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Festival’s arresting dates for lovers of the arts
Does Abingdon need to elongate its name to Abingdon-on-Thames? Debate may still rage on that, but one town institution marches on regardless.
Abingdon Arts Festival is in its 14th year. How, I ask festival co-ordinator Malcolm Ross, did it all start?
“It began when the Old Gaol was vacated. We worked with the Vale and county councils to decide how the arts could be covered in Abingdon — although the sports part of the Old Gaol programme had been provided for, there was no such arrangement for the arts. Performing groups got together and decided we must do something to show Abingdon is well supplied with amateur arts groups. So we thought: ‘Why not have a festival each year?’”
Right from the beginning, the festival wanted to involve more local people in the arts.
“The arts are very alive in Abingdon, but we tended to stick to ourselves as groups – the drama club, the operatic society and so on, each doing their own thing. We decided to talk to each other more, and to involve more people in the arts at the same time. Each year we try to include events where people can either come and watch something for the first time, or take part. This year we’re having a Big Sing on March 17 — no previous experience is necessary. It’s partly inspired by the BBC’s Military Wives.
“We prepare three popular pieces which we take into the town to sing among shoppers. In the afternoon we’ll stretch participants into part singing. We will seed in one or two experienced singers.
“Previously we got 25 artists to paint a section each of a Holbein-like picture. We put it together at the end of the day, and it was in the Guildhall.”
Some 40 varied events are involved, but Malcolm laughs: “Because so many groups organise their own events, it isn’t that frantic! By the time the festival starts, we know whether events that involve financial risk are going to sell: like Mark Steel’s this year, for instance. So there aren’t too many sleepless nights for me — although there may be elsewhere around Abingdon!”
Abingdon Arts Festival runs from March 15 to April 1. Visit abingdonartsfestival.org.uk