Brighton Festival story part 2

6 Apr 2014

Brighton Festival in the community

If you thought the only way to experience the Festival was to buy tickets, then think again. There have been numerous events and schemes throughout its history designed to encourage participation. The Creative Learning unit, who work to increase awareness in the arts, run a seemingly endless number of projects to encourage local people to join in.

Festival projects over the years have included:

2000’s Poetry in Motion project saw hundreds of school children write poems, some of which were chosen to adorn the interiors of Brighton buses, on posters designed by University of Brighton graphics students. One bus was even transformed into a bookshop on its lower deck and a creative workshop space filled with visiting poets on its upper deck. One parent responded to the scheme by saying, ‘Thank you for showing me a side to my child I never knew existed.’

The Festival Young Critics Scheme allowed young people to become part of the Brighton Festival press pack. One young man, Jordan Stephens, was one of the lucky participants. He decided not to follow in the footsteps of Michael Billington; he’s now one half of the hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks!

In 2003 Adopt an Author was introduced. The scheme, dreamt up by Head of Creative Learning Pippa Smith, links children’s authors with schools: building up a correspondence over six weeks, the project culminates with the author and the class meeting at an event at the Festival. Previous participating authors have included Malorie Blackman, Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen and Jeremy Strong.

The jewel in the crown, of course, is the Children’s Parade. It features a different theme each year (this year it’s the arts), costs £40,000 to produce, and sees 20,000 people line the streets to watch. It was taken over by Brighton Festival in 2001 and is now produced in conjunction with local arts charity Same Sky.

’It was very small when we took over – it might have been 4 or 5 schools. To give an idea of the scale of it, you could get the entire parade into half of the Pavilion Gardens’, says Pippa Smith. ’Now the scale of it is such that when the front of the parade reaches Madeira Drive, the back has not yet left Brighton station.’

Brighton Festival now and beyond

In 2009, the introduction by Andrew Comben of an annual Guest Director saw an entirely new direction for the Brighton Festival. Each has brought something unique to the programme, provoking debates and raising questions relating to their own personal areas of interest.

Brighton Festival is now a major producing arts festival where one quarter of the work is a commission, premiere or exclusive appearance.

Advancements in communications technology has heralded a new era of audience engagement. In 2004, online booking began for the first time, and is now the predominant method by which people book tickets. In 2013, to increase accessibility and reach, a number of Brighton Festival events were live streamed on the website. Audience participation and response also widened, reflected by the 50% increase of Facebook fans and 25% increase of Twitter followers, all keen to share their thoughts on what they have seen. In the many years since it first began, the Festival has grown and evolved but its core belief in the transformative power of the arts is still at its heart.

Described in The Times (2011) as being ’at the forefront of the revival of British arts festivals’, Brighton Festival returns this year with a programme that is, as always, big, bold and not to be missed: long may it continue.