Estuary 2021 (22 May – 13 June 2021) was a large-scale arts festival curated in response to the spectacular Thames Estuary and the lives, landscapes and histories found there. Taking place over 23 days, a mix of large scale and intimate visual art, literature, music and film celebrated culture, creativity, recovery and renewal. Alongside an online discussion and events programme, the physical programme explored and responded to powerful themes resonant to the Estuary, from the climate, to rebellion and imperial legacy.
Re-framed in light of COVID-19, the festival invited visitors to take an epic walk along the stunning coastline of South Essex and North Kent encountering contemporary artworks and performance within the estuary landscape, historic sites and coastal towns.
The estuary coastline as a continuous 107 mile walk was originally devised by local journalist Tom King, in his book Thames Estuary Trail: A Walk around the end of the World which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021. Inspired by King’s book the festival invited visitors to explore the Estuary 2021 programme along the way, revealing new perspectives on well-known estuary landmarks and some of the lesser known estuary environments.
The festival presented site-specific works in the landscape, as well as animating the wharfs, piers and high streets of estuary towns including Southend, Chatham, and Gravesend. The programme featured performance, including an immersive audio-visual performance; installation; immersive storytelling; GPS audio; murals, specific walks and tours.
The online programme of discussion and events, brought together artists, scientists and activists from the estuary and beyond to audiences from around the world. A series of publications revealed hidden architectural gems, celebrated the great literary heritage of the river, inspired new literary responses and provided maps and guides to walking the estuary. The Estuary 2021 website displayed new artworks connected to the wider programme, including a film programme specially curated by Gareth Evans, and a series of artists’ podcasts released throughout the festival.