The first community-led Kinder Exeter festival ended on Sunday after a week of online activities and COVID-safe outdoor events in city centre green spaces which explored the theme of “Compassion Through Play”.
The festival was a collaboration between the University of Exeter Communities and Students Together Education Incubator programme and MakeTank, an artists’ collective which has transformed a vacant three-storey building on Paris Street into a creative, rehearsal and performance space.
It was inspired by the Kinder Leeds event which took place last September.
Like Kinder Leeds, Kinder Exeter was based around three core themes: kindness to self, to others and to the planet. The festival aimed to promote compassion and well-being through acts of collaborative play as well as joining with local artists to bring colour to the city’s streets.
The event was organised by Olya Petrakova, artistic director and founder of MakeTank and a University of Exeter MA Creativity lecturer.
She said: “I think artists have a really important job. Our job is to elevate, our job is to transform.
“Our job is to give space, give voice, realise moments in life that are very dear to us where we never have time, we never have space, we never have capacity, energy, but that’s what artists do.
“I think we are well-being warriors, actually.”
Co-organiser Maarten Koeners, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, was inspired by his academic research into the effects of play on the human brain to found the Playful University Club, which supports “learning through joy, engagement and play”.
He said that by working with Kinder Exeter he hoped to turn his research into something “we really want to experience”.
He added: “Along the way, with all the rules and restrictions and society, we sometimes forget how joyful learning is and compassion flows out of it so it’s a very natural connection to make.”
During the week-long festival a series of online workshops encouraged participants to break out of their comfort zone and foster kindness through improvisation-based activities.
Workshops included “Micro Moments of Positivity”, which invited participants to complete seven acts of caring over seven days, and “Playful Leadership and Kindness”, which explored the ways in which leaders can improve their skills by focusing on empathy.
University of Exeter drama student Harry was one of a band of “Kindness Ninjas” who spent the week performing altruistic acts around the city, including litter-picking and giving flowers to strangers.
He said he was pleasantly surprised by the response: “It’s something that I’ve learnt a lot [about], that infectious kind of kindness that does get spread when you do a small thing like give someone a flower.”
The festival culminated in an outdoor celebration on Saturday, with yoga and an origami workshop for kids and their adults in Southernhay Gardens, followed by a picnic and quiz on Cathedral Green.
Trish Oliver, Lord Mayor of Exeter, made a guest appearance at the festival via mobile phone, with her words relayed by a participant through a megaphone.
Members of Birmingham theatre company Stan’s Café - performing as parody sports pundit characters “The Commentators” complete with sheepskin jackets and trilby hats – streamed continuous commentary on Saturday’s proceedings live on the festival’s own Compassion Radio webcast.
The Commentators, who have previously covered a Scalextric race and the World Gurning Championships, said that while they were disappointed not to have been invited to join their peers in the commentary box at the Euro 2020 football tournament, they were “much happier” broadcasting from the Kinder Exeter festival.
Japanese ceremonial drummers Tano Taiko brought Saturday to a close with a resounding display beside Exeter Cathedral.
MakeTank’s Olya Petrakova says that Kinder Exeter will become an annual event in the city, and will also take place in other towns in Devon. So far Exmouth and Totnes have both expressed an interest in becoming “Kinder” places.