As we approach the final weekend of Belper Arts Festival 2017, I’ve been reflecting on past festivals. When eight people sat in the room above Fresh Ground in the Autumn of 2012 no one imagined we would be where we are today. At the time we adopted a mantra – ‘inclusivity not exclusivity’ – and I like to think that we have reflected that over the years. Apart from one incident, no one has been turned away. Far from it. I like to think that we have encouraged people to take part and they have.
I’ve also reflected upon the benefits to the town that the festival brings. Using official figures, it has been estimated that, over the five years, 75,000 visitors have injected almost £1 million pounds into the local economy. I also believe that the artists and makers in the artistic economy have benefitted from a festival that is the gateway to the tourist season.
Without going through brochures from years gone by I cannot remember all of the highlights. Some really do stick in the mind. Sheku Kanneh-Mason who had been judged BBC Young Musician of the Year just days before…in fact the whole Kanneh Mason family…Opera Babe Karen England…Hot House Jazz…Boleyn…the Celebrate Belper Concert featuring James Oldrini…I could go on. This year has been particularly outstanding. The Arts Trail was stunning. Belper Open Houses celebrates a 7th year over the Bank Holiday weekend. Other events included theatre with DiVA, Light One Up and Larry Waller’s stunning WW1 vision, Hamp. Music at St. Peter’s included Mozart’s Requiem (Derwent Singers), Last Night Of The Proms, Tom Corfield and the return of the Kanneh Masons. Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde made appearances. And a packed St. Peter’s Church celebrated ‘Belper On Film’.
However, it was the brilliant poet / comedian / entertainer Ian McMillan who paid the festival the finest compliment. On stage he announced that “Belper Arts Festival should be the model for all town festivals in the country. It is amazing.” The Festival has grown both in size of event, quality and reputation. This year has seen visitors from across the United Kingdom, attracted by the events and our beautiful town.
Belper Arts Festival has a foundation that should see it thrive for years to come. Yes, there are always issues with funding and sponsors and advertising – that’s true of almost every festival – but whilst the will is there within the community of Belper to make it work it will survive. There will be times when it needs to change. I feel that now is the time to make a necessary change.
After five years I am stepping aside as Chair and Co-Ordinator to make room for others to cast fresh eyes on the festival. I think we need a wider base, a greater range of skills and talents in order that the festival adapts more readily to the digital age. Belper Arts Festival is now bigger than anyone could have anticipated and because of that I feel it needs a restructure. That restructure is not for me to decide. It’s for the event organisers, the volunteers and anyone who is interested in being involved. It’s for anyone who wants Belper Arts Festival to continue – and I’m sure it will.