A ‘stage for storytelling’: How Helen Marriage creates moments of connection and community

“Our lives are not measured by routines,” says IABC World Conference keynote Helen Marriage. “What we remember are the moments, the magical moments, when the world stops and everything is different.”

Sultan's Elephant

The Sultan’s Elephant. Photo credit: Sophie Laslett

As artistic director of Artichoke, a U.K.-based production company, Marriage works with artists to create these moments of magic by bringing cities like London to a halt, leaving spectators enchanted and inspired. The large-scale events that Artichoke orchestrates are rooted in what Marriage described in her 5X15 presentation as “the idea that the city [can] be turned into a stage for storytelling.”

Their first event was the Sultan’s Elephant, a collaboration with French theatrical magicians Royal de Luxe, which involved a 42-ton mechanical elephant and 20-foot tall marionnette girl roaming the streets of London. Though city authorities presented them with obstacle upon obstacle, having a hard time understanding why they would want to host an event that would stop traffic for four days, Artichoke persisted, believing that “the public wouldn’t mind a disruption to their daily lives of toil, trade and traffic. That the roads were not only for those three things but were also for delight, joy, mystification and wonderment.”


Derry / Londonderry Temple. Photo credit: Darren Sheaffer

Since the Sultan’s Elephant in 2006, Artichoke has continued to use storytelling to help the public reimagine the spaces they live in. They challenge common assumptions that cities are about buildings and monuments (which, Marriage points out, are typically absorbed into the backdrop of city life), and instead, are about the people that inhabit them. Most important though, their work brings people together, as seen by their events in Derry / Londonderry, a city in Northern Ireland that suffers from a culture and identity divided by religion.

To bring the Protestant and Catholic communities of this city together, Artichoke collaborated with Californian artist David Best. With the help of community members, Derry / Londonderry came together to create a secular temple in the middle of a “no-go space,” an area that wasn’t shared by the two groups. Not only did the towering structure create an opportunity for these two communities to interact, it offered a space where they could leave behind mementos and messages symbolic of the past. A week later, the city united to burn the structure—a moment that Marriage described as “a real reconciliation with the past.”

It’s these moments of connection and community that make Helen Marriage’s work so important. At the IABC World Conference, hear from Marriage firsthand as she shares her discoveries from more than a decade of creating events that intersect art, politics and communication to transform everyday life.

Register today.