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Festival Fever: Arts Council England supports festivals in the South East

  • Date: 10 May 2012
  • Artform: All, Combined arts, Dance, Literature, Music, Theatre, Visual arts
  • Area: South East
Peter and Kerry, In the Woods Festival, 2011 Peter and Kerry, In the Woods Festival, 2011

You don’t have to go camping to get a taste of the best festivals this summer – although it may help – as more fantastic arts are on offer at UK festivals, supported through Arts Council England.

From the pebbly beaches of Brighton to the gorgeous countryside of Kent, audiences will be spoiled for choice with international and nationally acclaimed festivals, presenting the most cutting-edge, tantalising arts to your doorstep, from melas to music festivals, and from street theatre to classical and visual arts.

Festivals are a great boon to our regions: they promote tourism, support emerging talent, drive the local economy, and with record-breaking audience numbers, are vehicles for sharing great world-class art to even greater numbers of people. 

Here is a selection of 9 of the best and brightest festivals that the Arts Council supports, either through National Lottery funded Grants for the arts scheme or through National portfolio organisation funding. 

In Canterbury, Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival kicks off on 4 May and runs until 15 May, offering jazz, contemporary classical, choir, experimental music and spoken word. This year, 20 new works will be performed including a World Premiere of chamber opera Les Maledictions d’une Furie (A Fury’s Curses). Sounds New is supported with a £65,000 Arts Council England Grants for the arts award.

Internationally renowned Brighton Festival runs for three weeks in May, from 5 to 27 May. As the third largest UK festival, it presents another dynamic multi art form programme, with Vanessa Redgrave as this year’s Artistic Director. Theatre platform East by South East presents three new works such as Sylvia Rimat's I Guess if the Stage Exploded… on 17 and 18 May. Farnham Malting’s Caravan, a three-day showcase, presents new site-specific work from 20 theatre companies on 13 to 15 May. Without Walls presents free outdoor dance performances at Brighton Marina and seafront. The festival also unveils several new commissions such as Lands End from Belgian theatre group Berlin. Brighton Festival and Dome is an Arts Council England National portfolio organisation.

Fuse Medway Festival, a free outdoor arts festival for the people of Medway, Kent and beyond, takes place from 15 to 17 June. This festival has grown in significance, regionally and nationally over the years, presenting exciting, exceptional work. This year, the festival brings high quality local artists to the programme with the Sparks Commission, which will see a 100-person festival choir performing in five towns aboard a paddle steamer (Ri-zound) and a live and interactive ‘visual memory bank’ of the River Medway (Changes in the Current). Fuse Festival is supported with a £100,000 Arts Council Grant for the Arts award.

Taking place on Kent’s historical south coast is Deal Festival, a 10-day festival 29 June to 8 July 2012 in Deal and Dover. Deal Festival specialises in classical and contemporary music, as well as theatre, opera, cinema and dance. This year, the festival’s education outreach programme PyramiDeal offers school children and young people the opportunity learn to sing and perform in choirs, bands and orchestras. During the Festival, a newly formed string ensemble, The Caliband, made up of young players, adults and professional musicians, will be performing an eclectic line up, from Coldplay and Sting to Elgar and Shostakovich, while students with profound, severe or complex needs will perform in a specially commissioned piece, The Power of Words by John Harle. Deal Festival's PyramiDeal is supported with a £49,880 Arts Council Grants for the arts award.

Once again, the country’s longest running festival of street theatre - Hat Fair – takes over Winchester from Friday 6 July to Sunday 8 July 2012. This year’s festival brings three special night time performances in addition to the all day festivities. On Friday night, giant prehistoric creatures, fire performers and other mythical figures take to the street, in Dutch company Close Act’s Invasion. On Saturday night, French company Generik Vapeurer’s Waterlitz brings pryotechnics, aerial work and street theatre alongside a giant made from shipping containers. Finally on Sunday, UK Square Peg Company present the finale with new show Rime, based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, full of acrobatics and a haunted story of the undead. Hat Fair is Arts Council England National portfolio organisation.

One of the Southampton’s biggest cultural celebration, the Southampton Mela Festival, will throw an all day party in Hoglands Park on Saturday 7 July celebrating South Asian arts. The Mela yearly sees record numbers - 25,000 in 2010 – and presents stages for international artists as well as local community groups and performers. Last year, the Mela boasted an Art Asia Stage Bus featuring the best of Indian classical music and dance by leading British performers. Past programmes have include music and dance performances from various traditions and cultures such as Bangla, Bengali, Bollywood, Rajasthani, and Bhangra, Kathak, Polish, Chinese, Flamenco, plus drumming and music workshops and arts and crafts.

IF: Milton Keynes International Festival is ten amazing days of performance, music, comedy, large-scale spectacle and free outdoor events, tranforming the city from 20 to 29 July. When it started in 2010, the festival attracted 90,000 people. This year's highlights include a late-night Spiegeltent and a Theatre Tent hosting international companies from Cambodia, Spain and France in Campbell Park and an awesome evening opening that will see the park transformed into a fire garden by French fire alchemists La Compagnie Carabosse. IF: Milton Keynes International Festival is produced by The Stables, an Arts Council England National portfolio organisation and is part of the spectactular Milton Keynes Summer of Arts programme.

New on our radar is In the Woods Festival, which is a one-day performing arts festival in an enchanted woodland location on 1 September in Kent. The festival promotes new and upcoming talent in music, visual art, arts and media technology and poetry; in previous years, they’ve boasted names like Anna Calvi, Lucy Rose, Lianne la Havas and Alt-J. Nestled in a picturesque valley, the festival offers two stages, art installations, local ales, food and an all-night bonfire. In the Woods Festival is supported with a £10,000 Arts Council England Grants for the arts award.

Whitstable, Kent’s contemporary visual art festival Whitstable Biennale will take place 1 to 16 September. Now in its sixth edition, the festival explores performance and film and has a research based project programme, commissioning artists at a formative stage in their career to create new and experimental work in film and performance. Artists in this year's festival include Jesse Jones, Tanya Axford, Tessa Lynch, Benedict Drew, Patrick Staff, Sian Robinson Davies, Gareth Moore, and Uddin & Elsey. Whitstable Biennale is supported with a £120,000 Arts Council England Grants for the arts award.