Case study

Long exposure:
developing the
UK’s leading
international
photography
festival

Making a significant and cultural impact on the city of Derby, FORMAT has grown to become the UK’s leading international photography festival. Organised as a collaboration with QUAD arts and media centre and drawing from the research and curation expertise of the University of Derby, it engages audiences worldwide with the power of the photographic image in all its forms.

FORMAT delivers a year-round multi-stranded programme of international commissions, open calls, residencies, conferences, workshops and collaborations but its centrepiece is a prestige biennale promoting new work by world-renowned practitioners and spotlighting emerging talent.

The latest biennale, FORMAT19, featured 3,000-plus works by 300 artists from over 70 countries, strengthening Derby’s reputation as a cultural powerhouse and generating significant financial and social benefits. An economic footprint evaluation of the Festival calculated that its 23,500 visitors brought an extra £1.9m to the city. Almost half of the visitors were from beyond the East Midlands, with 5% from beyond the UK. 80% of visitors said they were likely to revisit Derby’s cultural offer.

As part of a drive to encourage public understanding and debate of photographic practice, the Festival brings internationally renowned work to new audiences and venues. Many FORMAT events were staged in smaller venues across the East Midlands, including converted temporary and pop-up spaces and at landmark locations such as Derwent Valley World Heritage sites across Derbyshire.

Broadening this reach further still, a dynamic social media strategy engaged 14,500 Instagram, 24,000 Twitter and 22,500 Facebook followers while media coverage stretched from the US to China, achieving an estimated advertising value equivalent of £1.5m.

To date FORMAT has run to nine editions exploring global issues as diverse as the photograph as reflection of reality ‘Evidence’ (2015), ecological impact and legacies ‘Habitat’ (2017) and the past, memory and the archive ‘Forever/Now’ (2019).  It is underpinned by a rich heritage of education and research into photography and related media practice, which spans more than five decades and is brought together in the University’s Digital and Material Artistic Research Centre.

Over the years, the Festival has grown in scope and stature, thanks to its continued success in attracting funding from eminent cultural sector partners including Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is the only UK member of ‘The Festival of Light’, a global network of over 20 photography festivals.

FORMAT has not only captured but also driven dramatic changes in contemporary photography practice. Research-engaged staff serve on the steering group and jury panels, exhibit their own work and contribute to catalogue essays. They also organise a high-profile conference as a core element of the Festival to bring together leading academics, writers, curators and practitioners.

As a truly international event, FORMAT is committed to embracing diverse voices and acts as a springboard for further global collaborations. Exhibits commissioned for the 2019 Festival, featuring works by 300 artists from over 70 countries have gone on to tour China with earlier Festivals touring extensively across Europe.

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The Digital and Material Artistic Research Centre (DMARC) is the home to artistic research from the disciplines of Performing Arts, Music, Media, Art and Design within the School of Arts.

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