This month we meet Ali Pretty, founder and artistic director of outdoor arts company Kinetika. Ali is passionate about walking, and would love for you to participate in the Thurrock 100 recipes walking festival taking place this month.
- When did you start your current role and where had you worked before?
I founded Kinetika, an outdoor arts company, in January 1998. Before that I was a free-lance artist. I worked as a designer for the Notting Hill Carnival, creating silk paintings for the costumes. I was renowned for my work on silk. I chose to be self-employed because it gave me the freedom to decide what projects I do.
- Why did you want to work/get involved in the Thurrock 100 walking festival?
I was asked by the Thurrock Council’s Public Health Department to develop a local walking and arts festival in 2015. The aim was to get more people walking and talking and making things together. In 2014, Thurrock Council had done ‘Beat the Street’, a community walking event, and there had been a positive response from the community. The Council were keen to keep up this momentum. They had found that people in Thurrock tended not to be aware of where they could go for walks. Public Health wanted to make walking more visible and accessible to people. I had just started walking for leisure before moving to Thurrock, so I was delighted to be on board with this exciting project.
- What’s the best thing about your job?
Every day is different. Having my work commissioned by so many different people in different places means I get to work outside a lot, I get to travel and meet lots of interesting people from all walks of life, ranging from Tilbury ex-dockers to crafts people in India. I also love that I can use my work and community art projects to engage with hard-to-reach communities.
- What are you working on at the moment?
Developing Kinetika’s two year project Kitchen Table. You can find out more about this on the Thurrock 100 festival walks webpage.
- Tell us about an event that altered the course of your life/and career…
My first visit to India in 1984, when I was volunteering on a project in Madhya Pradesh with Theatre Director Habib Tanvir. He said to me “if you want to change the world, you need to be an artist”. From that moment on I committed myself to trying to make a difference through the arts.
- The person who has influenced you the most is…
Many people have influenced me in different ways, but in particular Peter Minshall, a well-known Carnival Designer from Trinidad. He influenced me conceptually and artistically. His carnivals were huge pieces of theatre, which provided great narratives and involved a lot of people. I worked closely with Peter and he inspired me to become a carnival designer. He used my silk paintings, including one that was worn by the winner of Queen of the Carnival. This helped to transform my career and got my work known.
- Work life balance – what leisure activity you enjoy the most?
Swimming in the sea on The Isle of Wight or in the 50m outdoor pool in London Fields.
I grew up on The Isle of Wight and had holidays on the beach where I always went in the water. In London, as I swim my mind can just wander.
- Something about you people would find surprising…
I’ve never had any formal training in the Arts.
After I completed my undergraduate degree in sociology and politics, I went to India for the first time. I wanted to experience a culture that operated on a different value system to the UK. It was there that I realised I wanted to help communities and that I could do so through art.
I went on to volunteer for a number of different art companies, and I took a silk painting evening class. I am mainly self-taught, and I would recommend others do this, as it can help you develop a unique artistic style. I still feel like I’m constantly learning.
- What’s your greatest fear?
Losing my health. I have a demanding job and it would make it impossible to keep doing the things I love doing.
- Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would invite an author, Robert Macfarlane, who writes about walking and landscapes. It would be great to go for a walk with him before dinner.
- What would your super power be?
To be able to walk as far as I like forever.
- What’s your favourite/least favourite food?
My favourite food is grilled seabream and salad. My least favourite food is baked beans – I won’t go near them!
- What’s the worst job you ever had?
I’ve never had a bad job as I’ve mainly worked for myself. However, this has still brought challenges. This includes having to take on projects I’d rather not, but needed to for funding, to pay overheads and to keep work coming in. I’ve learnt that sometimes you have to take risks and to hold your nerve.
- What thing would improve the quality of your life?
Having more time to be creative and spending less time chasing funding!
- What’s coming next for you?
In October, I’m returning to India to visit the biggest public art festival, Durga Puja. I can’t wait!