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Crowd pleasing: why carnivals in the South West are the winning cultural ticket

  • Date: 4 September 2013
  • Artform: All, Combined arts, Dance, Literature, Music, Theatre, Visual arts
  • Area: South West
St Paul's Carnival, 2013 St Paul's Carnival, 2013, Colin Rayner

Everyone loves a good festival, and in the South West, this autumn sees even more to choose from.

In September, there's Unexpected festival in Exeter, Bestival on the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth Arts by the Sea, and Telegraph Bath Children's Literature Festival. In October, we will be treated with The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival and Plymouth International Book Festival. While in November, we eagerly await Bridgwater Carnival, the largest illuminated carnival In Europe, in Somerset.

This summer, Arts Council England has supported arts and cultural activity at over 23 festivals, carnivals and melas in the South West, from Cornwall to Bath and down to the Isle Of Wight though our National portfolio funded organisations and our National Lottery funded Grants for the arts scheme.

Experience great art

Festivals are a great vehicle for audiences to experience great art. Hundreds of people at Glastonbury Festival and Torquay Festival helped artist Olivier Grossetete build gigantic cardboard towers as part of participatory projects supported by Grants of the arts awards.

Festivals also bring people together and help drive income to local businesses. In Bristol, over 100,000 people came to St Paul's Afrikan Caribbean Carnival on Saturday 6 July 2013, organised by Arts Council England National portfolio organisation St Paul's Carnival.  

Meanwhile, Grants for the arts supported the dance programme at Bristol Harbour Festival at the end of July, which was attended by 250,000 people over the weekend.  

Nick Green and Adam Gent, Combined Arts Relationship Managers for the South West, help us take a closer look at the excellent range of festivals in the South West and what makes them so unique.

New work, new audiences

Nick Green says: 'The South West is home to hundreds of festivals. From the world's best known music festivals to local events and annual traditional festivals, they are a great way for the Arts Council to get new work to audiences. In the last Taking Part survey, data showed that people in the South West were twice as likely to attend carnival and festivals events as those in many other parts of the UK. 

'Through Grants for the arts, we're supporting exciting new work, as well as helping artists take their work to new audiences and investing in talented and emerging producers of new work for outdoor settings. 

'At Bestival this year, the Bestival Carnival Parade includes showcases of the best carnival work made in the UK by organisations supported by Arts Council England, and Cirque Bijou are presenting Happy Families, a new touring outdoor work created by professional artists working with recent graduates from Circus Space.

'For the second year in a row, we're supporting visits from samba, carnival and processional touring groups to Bridgwater Carnival, such as Elimu, Bloco du Sarjento Pimento and Rhythms of the City. Bridgwater is a leading carnival in the UK, the biggest of the Somerset circuit with a huge audience, so it's a great way to get the best work seen in this region alongside the extraordinary floats produced in Somerset.

'Unexpected festival in Exeter has a strong circus theme this year. Joli Vyann is performing there - it's a small scale touring ensemble based in the region who are producing really strong new dance/circus work. There's also the premiere of a major project produced by a partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City (Extraordinary Bodies) that builds on the extraordinary work produced by disabled and able-bodied performers working together at the 2012 games.

'The South West is also home to a number of young producers and production companies supporting the festival industry internationally, and for young people developing careers in the arts festivals and carnival are vital ways of developing skills, experience and contacts for their future careers.'

Transforming places, drawing in audiences

Adam Gent, Combined Arts Relationship Managers for the South WestAdam Gent, Combined Arts Relationship Manager, South West also works with festivals, big and small, and shares his views.

Adam says, 'Festivals are about a unique, intense burst of the unexpected, something truly out of the ordinary that audiences could not access at any other time of the year. New commissions, international work, work from national artists previously only available far away, and work from local artists in new contexts and with new partners can be a catalyst for audiences to develop a new interest, try something different and open up new horizons.

'In the South West, there are such a variety of festivals from the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival and Telegraph Bath Music Festival, both long established, influential festivals with international reputation and reach, to Salisbury Festival, with its thoughtfully programmed mix of art forms transforms the city and draws people from across the country; balancing both high profile artists and local and community engagement.

'Bournemouth Arts by the Sea is a much more recent festival and has a unique and eclectic vision, working in partnership with our regularly funded organisations in Bournemouth and offering valuable opportunities to developing artists. This festival is valued by the local authority, who is championing its development for its ability to deliver high quality experiences for residents and visitors alike. 

'At a much smaller scale, Penryn Arts Festival had its first outing this year with a programme encompassing popular community events, and adventurous and challenging work, but importantly opening up sites in the town, sourcing a huge amount of local talent, and getting an enormous involvement from all parts of the community.

'Both festivals help to redefine the towns and show that a festival can be a way of town engaging in a conversation with itself about what is important, how it wants to be seen, and what the future might hold.

'Our regularly funded Dorset Festivals b-side and Inside Out Dorset are both pioneering in the way they work sensitively with sites and communities to produce events that manage to be both surprising and delightful interventions in the landscape and built environment, but also be intimately connected to the communities, town and countryside. This is partly because both work closely with our wider cultural partners like Dorset Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) and with parish councils, farmers, schools and many other groups. Harmonic Fields on Portland in 2012 was a great example of international work sensitively sited which developed a real ownership by local people.' 

If you've missed out on festival this summer, not to worry - here's a quick roundup of festivals supported by Arts Council England, still to come.

Festivals in the South West - Autumn 2013