A Great Festival – Now What About The Future?
Well, the 2022 Devizes Arts Festival has now drawn to its successful close. Thanks to a very determined and hard-working committee, this jewel in the D-Town crown was finally shining again. Along with DOCA-led events like the International Street Festival, Carnival, Colour Rush, Lantern Parade etc, The Food & Drink Festival, the two Beer Festivals, and The Fulltone Music Festival, we are truly spoiled for the cultural life in our town. We certainly punch way above our weight.….
This year the DAF ran from 9th to 25th June, a fortnight full of great entertainment – I counted 23 events at ten venues across town, showcasing a wide variety of the arts – jazz, classical, rock and country music, comedy, talks, walks. Most, if not quite all, were well supported and I know that the organisers were pleased overall with ticket sales. Bearing in mind that this Festival was effectively originally planned in 2019 and meant for delivery in 2020, it finally emerged blinking into the light of a post-Covid world in 2022. A great job was done in rolling forward as many planned acts as possible, but there were inevitable casualties – some artists previously booked had understandably moved on and taken other bookings in the meantime. So, for the DAF Committee, it must have seemed a little bit like Groundhog Day in getting this thing finally done.
So what was so good about it? Obviously tastes and opinions are going to differ, but attendances and ticket sales have to be a good indicator. We saw some nationally-known stars – Lesley Garrett, Simon Calder, Adam Frost, Tankus The Henge, and Darius Brubeck making their way down to this part of rural Wiltshire. For me, the personal highlights were The Scummy Mummies and Alfie Moore on the comedy side, and Tankus and Darius Brubeck on the musical front. The spread and variety of events was impressive, the venues were well set up and organised, and the advertising was spot-on.
The things that might need a little further thought about were that some events/ venues weren’t sold out, that there were not more “affordable” events in the mix, and that there were only two Free Fringe events (although both were excellent and very well attended). Perhaps these factors, and the lack of very much aimed specifically at a much younger audience, did lead to a preponderance of an (ahem) “older demographic” at quite a few events. Clearly there were a couple of exceptions (Tankus and The Scummies spring to mind), but certainly something I couldn’t help but notice.
But, to be honest, a lot of this is minor quibbling. The Festival overall was clearly an artistic success, and the DAF committee and volunteers deserve a hell of a lot of praise for getting off their arses and delivering a very high quality event in our town. Hats off to the lot of them!
So what of the future? What should we expect? Already, as the dust settles on this year’s event and all the analysis starts, change is afoot. The DAF organising committee itself is changing and evolving, as the Chair (Margaret Bryant) and Vice-chair (Vivienne Cuckow) step down from their roles. Discussion and planning for 2023 and beyond will start shortly, with Vince McNamara and Jean Edwards stepping up to jointly fill the role of Chair.
The broad thinking at the moment is that, now that the “old” Festival has been (finally) delivered, 2023 can start with an almost completely blank sheet of paper. The decks have been cleared, and the DAF committee are back in the saddle, raring to go. Is that too many metaphors? – probably, but you get the drift.
There are (hopefully) new venues to think of – the Palace cinema, St. Mary’s, the Vaults and other pubs. There is the possible prospect of conversations and more co-operation with other music venues in the town, and other Festival organisers – hopefully to mutual benefit. There might well be more Free Fringe, especially on days/ times that don’t conflict with or overlap the more marquee main events. Perhaps some choirs or singing events? Perhaps more to appeal to a younger audience? (But probably not children’s events – these have been tried several times in the past, but have not succeeded). Because, whilst it’s important to have an open mind, it would clearly be foolish to completely ignore the hard lessons that have been learned in the past. Experience has to be blended with innovative thinking. It has to be a sensible and commercial balance between the completely experimental – bringing in the exotic, the different, unexpected – and the tried-and-trusted popular bankers.
Equally, whilst it’s always good to support artists from our local cultural scene, there needs to be a heavy sprinkling of national/ international stars that audiences in D-Town would never normally get to see at affordable prices. Frankly, it’s the latter that sells most of the tickets, and the acts that look good on the posters and the advertising!
So it’s going to be a real tightrope walk for the new committee to get this just right. I don’t envy them, but I do sincerely wish them the very best of luck!
Does this make you feel that you’d like to contribute your ideas and/ or your energy? If so, I’m pretty sure DAF would like to hear from you – there’s plenty of work to be done to develop and shape a successful festival. And/ or you can become a Friend of the Festival, volunteer, and – most importantly of all – buy those tickets! For more information see the Devizes Arts Festival website at www.devizesartsfestival.org.uk/
Editor’s note: well, that kept our roving reporter Andy out of trouble for a fortnight! A massive thanks to you, Mr F, you’ve done an astounding job covering the Devizes Arts Festival. As opposed to me who danced my socks off at the fantastic Baila La Cumbia night. Here’s to 2023!
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