Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Preview: Chorlton Arts Festival

The Chorlton Arts Festival is back for another not-for-profit year of music, art, literature, film and performance. It has achieved a success that belies its humble origins a decade ago. However, it seems they had big ideas even back then. Festival Director Phillip Hannaway states: “There were three guiding principles: to provide a platform for local artists; to provide opportunities for our local children to experience the arts; and finally to provide high quality events, free of charge or at low cost. These principles are still as relevant in our tenth year as they were in 2001.” Last year, it attracted 25,000 visitors, from local to city-wide and national, to a massive programme of goings-on and happenings.

This audience figure suggests both the broad appeal that the festival holds, and also the big names that they attract to raise the profile of the event and bring world-renowned music to South West Manchester. In the past, jazz luminaries Courtney Pine and Jacqui Dankworth have graced the stages, and must-see big names this year include a collaboration between Jazz maestro(ess) Clare Martin and composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett fresh from world tours, folkster(ess) Beth Jeans Houghton, Canadian band The Acorn, and that guy from Bottom (the bald one) making music.

But with all this global talent, is it ever difficult to keep it a locally-focused event? “It's not a struggle at all,” Hannaway replies, “as being at the heart of such a creative suburb means we are never short of local artists who want to get involved in the festival, and the quality of the performances that come from local people never ceases to amaze us”.

There are hundreds of small events, choir performances, workshops, film showings, gallery exhibitions, artist talks, dance classes, local musical talent and such. This isn't just nice talk about being 'community-based' or 'local' – it's at the heart of the festival's programme.

There are also showpiece art-involvement events like 'Flashlight'. The idea is that lots of people from Chorlton buy a light and then meet in a flashmob style at various points around the 'village' to 'take away a new perspective or experience of the place in which they live'. So it might just be a few people holding some torches, or it could be something more... How will you know unless you join in?

And it's not just about an evening's entertainment – there is a strong emphasis on educational value. A schools programme runs concurrently with the festival, asking respected cultural bodies like the HallĂ© Orchestra to get involved with 5,000 of Chorlton's schoolchildren “who might get their first taste of the arts in Chorlton, which will go on to foster a lifelong interest” enthuses Hannaway. There is clearly great passion here, and it is reflected throughout the festival's ethos and attractions.

One of the great things about an event like this is the diversity. It feels like this whole article is just one a big list of all the things to do – and it could be. But it's not just about how much is going on – it's about local and international combining to provide Chorlton, and the region, with quality, low-price entertainment. It's an opportunity to shine a spotlight on all the amazing grassroots stuff that goes on below the cultural radar all year round, and put it on the same billing as big names that garner respect the world over.

So what are you waiting for? Hop on the 86 and come and join us in the 'burbs for 12 days of good times!

Chorlton Arts Festival runs from Thursday 20th May until Sunday 30th May.

Words: Andy Rees
Pictures: Courtesy of Chorlton Arts Festival

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