AVA London founder Sarah McBriar on how the creative industry can bring the spirit of SXSW to the UK

AVA London founder Sarah McBriar on how the creative industry can bring the spirit of SXSW to the UK

Electronic music and arts conference AVA London was staged last week at Printworks London, including a keynote interview with Hot Chip and (pictured) a club event featuring Max Cooper, Mall Grab, Sofia Kourtesis, and more. 

Here, founder and creative director Sarah McBriar calls for more cooperation between the creative sectors to help achieve their world-leading potential…

Standing amongst the crowds at Glastonbury in 2014, it was the marvel and magnitude of undoubtedly one of the world’s biggest and best festivals that inspired me to start AVA Festival. With 2023’s sold-out London event successfully behind us, where we once again had a tremendous response from fans and industry alike, we look at how we can build upon our achievements ahead of our 10th anniversary. As we reach this critical milestone, I am led to reflect on why the UK so often looks abroad for the lead in this sector … Aren’t we missing a trick on our own doorstep? 

Over the last nine years, we have sought to embrace the collective power of music and visual arts to create something truly unique. We haven’t, of course, been on our own in that vein. The festival has grown up in good company. 

In the UK, there’s The Great Escape – arguably one of the biggest showcases for new music each year with 300 acts now performing across 30 venues in Brighton. In Amsterdam, there’s ADE – a five-day electronic music conference that attracts 400,000 people to the city from all over the world, with the UK being one of the largest purchasers of tickets per capita. It is underpinned by secure funding from BUMA (the Dutch equivalent of PRS for Music) and delivers a significant return on investment for the music and tourism sectors. 

But as the founder of a multi-disciplinary audio and visual arts festival which aims to push boundaries, support innovation and offer a platform for creatives to experiment, it’s important that I look beyond music for my muse. 

Sarah McBriar

Last year, London Tech Week celebrated its 10th anniversary bringing together business and political leaders from across the world to create a cauldron of thought leadership; the BFI London Film Festival boasted an audience of almost 200,000, with tastemakers and influencers gathering to signal the films that would become the talking point of the make-or-break awards season. 

And then, there’s SXSW. The ultimate in creative showcasing. Thirty-six years into its journey and bringing together almost half a million people each year across music, film, interactive and education. Financially supported by the UK government through the Department for International Trade, and supplemented by monies from the devolved nations, it provides an incredible platform for the UK’s creative talent (though, an increasingly expensive one) and generates significant returns for the economy in Austin. 

So with that in mind, the question I’ve started to ask myself is, why should Texas have all the fun? Day in, day out, our creative sectors deliver some of the most outstanding creative works celebrated worldwide. So how about we come together to connect, cultivate and create more of these rich opportunities on homegrown soil through our very own pan-creative industries showcase?

Pan-creative industry collaboration and cross-political support is a must

Sarah McBriar

By combining our collective strengths here in the UK, our AVA sector – comprising music, film, TV, games and tech – can maximise its potential, create better access to investment and attract international interest on a larger scale, resulting in even higher output and growth. One in eight UK businesses operate within the creative industries, a sector estimated to be worth £116 billion to our economy. According to the think tank G20 Insights, the creative economy is projected to reach a global valuation of $985 billion by 2023, representing 10% of global GDP. The potential is huge. Our potential is huge. 

My experience of working across both the public and private sectors has taught me a valuable lesson: we cannot work in isolation or in silos. A reliance on the public sector alone presents too many hurdles, too much bureaucracy; whilst a drive from the private sector alone misses out on an opportunity to bring our political leaders on the journey with us, creating cultural and creative ambassadors who understand the value of creativity to our economy, society and communities. I believe it takes public-private partnership to pave the path for strategic, lasting and catalytic change. Pan-creative industry collaboration and cross-political support is a must. 

Setting this into the context of the future for AVA and the live events sector, I am driven to create opportunities for our next generation of creative talent and to evolve AVA as culture and tastes change. This past year alone, we have enjoyed working with the likes of Avant Arte and Abbey Road and have expanded our partnerships to produce cutting-edge consumer experiences, from PAIRED – a multi-sensory experience enjoyed through the combination of music and food – to IMMERSE - an innovative music and visual arts experience created by AVA in partnership with critically acclaimed producer Max Cooper. 

I hope that in its tenth year in 2024, AVA can take these collaborations to the next level to benefit not just our global fanbase and current partners, but the UK’s wider creative economy. And with that, I hope for a new approach to connecting, showcasing and growing our vibrant audio-visual arts sector right here in the UK. 


PHOTO: Jake Davis


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