mike Beard, who wants to highlight environmental issues.

Peter, aged 71, who is also the festival director, is delighted to have been able to transfer his work online to create virtual Chorlton.

Peter said: “Our virtual Chorlton has all the important places but also a little bit of mystery because no virtual town is complete without a secret tunnel!

“I am delighted that people can get together virtually, to stroll through their township, enjoy free performances and art exhibitions, and chat together about their experiences.

“If what we have created can bring joy in these uncertain times we will build on this concept and produce an alternative way of looking at the arts in our future Chorlton.”

The town has been brought to life by Chorlton resident and curator of the arts festival, Jess Symons of Visioning Lab.

Jess said: “After the festival was postponed in March, we decided that it was still possible to celebrate Chorlton’s art scene online.

“But we wanted to do something different to Zoom calls and YouTube streaming. We put a call out to artists who had already registered for the festival to get on board with our virtual idea and we had a fantastic response so, over the past two months, we have worked with them to make virtual art spaces using Mozilla Hubs for others to visit and enjoy together from the comfort and safety of their own home.

“The art hubs that have been created are communal – so when you visit one, you see other people who are visiting at the same time. Each visitor is assigned an ‘avatar’ – they look a bit like Lego characters. So you can wander around the spaces much like you would in a gallery. You can arrange to meet people there and hang out in the space. It’s a way of experiencing things together even if you cannot physically meet up.”

The weekend is supported by patrons’ comedian and actor Jason Manford, singer Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy), Lip Service and Stephen Raw. It is also part of the Fun Palaces weekend happening nationally.

The line-up of Chorlton artists includes watercolourists, painters, textile artists, photographers such as Susan Parry, Anna Violet, Cathy Duggan, Sea Cat, Nerissa Cargill Thompson, Tracey Cartledge, Mike Beard, Amy Telfer and Peter Topping. They are joined by classical musicians such as Chu Yun, Ivan Hovorun, and musicians and bands including Red Rae, MIRO, Peggy Chorlton, The Dead Xtras and poets, Rose Condo, Anna Percy and the Stirred Poetry collective.

Chorlton’s older person community group, Good Neighbours, will also be launching their YouTuber careers in a series of 3-minute sketches directed by Nakib Narat.

Jess added: “We had a number of artists who wanted to show films so I created a Solstice as a new online 3D digital performance and meeting space. It is themed as an outdoor festival using Chorlton Ees as a backdrop. We have a big screen there so people can come in and watch films together.  It is just so funny to be standing next to a panda and duck watching human musicians performing on a large screen, all the while knowing that you are really at home wearing headphones and sitting at the computer in your front room! The gaming teenagers totally get this, it’s up to the rest of us to catch up.

“Virtual placemaking is something we’re so passionate about at Visioning Lab, and I’m delighted to see it working to bring people together in my hometown.”

Future plans for virtual Chorlton are to use it to promote local traders’ websites – as lockdown sees businesses’ trading hit dramatically.

For more information on the festival go to www.chorltonarts.org

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