Case study: Findhorn Bay Festival

Shared by Kresanna Aigner, Creative Director, Findhorn Bay Arts

Name of Project

3rd Findhorn Bay Festival

Funding/Partners Involved

In working with a wide range of individuals and organisations, the Findhorn Bay Festival brought together the cultural and creative community and worked alongside the tourism sector, local businesses, accommodation providers and the third sector to achieve common goals highlighted in We Make Moray, the new Cultural Strategy for Moray as well as the Scottish Government’s strategy that aims for a culturally cosmopolitan Scotland; a country capable of attracting and retaining gifted people, where creative community is supported and contribution to the economy is maximised.

Our partners are made up from and include representation from:

  • Local businesses
  • National businesses
  • Accommodation & tourism sector
  • Third Sector Organisations
  • Schools & Colleges
  • Local Authority & Social Services
  • Sponsorship & funding partners

Major Funders, Trusts and Foundations supporting the 2018 Findhorn Bay Festival were:
Creative Scotland, Year of Young People, Event Scotland, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Moray Leader, Berry Burn Community Fund, The Budge Foundation and Saltire Society.

Background Information

Following the successes of the Findhorn Bay Festival in 2014 and 2016, Findhorn Bay Arts presented the 3rd biennial Festival in September 2018 with a quality programme of events that showcased local, national and international artists in the stunning surroundings of the Findhorn Bay area in Moray. Since the Festival first took flight four years ago, we are proud to have received multiple awards and national renown for both the Festival and the year round work we do which brings creativity, people and place together. Drawing upon the legacy of our Creative Place Award from 2015 we continue to recognise and celebrate local talent, encourage creative learning and promote creative collaborations between artists, businesses and organisations within the community – and when you bring these things together, truly remarkable things can indeed happen.

The Festival also embraced Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018 which provided a fantastic route for us to develop relationships, bring together new partners and offer unique creative learning opportunities whilst celebrating and showcasing the talents of our young people – the contributions of which made the Festival so inclusive and so special for so many.

All of these things and more made the 3rd Findhorn Bay Festival an outstanding success. This success is just one highlight of our work which encapsulates more than just an event, it is the culminating of a year-round creative programme, centred around a comprehensive outreach and education programme and community workshops that contribute so greatly to our local culture and livelihoods.

The Findhorn Bay Festival and supporting projects benefited:

  • Local business and residents across Moray, in particular Forres, Kinloss and Findhorn.
  • Community and school pupils through engagement and workshops across the region.
  • Local, national and international audience engagement and experience opportunities.
  • Participants who learnt new skills drawn from the Moray and Highland areas
  • Service providers, the creative team and crew delivering events from the Moray and Highland areas.
  • The reputation of the area as a go to cultural destination.

Our events and projects are organised in conjunction with regional and national stakeholders and deliver many social and economic benefits to the local community. In developing our programmes, we take inspiration from strategies and consultations including: We Make Moray Cultural Strategy, Moray Economic Strategy, Moray Speyside Tourism, the National Youth Arts Strategy Time to Shine, Forres Area Community Trust, and the priorities of Creative Scotland, Event Scotland, and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

Findhorn Bay Festival-161.jpg

Inclusive Growth Outcomes sought

Whilst, as a producing organisation, the projects and activities we deliver vary in theme and scale, our overarching aim is to develop a sustainable company that:

  • Produces, supports, grows, encourages, develops high quality cultural events that attract local and visiting audiences resulting in cultural, social and economic benefit for the Findhorn Bay area and beyond
  • Grows audiences of all ages through long-term engagement with creative experiences
  • Encourages participation in cultural activities, removing barriers to awareness and access
  • Supports artists in developing and presenting artworks that engage with and respond to the area
  • Develops with appropriate ongoing resources to deliver our activities

Specifically, through the 3rd Findhorn Bay Festival in 2018 we sought to build on our improved understanding of producing and programming and ensured that our rapid growth is sustainable, and as such, we sought to:

  • Reach out to a broader demographic from across Moray (particularly in relation to, young people and their families).
  • Widen our reach targeting audiences from UK, Ireland, Germany, France, US.
  • Offer stronger and increased programming of High Quality professional artists from across the UK and beyond.
  • Engage with internationally renowned artists in order to enhance the visitor experience, but also build networks and opportunities for the local cultural sector.
  • Develop opportunities for residents and arts organisations to participate and develop as a result of programming and workshops leading into Festival 2018.
  • Highlight how locally rooted festivals can draw and attract audiences from across the UK and beyond.
  • Develop as an organisation to ensure that the systems, infrastructure and structures ensure growth is sustainable and well-managed.
  • Develop as an organisation to ensure our communications/marketing strategies engage with residents, but also continues to attract cultural tourists.

The 2018 Festival provided opportunities rarely available in the region, as well as intergenerational performance opportunities; international programming and high quality participation opportunities for all.

It sought to attract an informed and experienced audience without excluding those to whom cultural experiences are new; and built on the audience trust that has been built through our Festivals in 2014 and 2016.

Actions Taken

Findhorn Bay Arts presented the 3rd biennial Findhorn Bay Festival from Wednesday 26 September to Monday 1 October with a spectacular six-day celebration of arts and culture that took place in unexpected spaces and scenic locations around the Bay of Findhorn in Moray.

The ethos of the Festival was to stage a programme of high-quality arts and culture events and activities. In doing so, the Festival offered something for all and brought together visiting artists from across Scotland and beyond who performed alongside local artists based in Moray and the North East. The Festival engaged residents, visitors and tourists alike through a diverse artistic programme and participation opportunities.

The Festival created:

  • An exciting and interesting programme of high quality events and projects attracting engagement with a wide variety of audiences and participants
  • A programme of arts and culture relevant and accessible to the local area
  • The opportunity for local people to develop skills and networks
  • Connections between programmed events with local artists, communities and spaces
  • A unique showcase for all artists with collaboration, performance and community engagement activities at its heart
  • Lasting links and networks between programmed artists and companies

“A varied and exciting programme for all ages to be part of” – Audience Member. Forres, Moray

Audiences were entertained with a unique and vibrant mix of theatre and performance, exhibitions and live music, fine-art and photography, talks, tours, family events and lots of free activities, including the free community event Culture Day Forres; truly making the Findhorn Bay Festival accessible to all.

In Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018, the Festival embraced and celebrated the energy, enthusiasm and talents of young people. Many took to the stage to perform whilst others worked in the background learning new skills and ensuring everything ran smoothly.

Leading up to and during the Festival, a Workshops and Education programme offered a series of unique opportunities for people to participate and learn from. Schools groups and families enjoyed Storytelling & Creative Making sessions, hearing the story of The Buke of the Howlat and making willow wings used in the set of the production whilst author James Robertson and illustrator Kate Leiper ran a workshop for primary children to learn about the story and the making of the book. The Wildlife of Findhorn Bay was explored with RSPB Scotland, Kirstie Cohen led a Landscape Mixed Media workshop in Moray Art Centre, and The Elphinstone Institute delivered Scots/Doric language sessions in Forres for the general public and in schools across Moray.

New to the Festival line up this year was a focus on Making More of Moray through the celebration of quality local food, with the fertile Moray landscape providing a plentiful larder to sample from. Audiences could try locally sourced organic bites in a Pop-Up Project Café which included a training programme for young people /and unemployed residents, visit growers in their gardens on vintage bus tours, shop at the mini-market of local organic produce on Culture Day or join a tantalising multi-cultural music and food event spiced up with a feast prepared by a collaboration between 3 local Indian restaurants.

Themes of migration, language and modern identity were explored throughout the Festival programme. Audiences could take a guided walk spotting the birds of Findhorn Bay with A9 Birds; meet the Scots Scriever at the Falconer Museum’s Birds & Wirds exhibition; join in on a discussion on Scotland as a bi-lingual nation; or visit the Waves O’ Flight open exhibition on the edge of the Findhorn Bay Nature Reserve. Throughout the Festival weekend, Swarm Sculptures formed and reformed with Lucy Suggate and dancers from Dance North’s (previously Bodysurf Scotland) community dance programme, and Northern Flyway by Inge Thomson & Jenny Sturgeon created a musical journey exploring the connection between people and birds against a lush evocative skyscape of stunning visual imagery.

Findhorn Bay Arts presented the world-premiere promenade theatrical adaption of The Buke of the Howlat, a 15th century epic Older Scots poem – Written by Morna Young, Directed by Ben Harrison and supported by the Year of Young People 2018 Event Fund. A team of actor-musicians, a choir and a community cast featuring talented local young people, worked with an award-winning creative team to re-tell this very old and very local story of wealth, power, identity and creativity.

At the heart of the 3rd Festival, was Culture Day Forres – a fun, free, family day out, jam-packed with exhibitions and performances and lots of have-a-go activities presented by local people. The day saw the streets, parks, shops and public buildings of Forres come alive. Over 3000 people experienced a carnivalesque explosion of art, music, film and dance, talks and tours and more

“A wonderful mix of music, food, education and community events engaging all ages” – Audience Member. Findhorn, Moray.

Findhorn Bay Festival 2018.-4.jpg

Challenges Encountered & How Overcome

We have steadily built trust within our local community and work to promote and identify the links between creative activity and its impact on; health and wellbeing, education and learning, regeneration, the economy and social wellbeing. We are committed to working with people that do not immediately identify with the arts and in identifying their barriers to participation we can find routes to mitigating these through our long-term commitment to building relationships.


The direct engagement with potential local participants was undertaken through extensive contact in person, telephone and email communication by the Findhorn Bay Arts team for several weeks and months leading up to the Festival. This direct approach was successful in engaging and involving 33% more participants than was outlined in the objective for participation.

As part of the Year of Young People 2018, Findhorn Bay Arts focused on a programme of participation for those aged under 25 years. During the 2016 Festival, almost 300 young people participated in the Festival programme, this was substantially increased to 719 at the 2018 Festival.

Transport Barriers / Access

Forres is connected by a trunk road extending 30 miles west to Inverness and 80 miles east to Aberdeen. The area has suffered from cuts to buses servicing Forres into the evening and from rural services to the surrounding villages being withdrawn.

We secured funding which supported:

  • The provision of free buses which were made available to community and school groups to attend events / activities
  • A Festival shuttle bus operating out with bus service times / days between rural villages
  • Events in multiple locations around the bay of Findhorn extending to outlying towns and villages
  • Events at a variety of times to enable access, particularly for older residents who are less likely to drive in the dark
  • A range of ticket incentives including; a special Year of Young People reduced rate for under 26s, half price tickets for a person requiring a personal assistant and concession rates for older people, unemployed and benefit claimants
  • A number of free events
  • Events being positioned in accessible venues and / or allowed for alternative arrangements to be made if required

Economic Challenges / Sustainability

We are placed in the heart of the only Scottish Local Authority to experience the entire withdrawal of funds to support the arts and culture sector in 2013, and with numerous cuts to service provisions in the region since.

Strong visitor numbers and a substantial economic and social return are recorded through the Festival, demonstrating a positive return in investment and generation of increased visitor spend.

We work to identify a suite of partners, funders and sponsors whose aims and objectives align with us to support the Festival and all associated projects.

A key challenge moving forward is sustainable income streams and funding. We exist on a project-to-project basis, which has seen us grow to deliver many outcomes over the course of 7 years. We are at a critical point of growth and development funding is essential.

In 2019 we will seek to draw new members onto our board and gain Charitable status. In doing so, broadening our expertise and potential for financial sustainability.
Assessment of Impact & Future Opportunities

To inform the development of our programmes, we conduct regular evaluations. The evaluation results returned from four perspectives – audiences, businesses, volunteers, and participants – supports the appraisal of the objectives set for the event and provides a context to inform the experience had by each of these stakeholder groups which enables us to develop, improve and grow the Festival over the coming years.

“Stimulating, creative and heart felt with a real community spirit and great music” – Audience Member. Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Festival achieved:

An estimated attendance of 16,927 across ticketed and free events, including audiences, staff, volunteers, participants and performers and a breakdown of attendances from:

  • 59% Regional
  • 36% National
  • 3% Rest of UK
  • 2% International

Participation from 868 members of the public, local artists, businesses, heritage organisations and community groups throughout the six-day Festival

Provided a platform to showcase the creative talents of over 100 local artists/groups and enabled numerous collaborative performances and projects to be successfully delivered

Engaged with 2,426 young people by providing opportunities to attend workshops and performances that added to the learning curriculum and included 6 young people who gained work experience.

Worked collaboratively with 90 businesses, community and programme partners to deliver partnership events

Recruited 335 volunteers to support the Festival and offer experience in customer care and front of house stewarding

Produced a high-quality Festival that promotes art, culture and the local area

Raised the profile of the Findhorn Bay Festival, Findhorn Bay Arts and Moray’s local arts and cultural sector over a five-month campaign period by gaining;

  • 9,471 unique visitors to
  • A 17% increase in social media followers via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram taking total followers to 4,957
  • 139 items of printed media coverage equating to £23,973.64 in advertising value equivalency
  • An estimated marketing campaign reach of 9.2 million impressions

Contributed an estimated £869,120 to the local economy through the following spend:

  • £589,845 from visitor and accommodation spend
  • £279,275 from the allocation and local spend of project budgets

Working partnerships included a range of businesses, the local hospitality sector, community groups, cultural organisations, third sector groups, heritage organisations, venues, schools, local artists and volunteers working together to host an unforgettable and accessible Festival; these are the people who are the very backbone of the event. One small community succeeded in showcasing the scenic locations of the Forres region, arts and culture to an international audience, truly strengthening the status of the area as a Creative Place and providing a dynamic and engaged foundation on which local creativity can flourish and community can thrive from all year round.

Looking to the future, we will build upon our strong foundation, partnerships, and learning to date to further develop the organisation and our programme of events, striving for financial sustainability. The beginning of this journey is for Findhorn Bay Arts to seek to be reclassified as a Charity in 2019, to further cement the organisation as one that operates primarily for the benefit for the local community and to open new funding possibilities.

We will review our work to date and explore how current systems and structures can be best positioned to achieve the aims and objectives of the organisation. This will inform the development of the 4th biennial Findhorn Bay Festival in 2020, as well as best serve participants, volunteers and audiences.

Links to relevant documents

To download the full 2018 Findhorn Bay Festival Evaluation and Marketing Report please follow this link: 

Photographer: Paul Campbell, Findhorn Bay Festival 2018


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