Arts groups 'excluded' from St Albans festival

PUBLISHED: 09:50 19 April 2012

St Albans Festival Pilgrimage 2010.

St Albans Festival Pilgrimage 2010.

Archant

FURIOUS local arts groups believe they are being pushed out of the annual St Albans Festival to make way for professional acts.

Generally by this time of year, local drama and music groups would have met with the district council to discuss programming for the festival which is billed as a two week celebration of art, culture and heritage which provides an annual opportunity to experience all that the district has to offer.

But no meetings have been held although the festival is less than two months away and approaches to the council have been greeted with the explanation that the festival is being restricted to professional events this year.

Alison Macfarlane of St Albans Folk Music which traditionally holds its Folk at the Festival event during the designated June fortnight, said they had been told that their contribution was not wanted this year after sending a series of emails asking the council if the dates of the festival had been decided.

She went on: “We know of other groups who have been given the same message or have just been sidelined.”

She pointed out that over the years, many of the local arts organisation had put considerable time and effort into supporting the festival, often on very tight budgets.

St Albans Folk Music is now planning to hold its own festival from June 25 to July 26 which will include events in and around the city centre.

St Albans Symphony Orchestra (SASO) also believes it has been excluded from the festival. Chair Kieran McGuirk discovered that the nature of the event had been changed when he contacted the council to ask what was happening about the planning meetings with local organisations.

He was told that the aim in restricting the festival to professional events was to attract more sponsorship and bring in tourists.

Kieran said that SASO had been a mainstay supporter of the festival for many years and the only cost to the council of making the orchestra’s summer concert part of the festival was its inclusion in the brochure and other publicity materials.

He said: “We were surprised and disappointed by this decision. We have been actively publicising our concert in St Saviour’s Church on June 23 as our ‘festival’ event since last summer so we were understandably dismayed that no-one told us about the new policy and that we only found out about it last week.”

Cllr Beric Read, portfolio holder for community engagement and localism, maintained this week that there was no intention to push out local organisations but rather to expand the festival with professional performers so that it could attract Arts Council funding and sponsorship.

He went on: “It is an addition, not a change of direction and I think there is some confusion.”

Cllr Read said there was an emphasis this year on street performance and while the St Albans Festival website currently listed mostly professional events, he anticipated local events being added before it was published.

Admitting that a meeting with local arts groups should be held, he said the council wanted the festival to have its own growth and momentum. “I am very happy that we are aiming for a very good festival although there might have been some miscommunication going on,” he added.

Richard Shwe, the council’s head of community services, confirmed that the format had slightly changed this year but the programme would continue to include a wide range of events promoting the full spectrum of local talent.

He explained: “This year we are adding a professional arts programme to the festival to include more professional acts than in previous years. A high standard of performance and a unique programme will make it easier for us to attract visitors to the district and external funding and sponsorship to support local arts in years to come.”

Mr Shwe said that he was confident this year’s festival would be the best ever.

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