Arts groups to be included in St Albans Festival

STEPS have been taken to appease local arts groups who felt they had been excluded from the annual St Albans Festival this year in favour of professional performers.

They have now heard from St Albans council that community events are going to be included in the two-week festival in June. But until last week, local theatre and music groups understood from the council that they were being excluded from the festival in favour of a professional arts programme in order to attract more funding and sponsorship.

A number of them contacted the council only to be told their contribution would not be wanted this year and the festival was being restricted to professional events to attract more sponsorship and bring in tourists.

Now they have been told that their festival events will be included on the website and in the forthcoming brochure.

Cllr Melvyn Teare, who was portfolio holder for culture in the last Lib Dem administration, said he had been very upset to hear that local groups were being squeezed out of the festival. He commented: “I worked hard as portfolio holder to encourage the community to work on producing an annual festival we could be proud of. The idea of the festival was to showcase local talent.”

He described the �170,000 budget for the festival this year as a “significant amount” which would have been better spent to the benefit of local arts groups rather than professional companies.

Imogen de la Bere, programming director for OVO @ the Maltings, welcomed the inclusion of local groups. She said: “OVO are delighted that community events are now going to be officially included in the St Albans Festival.

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“We had planned two events, designed to match the quality and spirit of the festival. We are pleased and relieved that they are now back in the festival fold as we’ve made a point of putting something special into the festival every year.

She added: “OVO is passionately opposed to elitism in the arts and believes that the festival should be a joyous mix of special community-generated events and exciting professional performances, which can enhance and illuminate each other.

“Looking at the line-up, I would say that we now are on course for a festive feast.”

The council’s head of community services, Richard Shwe, said: “St Albans Festival is a vibrant showcase of professional and non-professional talent. This year there will be more professional arts content than ever before together with stalwart non-professional favourites, including the St Albans Symphony Orchestra, Abbey Theatre and the St Albans Folk Festival.

“The programme will also include a number of community events such as the Tea Dance and the Big Sing, which is being organised in association with St Peter’s Church, St Albans.

He added: “We are currently putting the finishing touches to the listings pages on the festival website to ensure that it reflects the broad range of events on offer. In addition, we will be publishing our festival programme that will carry details of festival events early next week.”

n We have been asked to point out that the annual St Albans Pilgrimage is still taking place on June 23, starting at 11am in Verulamium Park. See