Magical thinking

How hard can it be to launch a creative arts festival in the first year of your English degree? Bridget Minamore, Lily Bonesso and Marina Blake, founders of Brainchild, share their joy and pain

A young band performing at the Brain Child Festival - lead singer, pianist and a guitarist

This article first appeared in issue seven of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

The founders of Brainchild Festival met in 2011 during their first year of studying English at UCL. They shared a love of festivals both as attendees and, in Bridget Minamore’s case, as a performer. “We’d all been to events such as Bestival, but they were becoming so big and corporate,” says Lily Bonesso.

Meanwhile, Marina Blake had a daydream of a big barn in the country (with no VIP area) where young people could meet and flex their creative muscles because they “had just left school and were revealing what they were really passionate about”. Marina never found the barn, but the name ‘Brainchild’ came to her on Christmas Day 2011.

It took three months of searching to find the right venue, and three months more to pull the whole thing together.

Looking back now, the trio are far too modest about their achievements – they programmed not one but three stages of music, spoken word, art, workshops and much more. “As a team, we didn’t have any kind of structure,” admits Lily. “We were literally making it up as we went along, with everyone mucking in when they could.”

Unaware of the roles of festival production, they did make the most of everyone’s specialisms. Through her foundation art course at Kingston University, Lily knew a network of artists who created site-specific installations for the event. Bridget brought in her poetry and writing connections, and they became curators, albeit ones who were also trying to study.

“We thought our first-year grades didn’t matter that much,” confesses Marina, “but then in the second year, it was a real struggle juggling course work with the festival. I was shocked by how badly it affected my marks. I remember a lecturer telling me, ‘This will not grow your mind!’” Meanwhile, Bridget was surprised by her supervisor’s enthusiasm: “He’d already heard about the festival from someone else. I thought that we were doing this tiny thing that wouldn’t be a big deal to organise.” But the word was out and the pressure was on.

This article first appeared in issue seven of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

The founders of Brainchild Festival met in 2011 during their first year of studying English at UCL. They shared a love of festivals both as attendees and, in Bridget Minamore’s case, as a performer. “We’d all been to events such as Bestival, but they were becoming so big and corporate,” says Lily Bonesso.

Meanwhile, Marina Blake had a daydream of a big barn in the country (with no VIP area) where young people could meet and flex their creative muscles because they “had just left school and were revealing what they were really passionate about”. Marina never found the barn, but the name ‘Brainchild’ came to her on Christmas Day 2011.

It took three months of searching to find the right venue, and three months more to pull the whole thing together.

Looking back now, the trio are far too modest about their achievements – they programmed not one but three stages of music, spoken word, art, workshops and much more. “As a team, we didn’t have any kind of structure,” admits Lily. “We were literally making it up as we went along, with everyone mucking in when they could.”

Unaware of the roles of festival production, they did make the most of everyone’s specialisms. Through her foundation art course at Kingston University, Lily knew a network of artists who created site-specific installations for the event. Bridget brought in her poetry and writing connections, and they became curators, albeit ones who were also trying to study.

“We thought our first-year grades didn’t matter that much,” confesses Marina, “but then in the second year, it was a real struggle juggling course work with the festival. I was shocked by how badly it affected my marks. I remember a lecturer telling me, ‘This will not grow your mind!’” Meanwhile, Bridget was surprised by her supervisor’s enthusiasm: “He’d already heard about the festival from someone else. I thought that we were doing this tiny thing that wouldn’t be a big deal to organise.” But the word was out and the pressure was on.

This article first appeared in issue seven of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

The founders of Brainchild Festival met in 2011 during their first year of studying English at UCL. They shared a love of festivals both as attendees and, in Bridget Minamore’s case, as a performer. “We’d all been to events such as Bestival, but they were becoming so big and corporate,” says Lily Bonesso.

Meanwhile, Marina Blake had a daydream of a big barn in the country (with no VIP area) where young people could meet and flex their creative muscles because they “had just left school and were revealing what they were really passionate about”. Marina never found the barn, but the name ‘Brainchild’ came to her on Christmas Day 2011.

It took three months of searching to find the right venue, and three months more to pull the whole thing together.

Looking back now, the trio are far too modest about their achievements – they programmed not one but three stages of music, spoken word, art, workshops and much more. “As a team, we didn’t have any kind of structure,” admits Lily. “We were literally making it up as we went along, with everyone mucking in when they could.”

Unaware of the roles of festival production, they did make the most of everyone’s specialisms. Through her foundation art course at Kingston University, Lily knew a network of artists who created site-specific installations for the event. Bridget brought in her poetry and writing connections, and they became curators, albeit ones who were also trying to study.

“We thought our first-year grades didn’t matter that much,” confesses Marina, “but then in the second year, it was a real struggle juggling course work with the festival. I was shocked by how badly it affected my marks. I remember a lecturer telling me, ‘This will not grow your mind!’” Meanwhile, Bridget was surprised by her supervisor’s enthusiasm: “He’d already heard about the festival from someone else. I thought that we were doing this tiny thing that wouldn’t be a big deal to organise.” But the word was out and the pressure was on.

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Marina pitched to UCL Innovation & Enterprise, but ultimately decided that didn’t fit with Brainchild’s non-corporate spirit. “The festival has always been a culturally and socially driven project,” she says. No sponsorship deals, glamping or brand extensions for them. “We didn’t even have a business plan until last year,” she adds, and she isn’t joking.

Despite the chaos, their festival debut was a success, attracting a crowd of 350. “It was the perfect size to be launching with,” says Lily. “At that stage, we just weren’t ready to handle more people.” Marina agrees. “At a small event you feel the value because you have so much space and you can just do what you like.”

They still laugh at the memory of the police arriving to check their licence. “We were so young then that when they saw us in our high-vis vests, they assumed that we were just marshals,” says Marina. “No one guessed that we were the organisers.”

Marina pitched to UCL Innovation & Enterprise, but ultimately decided that didn’t fit with Brainchild’s non-corporate spirit. “The festival has always been a culturally and socially driven project,” she says. No sponsorship deals, glamping or brand extensions for them. “We didn’t even have a business plan until last year,” she adds, and she isn’t joking.

Despite the chaos, their festival debut was a success, attracting a crowd of 350. “It was the perfect size to be launching with,” says Lily. “At that stage, we just weren’t ready to handle more people.” Marina agrees. “At a small event you feel the value because you have so much space and you can just do what you like.”

They still laugh at the memory of the police arriving to check their licence. “We were so young then that when they saw us in our high-vis vests, they assumed that we were just marshals,” says Marina. “No one guessed that we were the organisers.”

Marina pitched to UCL Innovation & Enterprise, but ultimately decided that didn’t fit with Brainchild’s non-corporate spirit. “The festival has always been a culturally and socially driven project,” she says. No sponsorship deals, glamping or brand extensions for them. “We didn’t even have a business plan until last year,” she adds, and she isn’t joking.

Despite the chaos, their festival debut was a success, attracting a crowd of 350. “It was the perfect size to be launching with,” says Lily. “At that stage, we just weren’t ready to handle more people.” Marina agrees. “At a small event you feel the value because you have so much space and you can just do what you like.”

They still laugh at the memory of the police arriving to check their licence. “We were so young then that when they saw us in our high-vis vests, they assumed that we were just marshals,” says Marina. “No one guessed that we were the organisers.”

“Organising a festival helps you learn new skills and contribute to UK culture”

Marina Blake

“Organising a festival helps you learn new skills and contribute to UK culture”

Marina Blake

“Organising a festival helps you learn new skills and contribute to UK culture”

Marina Blake

The festival grew organically. “People who came that first year got something from it and those who hadn’t come heard that it was something special,” says Bridget. “I didn’t realise just how much momentum Brainchild had until the third festival in 2015. We’d taken the previous year off to finish our degrees. This was a big decision and I was against it, convinced that people wouldn’t come back.”

The opposite happened and the third festival was the biggest yet.

“That’s when I realised that Brainchild had its own legs and we could feel really proud of it, from the music that people made and the artistic collaborations, to the friendships forged and the couples who met there.”

The festival grew organically. “People who came that first year got something from it and those who hadn’t come heard that it was something special,” says Bridget. “I didn’t realise just how much momentum Brainchild had until the third festival in 2015. We’d taken the previous year off to finish our degrees. This was a big decision and I was against it, convinced that people wouldn’t come back.”

The opposite happened and the third festival was the biggest yet.

“That’s when I realised that Brainchild had its own legs and we could feel really proud of it, from the music that people made and the artistic collaborations, to the friendships forged and the couples who met there.”

The festival grew organically. “People who came that first year got something from it and those who hadn’t come heard that it was something special,” says Bridget. “I didn’t realise just how much momentum Brainchild had until the third festival in 2015. We’d taken the previous year off to finish our degrees. This was a big decision and I was against it, convinced that people wouldn’t come back.”

The opposite happened and the third festival was the biggest yet.

“That’s when I realised that Brainchild had its own legs and we could feel really proud of it, from the music that people made and the artistic collaborations, to the friendships forged and the couples who met there.”

People dancing and enjoying themselves at a festival

Because it was a not-for-profit event, all three were unpaid volunteers until last year, when they decided to create professional roles and recruit paid staff to maintain the quality of the event. Meanwhile, UCL alumni including Naomi Ishiguro, Ned Carter Miles and Yara Rodrigues Fowler have performed on Brainchild’s three stages.

Despite the strain of juggling studying with festival organising, they have no regrets.

“In subjects such as English where there is no straight career path, organising a festival is useful in terms of learning new skills and contributing to UK culture,” says Marina.

For Bridget, “Doing something adjacent to my university course gave me a bit of a grounding. When you start a degree, you realise that a lot of your time is your own. You choose how you spend it and the festival helped me to focus my time better.”

Lily juggled several internships during the course and agrees, believing that it also made her more productive. Marina adds, “When I speak to 18-year-olds about whether they should go to university and commit to that level of debt, I always talk about all the people that you meet. I think that we extended our network so much more by creating Brainchild.”

Lily says, “A lot of people who’ve been involved in the festival have had work opportunities come from it. Being part of that network automatically improved their chances of finding interesting work, which is ultimately what we’re all aiming for.”

Brainchild 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19. Find out more about their plans for the future and efforts to absorb their losses, or buy a ticket for next year’s festival on the Brainchild website.

This article first appeared in issue seven of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Because it was a not-for-profit event, all three were unpaid volunteers until last year, when they decided to create professional roles and recruit paid staff to maintain the quality of the event. Meanwhile, UCL alumni including Naomi Ishiguro, Ned Carter Miles and Yara Rodrigues Fowler have performed on Brainchild’s three stages.

Despite the strain of juggling studying with festival organising, they have no regrets.

“In subjects such as English where there is no straight career path, organising a festival is useful in terms of learning new skills and contributing to UK culture,” says Marina.

For Bridget, “Doing something adjacent to my university course gave me a bit of a grounding. When you start a degree, you realise that a lot of your time is your own. You choose how you spend it and the festival helped me to focus my time better.”

Lily juggled several internships during the course and agrees, believing that it also made her more productive. Marina adds, “When I speak to 18-year-olds about whether they should go to university and commit to that level of debt, I always talk about all the people that you meet. I think that we extended our network so much more by creating Brainchild.”

Lily says, “A lot of people who’ve been involved in the festival have had work opportunities come from it. Being part of that network automatically improved their chances of finding interesting work, which is ultimately what we’re all aiming for.”

Brainchild 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19. Find out more about their plans for the future and efforts to absorb their losses, or buy a ticket for next year’s festival on the Brainchild website.

This article first appeared in issue seven of Portico magazine, published October 2020.

Because it was a not-for-profit event, all three were unpaid volunteers until last year, when they decided to create professional roles and recruit paid staff to maintain the quality of the event. Meanwhile, UCL alumni including Naomi Ishiguro, Ned Carter Miles and Yara Rodrigues Fowler have performed on Brainchild’s three stages.

Despite the strain of juggling studying with festival organising, they have no regrets.

“In subjects such as English where there is no straight career path, organising a festival is useful in terms of learning new skills and contributing to UK culture,” says Marina.

For Bridget, “Doing something adjacent to my university course gave me a bit of a grounding. When you start a degree, you realise that a lot of your time is your own. You choose how you spend it and the festival helped me to focus my time better.”

Lily juggled several internships during the course and agrees, believing that it also made her more productive. Marina adds, “When I speak to 18-year-olds about whether they should go to university and commit to that level of debt, I always talk about all the people that you meet. I think that we extended our network so much more by creating Brainchild.”

Lily says, “A lot of people who’ve been involved in the festival have had work opportunities come from it. Being part of that network automatically improved their chances of finding interesting work, which is ultimately what we’re all aiming for.”

Brainchild 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19. Find out more about their plans for the future and efforts to absorb their losses, or buy a ticket for next year’s festival on the Brainchild website.

This article first appeared in issue seven of Portico magazine, published October 2020.