Q&A: My Crouch End - Festival guru Chris Arnold


- Credit: Chris Arnold

Festival guru Chris Arnold speaks about his passion for north London, family and juggling a hectic work life

What brought you to the area where you live?

I have lived in north London since I was 16. I schooled at William Ellis in Highgate so when I wanted to go to art college Hornsey College of Art (then based in Crouch End and part of Middelsex University) was an obvious choice. I loved it’s rebellious history. I lived in other areas for a while but then came back, it’s like a magnet for creatives. It loves mavericks.

What makes Crouch End unique?

It’s creative history and creative population. Over 40 per cent of people here work in the creative industries. It is also like a village, you get to know everyone. Especially if you have a two-year-old! That’s why it’s called “London’s Creative Village.” Downside are the trolls on Facebook, thankfully only a handful. I manage nine sites so have to jump on them a few times. Let’s be nice is a better philosophy than let’s have a go.

You have a day off to spend in Crouch End, what do you do?

I’ve always wanted to write a short story, one paragraph at a time. But each one in different coffee shop, inspired by the people in it. Bit like Jim Jarmusch’s amazing film Coffee & Cigarettes. We made a version in Crouch End several years ago. A sort of writers coffee bar crawl. But alas, running three businesses, a family with an energetic two-year-old, running a venue, the festival, playing in a band, writing articles, lecturing,… I rarely get days off.

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What are you looking forward to in the festival this year?

Overall another successful festival. It’s a great feeling to see so many people doing some many great things. Great too when people do something for the first time. It’s gone way beyond our dreams of what we imagined when we first had the idea in the garden of the Queens, where we first discussed it. Then we imagined a weekend event but it grew so fast. People forget it’s all run by a very small number of unpaid volunteers on a shoestring budget. If one event it’ll be üF.Beat, we are trying to recreate a ’60s German club where musicians would improvise, explore and experiment and merge musical styles. We already have some amazing local musicians coming along. Thursday June 14th.

What about it are you proudest of?

I think we are proud of the fact it’s now the UK’s biggest community arts festival. it engages the community, provides a platform for creative talent. And so much talent, 90pc of which is local. And most events are free. We want to keep it that way and not sell out, you know, start hiring big names and then sell tickets. It’s really is a local affair.

Who is the most inspiring person you’ve met?

OMG, that’s a big one. Jan, she was a lecturer at college. I was a real rebel, challenging the system and status quo and wouldn’t conform to the sausage factory education curriculum. Bit more normal now! She encouraged me to stay radical, to think different. Was that good advice? Not sure. Gets me in trouble sometimes. I am dyslexic too, and she told me it was a gift not a curse, that really changed a lot, now I embrace it. One reason we have several dyslexia based events at the festival this year.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of this year?

Aside from the festival I run the Intimate Space in St Mary’s Tower in Hornsey Village. It’s getting a growing number of regular perfumers and a growing reputation so planning to push that harder. I want it to become a creative icon for Hornsey Village. The Tower is 500 years old and small, only seats 25, but a great place to be creative in.