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Sharon Canavar - why I’m looking forward to the Selby Arts Festival

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 March 2017

Sharon Canavar

Sharon Canavar


If you don’t ask you don’t get is a motto that works for a new arts festival launched in Selby.

Selby Abbey is a magnificent  arts festival venue Photo Joan Russell Selby Abbey is a magnificent arts festival venue Photo Joan Russell

Running an arts festival is not for the faint-hearted. Alongside most of the usual worries of a small business like cash flow, office leases, will the decrepit server manage to last another year, there are all the additional stresses of whether you can get a particular artist within budget; will the programme that you have sweated over into the late night, actually sell any tickets and the surprising amount of time you spend hiding in supermarket aisles from people desperate for you to book their grandson’s band!

Here at the Harrogate International Festivals we’ve just celebrated our 50th anniversary but we know there is a lot of competition out there; a fabulous array of festivals from food to early music being delivered all over Yorkshire. With over 300 festivals in North Yorkshire alone, it was with interest that I began to notice an emerging brand in the field of arts festivals, the Selby Arts Festival which was launched earlier this year. Who would launch a bold new arts festival in a town that whilst boasting a fantastic history, a magnificent abbey and a host of quaint tea shops, might be better known for its lost industries of shipbuilding and mining and in more recent years, the impact of the floods in the area? So it seemed anyone who was willing to invest the time and passion needed to deliver a festival, let alone start one from scratch, was worth getting to know.

David Edmunds has spent many years working in and attending events in the arts, but living just outside Selby it was rare that he attended anything within the town itself. Shopping, family and leisure time was spent elsewhere, but with a family at school in the town and an understanding of what the arts and in particular festivals can do for a destination he set about creating and launching the Selby Arts Festival.

In his research, David found that there had been very limited arts funding in the town but that was because no one had ever asked! And so David began to ask. Darren Henley, chief executive of the Arts Council met with David over a cuppa in one of those quaint tea shops in Selby itself, to hear all about his vision for a festival.

Since then it’s become clear Selby is exactly the right destination for an arts festival. There’s fantastic goodwill and support from the councils, local business is investing with many sponsorship packages having sold out. Set that alongside a massive wave of support from the community and you know that the old adage of festivals achieving more for audience development and community engagement in the arts than any other art form is true.

Sure there are lots of festivals that are set up with a fanfare and then disappear but having heard the ambitions, visited the town of Selby, met the man behind this new kid-on-the-festivals-block, it looks to be a hit in just a few months of development.

I’ve seen the festival’s programme for July 2017. There are the theatre company Slung Low working with the rugby club and poetry in the chippie with A Firm of Poets. A partnership with Selby Town Hall welcomes Ed Byrne, while the opening night of Seth Lakeman in Selby Abbey is a gig I certainly don’t want to miss. Add to that a takeover of the local skate park with projection mapping, over 2000 children experiencing live theatre for free thanks to Selby Community Engagement Forum and the recent announcement of a top-class patron in the form of current artistic director of the Old Vic and director of Matilda the musical, Matthew Warchus.

If I was to ever write a manual on how to set up a festival, these guys would have every box ticked but there is much more to it than that. There has to be ambition and a genuine desire to create something amazing in the town of Selby. David has that in spades. The international artists the festival attracts will make a difference to Selby’s offer and economy but it’s the passion driving the festival that will make the difference for the long term in this gem of a town in North Yorkshire.

We at HIF wish them all the luck in the world!

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