The Royal Docks is a space where artists are experimenting

Art & Culture

The Royal Docks is a space where artists are experimenting

Artists are turning their attention to the Royal Docks this summer as a place to try out the unexpected.

Festivals have been using the area’s water and green spaces as a playground for experimentation. Throughout June, the area was a hub for the London Festival of Architecture (LFA). Now, the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) is bringing the very best in outdoor performing arts to our doorstep — don’t miss the spectacular closing ceremony, Cristal, on Saturday 6 July.

Finally, we’ve just announced the programme for Join the Docks, our very own cultural showcase to help you discover the secret corners of this area and enjoy some world-class performances along the way.

A table with badges and scissors on top of green paper Six artists creating signs with paints

Campaign for Empathy

Artist Enni-Kukka Tuomala has worked with Finnish MPs to nurture empathy, and now she's bringing her work to Newham.

Enni-Kukka Tuomala talking with Rokhshana Fiaz

Rokhsana Fiaz

Newham's mayor (right) joins Enni-Kukka Tuomala at her campaign HQ in RAW Labs. Photos: Tian Khee Siong.

Empathy in east

Royal Albert Wharf on the eastern end of the docks has been alive with artistic innovation.

From March through to September, artist Enni-Kukka Tuomala is running a Campaign for Empathy out of RAW Labs, challenging the invisible boundaries between people through craft and old-fashioned campaigning skills. Above, Newham’s mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, joined Enni for a morning of poster-making.

On the longest day of the year, Thomas John Bacon staged an 18-hour performance to mark the solstice. Billowing smoke drifted out over the water from dawn, as the audience — undaunted by the 4:43am start — watched a purification pyre of cow knucklebones burn to the ground.

Across the way, Lockside Kitchen cooked up something far more delicious with MasterChef finalist Steve Kielty. His supper club ran as part of LFA, and is back in August. Book now for food, friendly folk, and a glorious view.

Daedalum

As part of LFA and GDIF, this otherworldly installation landed beside RAD for three days of its magical maze experience. Photos: Kiron Ponnath.

Spectacle at Royal Albert Dock

Daedalum outside RAD stole the show as part of GDIF, enchanting under-fives and adults alike with its labyrinth of colours. The architectural installation will be followed by a visual treat on Saturday 6 July, with the festival’s closing ceremony. Cristal will feature flying chandeliers and breathtaking aerial dance. Meanwhile, aboard an ordinary suburban bus, Jessica Wilson’s play Passenger has been drawing acclaim for its innovative use of the docks’ landscape. Read our report of the evening.

A child dressed as a pirate

Ferry Festival

The Ferry Festival celebrates North Woolwich and Silvertown, and it's back this year on 10 August.

Plates of food on a table

Craftory Social Garden

The former Tate Institute is opening its doors all summer with live music and workshops.

Exuberant celebration in North Woolwich

As part of the London Festival of Architecture, the Royal Docks Photo Exhibition displayed the work of local photographer Andrew Christie, whose dramatic shots of planes and boats capture the area’s distinctive traffic. The Ferry Festival Photographic Competition also invited entries showcasing the neighbourhood’s beauty.

Along with its accompanying cultural programme, the Ferry Festival is the event of the summer in North Woolwich. This neighbourhood day of celebration “by the people for the people” brought life-size papier-mâché dinosaurs to last year’s event, so we can’t wait to see what they have in store this time.

Opposite Tate & Lyle, the Tate Institute was once a social club for its sugar workers. Now the building, almost unchanged, is home to a very different community. Craftory are an artist collective and they are opening the doors of this historic space through a series of events all summer. Drop in to Social Garden for food, painting workshops, and live music. Bring your own instrument if you’d like join in the jam session.

London Festival of Architecture is over, and GDIF is drawing to a close, but Join the Docks is just getting started. The docks have plenty of cultural gems to reward the curious, so start exploring.