A look ahead to the Festival of Ideas in York

Joan Concannon, Festival of Ideas director at York University, tells us about one of the biggest events taking place in the historic city this month<br/>Photograph by Andy Bulmer

The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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How did the idea of the Festival of Ideas come about?A number of cultural organisations including York Museums Trust, York Theatre Royal, the National Centre for Early Music, the York Civic Trust and the University of York came together to discuss ways we could help each other promote the very diverse and stimulating programme of events that individually we all organise. There was an opportunity to develop a new kind of festival that would showcase the dynamism of the city and bring world-class speakers and thinkers to the city.

What is the aim of the festival?We want to inspire people. We are bringing together a programme of events that we believe will appeal to as broad a range of people as possible. I am particularly keen that the festival demonstrates to residents and visitors that there are incredible things happening in the city and that a university can and should contribute to the cultural life of a city. Most of all we want people to have fun and discover new ways of thinking about major issues. that affect all our lives.

What kind of audience do you hope to attract to the festival?Our programme has something for everyone – most events are free and range from our opening night exploration of the big bang complete with a 3D representation of the cosmos; readings by writers such as Anthony Horowitz, Jennifer Johnston, Jung Chang, and John Lanchester in conversation with BBC Culture and Arts Editor, Will Gompertz.

A marquee in the centre of York will bring our scientists out of the laboratory to demonstrate their groundbreaking research on chronic diseases.

We have a series of debates on the financial crisis, the perils of ageing and how architecture can inspire and transform lives.

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A range of well known children’s authors, including Steve Bloom on Big Cats will appear at the York Explore Library. Other events will include York 1212 at the York Museum, Jane McAdam Freud at the New School House Gallery, the Little Feet Children’s Festival at York Theatre Royal, a children’s bug hunt in the Museum Gardens, and a Brazilian Carnival day at the National Centre for Early Music

 

The programme of events is wide ranging. Which are among the highlights for you as organiser?I am particularly excited about New Writers Day on June 23rd which we are delivering in association with Faber Academy and the Royal Court London.

We have nine new and exciting writers presenting their work, creative writing workshops with Faber Academy director, Richard Skinner, and a panel discussion with the head of new writing at the Royal Court, Chris Campbell with playwright, Richard Bean. We are throwing open the University’s Berrick Saul building – the home of our Humanities Research Centre - to host the day complete with craft stalls, music and children’s activities.

I am also enormously honoured that we have attracted so many distinguished speakers such as Professor Lewis Wolpert, an octogenarian scientist challenging our assumptions about age and ability; and one of my favourite authors, the Whitbread winning Jennifer Johnston is also coming over from Derry to give a rare public reading of her latest book.

Do you picture the festival in the future as not only attracting people to York but one that can be enjoyed world-wide as an interactive event on the internet?We are extremely keen to reach out to as international an audience as possible. The University of York’s website attracts more than 600,000 unique users per month which gives us an excellent platform from which to market the festival around the world, to our 90,000 + alumni and international collaborators. Our fellow stakeholders have an increasingly international focus – we are all working to enhance York’s reputation across the world.

Ultimately we would like to stream our events live and invite live commentary and contributions to our debates from around the world.Find out times sand venues at yorkfestivalofideas.com

Joan Concannon is also director of external relations at York University

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