Themes and Curation

Saturday 22nd May 2021 to
Sunday 13th June 2021

Themes and Curation

Vast and mysterious, the Thames Estuary has existed for aeons. Integral to the UK’s national history and 'one of the largest and most unassuming' nature reserves in the world, it has been a source of creative inspiration throughout the ages. Estuary 2021 is the second edition of this large-scale festival inviting artists, writers and estuary communities to respond to powerful themes resonant to the lives, landscapes and histories of this spectacular river.

While the estuary itself takes centre stage as the connecting theme, we have selected three current and historic concerns to provide us with a lens to look through when commissioning new artworks or selecting existing works to include.


Dynamic estuary ecologies are altering as climate change impacts future life for multiple lifeforms. Throughout Estuary 2021 new climate actions will be sparked by artworks and exchanges with artists, activists, scientists and communities in the Estuary and beyond.

Protest and rebellion

2021 will mark 640 years since the ‘Great Uprising’ of 1381, when large numbers of people rose up to protest social injustices. The first rebellions took place in North Kent and South Essex, rapidly expanding with the Estuary as a connecting force for mobilisation. Estuary 2021 will present new artworks and discussions exploring the many contemporary resonances of this history of protest.

Imperial legacy

Estuary 2021 presents artworks that explore the echoes of Britain's imperial and mercantile legacy that ripple through the estuary landscape. From buildings created to support the manufacture and testing of armaments, to the infrastructure of trade visible in ports and traversing the river itself, artworks and discussions find imaginative new ways to navigate this complex history.

Originally imagined before Covid-19, festival partners have worked together to reshape the programme to ensure a safe and inspiring offer that will first and foremost get audiences out into the landscape - to the outdoor places and spaces of the Estuary.

A mix of performance, installation, immersive storytelling, GPS-located audio, murals, walks and tours will present new perspectives on well known Estuary landmarks, alongside inviting audiences to explore some of the more out of the way and lesser-known Estuary environments.

An online programme of discussions will bring together artists, scientists, activists and guests with audiences from around the world meeting those who call the Estuary home. Artworks will be shared from this website making connections to the programme outside. A curated film programme will be hosted from here too, and in pop-up cinema spaces should that become possible. A series of artists’ podcasts will be released as the festival continues.

A series of planned publications will reveal hidden architectural gems; celebrate the great literary heritage of the river; inspire new literary responses; provide maps and guides to walking the Estuary.

Mass participation from Estuary residents is underway with the journaling and creative writing project, The Water Replies. 450 volunteer journallers have been capturing life by the Estuary with words and images since March 2020. The feeling of connection to the Estuary and between participants has given the project a heightened significance and importance for many during the 2020 lockdown.

Additional artworks and events will be presented in Covid-19 safe venues, in line with government guidelines at the time of the festival. Hard to predict from this distance - we promise to give more details on the indoor aspects of the festival in due course.

This inspiring and eclectic mix of large and intimate scale visual art, literature, music and film is inspired by the lives, landscapes and histories of the spectacular Thames Estuary and created by artists and the wider community of the region. Presented over 23 days from 22 May to 13 June 2021, Estuary 2021 is a major celebration of culture, creativity, recovery and renewal.


Saturday 22nd May 2021 to
Sunday 13th June 2021


South Essex & North Kent

Estuary 2021 is made possible by

Principal Partners

creative-estuary   ace

Major Partners

ecc uok thurrock thames_gateway selep medway  thames estuary   ebbsfleet    mayor locatekent kentcc gravesham uoe bas_coun   south_coun Here for Culture

Commissioning Partners

book_fest community_fund heritage_fund creative_coast bexleysalford fpg lesnes Essex2020Logo

Festival Partners

arts_human uni_south uni_oxford uni_glas send_pier pla opp_se henley c2c roh southeastern

Festival Supporters

essex_diversity   raddison   uber