Column: The arts is more than just buildings

The latest column from Sharon Canavar, Chief Executive, Harrogate International Festivals.

Friday, 10th July 2020, 3:38 pm
Updated Friday, 10th July 2020, 3:40 pm
Last years festival featured Museums of the Moon

How do you write a column for an international arts festival when there is no festival, the country is in lockdown and the natural rhythms of live performance, audience and community haven’t been experienced for months?

Our venues have closed their doors, large gatherings are banned, half our already small team is furloughed and we have had to cancel and refund for over 60 performances in July alone.

In monetary terms, we have lost over £800k of income since March.

Yes, times are bleak for the arts. For festivals and those without buildings they are particularly dire, but this is when you have to remind yourself that the arts is more than buildings. It is people, it is participation, it is showcasing young artists and authors, it is keeping artists and freelancers in work so that there is a future for them in the arts. It is working in partnership to achieve opportunities and programmes for everyone. Regardless.

I’d hope that this is reflected in our 2020 programme of work. Since March we have delivered free books, shopped for those unable to get out and often just chatted to a number of people who were without their families. For HIF, connections and community has long been at the heart of what we do. We have had to be agile, learn a host of new skills, and learn to expect the unexpected as to what could happen and when for the next week, let alone the next month.

The summer season is often our busiest, but never have the team worked as hard as they have in the last 100 days. We could have gone dark and closed up shop for the season but instead the entrepreneurial spirit of the team and our dedication to bringing just a little light to our audiences’ lives through the arts meant this wasn’t an option.

We have created HIF Player, podcasts from our archive that have achieved the dizzy heights of charting in the arts podcast chart with over 6,000 hours of free entertainment downloaded worldwide. We have participated in the Fun Palace’s #tinyrevolutions supporting small community celebrations of street galleries and created our 10 word crime stories.

We have launched the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year showcasing 18 of the best books from UK and Irish authors in the last 12 months. Have managed to bottle up the festival into one big weekend of digital activity celebrating our favourite musicians, authors and speakers and commissioned a new work from Dr David Lancaster, which will premiere as part of the weekend with musicians young and old from across the world.

The last few weeks have been focussed on providing the light the arts provide during some dark times for our audiences. We are proud that what is created in Harrogate has been enjoyed across the world. There has been a lot of shouting about arts funding and theatres and our arts ecology disappearing recently. We can’t deny that his is an incredibly challenging time but there are also significant opportunities.

We believe that festivals fill the gaps that others are unable to reach. Festivals are often a small team of people bringing vitality, freshness and creativity that make better communities to live in, that attract tourism and visitors, change the way places look and connect communities to the world. Organisations such as Harrogate International Festivals add value, are agile and cannot stand still.

This may not be our usual summer season but we are determined to continue to deliver arts and culture to our audiences and community. For the arts are needed now, perhaps more than ever. It is a time to adapt, reinvent, reflect and press on, continuing to deliver great programmes to ensure our survival in the new normal.

The recent weeks have been an immense challenge and HIF wouldn’t be delivering in this way if we hadn’t received support from a number of organisations and individuals. We remain incredibly grateful that our supporters continue to trust us to deliver arts opportunities for our community during this time. However, if we are to continue the future of the festivals we will need your support to raise vital funds in the coming weeks and months.

We are proud to create festivals in Harrogate that are enjoyed around the world, but we miss you all, friends, audiences, artists, and we cannot wait until we can welcome you to our amazing live events in the future. Look after yourself and one another, and we’ll see you soon.