Column: Looking forward to return of live events

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

Thursday, 4th March 2021, 8:00 am
Welcome return of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in July

I took part in the British Arts Festival Association conference last week.

An annual event that is usually a fantastic barometer and celebration of the festivals industry.

This year has been rather different for all of us and I was asked to take part in the opening event – a ‘Pandemic Purge’ – to share challenges and opportunities.

I had to sum up in three minutes what has happened to our festivals here in Harrogate and to be quite honest three minutes felt about right, as that’s how my life has sectioned over the last 12 months.

Do this, don’t do that, how about we plan for this, nope not that either.

Let’s wait, oooh shiny opportunity here and nope it’s a mirage.

Trying to hit a target that moves roughly every three minutes is exactly what leadership in festivals and events has felt like over the past year and, for those of us with the live events gene, fixing and solving all challenges, we found this year even harder, because we just can’t fix it.

However, what festivals don’t lack is positivity, hope, resilience and sheer determination.

Most festivals don’t have buildings, they animate the buildings already there, create temporary performance spaces and are often masters of ‘just do the show right here’.

It was a reminder that the natural instinct during times like these is to become isolated, protect what you have, but really it is a time for working as a community, joining forces to increase your relevance.

We have aimed to increase our reach and work with a host of partners old and new over the last 12 months to create a programme of digital and live activity, while putting it simply – trying to stay in business.

At the conference there were interesting topics of discussion on organisations that have shut up shop to build funds when communities really need their support and those that are dog-tired after continuing to deliver with limited resource, and everywhere between the two.

The months ahead are going to be interesting.

Following the announcement from Government about the proposed road map back to a more recognisable life, HIF announced with great joy and a huge dose of apprehension the return of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in July.

Our partners include our major sponsor Theakston Old Peculier, alongside delivery partners and hosts the Old Swan Hotel.

The publishing world regards it as the party of the year.

Authors add a dash of stardom to the mix and the readers are there in full force celebrating all that is great about fantastic crime fiction against the backdrop of an incredibly pretty spa town with fantastic places to shop.

There is so much to plan and many, many, ‘what ifs’ about how events such as ours can take place with a road map that is set out but could still change.

To balance our sleepless nights about distancing, capacities, and space we are holding onto one of the final thoughts from a truly brilliant conference.

“Just imagine the roar of the audience as the lights go down at your very first live gig, and the cheering at the end as the lights go up.”

For me that is something huge to cling onto, the joy in the room of a shared experience as part of an audience.

Let’s keep everything crossed we will be able to experience this in July!