For many students, the summer months have come to be associated with music festivals, of which Reading and Leeds, T in the Park, V Festival and Glastonbury are some of the mainstream UK favourites. However, music is not the only feature at the centre of a growing festival-loving culture.
There are many other long-established as well as new festivals all over the country that have arts solidly at their core. These range from nationally acclaimed festivals that arts critics and those in the know flock to in search of fresh writing and good performances, as well as more low-key regional events that celebrate local talent and give artists and performers the opportunity to showcase themselves. Despite the differences in scale of these various arts festivals, their very existence and popularity means that the spotlight is being placed more and more firmly on the arts.
The Guardian reporter Jonathan Jones has hailed the rapidly growing number of Literary Festivals and their popularity as a sign that Britain is “a much more cultured place, with a far deeper hunger for knowledge” than is often suggested in the media. The country’s major Literary Festivals include Hay Festival, Way With Words Festival in Devon, the London Literature Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. There are also smaller literary events across the UK, which take place in towns as widespread as Middlesbrough, Inverness and Taunton.
Arts festivals are not just bookish affairs though; there are also plenty of summer festivals that celebrate other aspects of the arts including theatre and performance. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is probably the most well known name in the realm of UK arts festivals. As statistically the largest arts festival in the world, this year it hosted a staggering 2542 events and over 41000 performances. The biennial Manchester International Festival is another big name and showcases new, original, international work in the areas of visual arts, theatre, dance and music.
Local arts festivals, which celebrate theatre, performance and the visual arts, have equally found a place in the summer calendars of almost every British county. Locations such as Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, Henley in Oxfordshire and Lichfield in Staffordshire, amongst many others, host festivals to exhibit poetic, comedic, literary and theatrical talent. Regional festivals often display the work of local visual artists and craftspeople too, presenting the work of talented painters, sculptors, ceramicists and photographers.
The popularity of arts festivals has not left Nottingham untouched either. The city hosted its first European Arts and Theatre Festival in May. It saw venues such as Nottingham Playhouse, the Lakeside Arts Centre and the Theatre Royal host performers from countries such as Kosovo, Bulgaria and Denmark as part of an initiative to beat spending cuts by pooling together the resources from both the City Council and Nottingham’s main arts venues.
Clearly re-packaging the arts into an exciting ‘festival’ brand has helped to rejuvenate its image during a period where the struggling economy has increasingly restricted the amount of funding artistic projects can secure. But why should you become a regular arts festivalgoer, especially now that the summer months are fading into the distance?
For a start, arts festivals provide a more interesting way to enjoy all aspects of the arts without the killjoys of academic criticism that are housed in Hallward Library. Due to their diversity, arts festivals can also widen our experiences of all things arts by making events accessible to people all over the country and not just to a small group of critics. What’s more, a number of famous faces including Steve Coogan, Al Murray, Rich Hall, Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were either discovered at or launched their careers from arts festival stages. So, with many large and small arts festivals to explore in the coming months, there has never been a better time to indulge your inner thespian or revel in your interest in the arts and perhaps even discover “the next big thing” of the arts world for yourself.