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Art & Culture Builds A Richer Community

Friday 17 April 2015
Words Ailis Mara

This year Spindle and the Brighton Festival will be walking hand and hand along the seafront, basking in the creative juices that will be flowing through the city this coming May. We got to talk to Chief Executive of the festival, Andrew Comben, about how festivals such as these can influence creativity within a community.

After overcoming our jealousy of not yet being in Brighton ourselves to enjoy the sunshine, Andrew gave us an insight into how the working of this festival encourages involvement from all walks of like, from all corners of the city and from all ages of people. The Brighton Festival runs from May 2nd – May 24th and is a wealth of creativity celebrating theatre, dance, comedy, film and so much more.

8 Songs by Gandini Juggling

Of the Brighton Festival, we heard that “We’re a better community if we have arts and culture”, do you want to expand on that statement?

Well, where do we go from that? In one way, I think it’s self evident, I can appreciate it might not be for everyone but from where I stand art and culture help us all deal with thoughts and feelings. It can help us to understand these thoughts and feelings in a way that can often help you in the physical world or understand the properties of things or understand how things work.

Arts and culture is really one of the few areas that allows everyone to explore, both individually and collectively, how you feel, and more importantly how you feel about things.

That to me is really important process for a community to go through and therefore for culture to be present in it, it makes for an overall healthier society.

To get more specific, we know that there are huge benefits to mental health by being engaged in arts and culture, both the active participating, in dance and theatre and so on and being part of an audience experience. The collective experience can really help people to engage more with what their feeling in their own lives, whether they might be dealing with mental health issues or dealing with being who we are and being alive. I think there are tangible benefits but actually there are professionals starting to appreciate that as well. Like what a festival can bring to a community, which is an opportunity to think about who we are.

Nathan Coley Credit Keith Hunter

With an event like the Brighton Festival, what do you think Brighton gains from being the home for this rich creativity for the month of May?

It’s hard to answer these questions without sounding incredibly self-serving, that isn’t the intention, I believe it [laughs]. It’s not just the festival, right through May there’s this huge range of activity going on, the festival, The Fringe, The Great Escape, all of that activity adds an absolute level of intensity to somewhere like Brighton which already has a huge number of artist resident here, working here, and people who are automatically or have become automatically interested in parts of the culture.

There is a huge openness to art and culture that is an incredible privilege compared with many other places in the country. It’s an extraordinary audience to play to and to work for.

But I think May is that sort of ‘blowing the top off’, for people to look at what they’re doing in a really new way.

We have a huge influx of artists from all round the world, the conversations that can go on in those two weeks between people who are visiting from out of town, performing here for the first time, and the people who have been living and working here for many years. It just means there’s a level of exchange that doesn’t get to happen at any other time.

Beyond that then, May is really a moment where you know that the audience is incredibly engaged with everything that is going on, but there is also a huge section of the population that hasn’t been before and less frequently have the opportunity to. May is really a chance for us to try and open up the opportunities for everyone to experience it. Meaning we are able to get right across the community and not just stay in the middle of town, but go to Woodingdean, go to Saltdean, go to Moulsecoombe, get out of our cosy environment and into those places where people can stumble across things and they can stumble across things for the first time and to have an experience that can encourage them to come back, hopefully because they genuinely love it.

There’s that chance with the festival that you don’t get in other forums and it’s one that we really feed off.

Childrens Parade photo by Victor Frankowski (2)

Talking about reaching new people across the community, do you think the festivals brings in an audience from a younger generation also?

Children and young people are an incredibly important focus in the work we’re doing. We’re having a city wide conversation at the moment called ‘Our Future City’ which is really about what culture can bring to the discussion around what sort of city we want and how is that best provided for children and young people. I think there’s a whole interconnectedness. Our focus on children and young people is really critical. At the same time, I think the festival has to cater for every demographic and that includes older people as well.

We have an incredible range of work that is focused on young people and yet I think there are shows and performances that will appeal to an older demographic. We really encourage that to occur throughout the city, arts and culture has an incredibly important role to play in including everyone.

And it is these benefits that art and culture bring to a city that keeps a place like Brighton so vibrant, inviting and enthusing.