A small town that can draw big names

Work by Henri Matisse
Work by Henri Matisse
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Tomorrow the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival opens – and it has landed a coup. Nick Ahad talks to the woman behind the arts event.

Hebden Bridge has a reputation as the beating heart of Yorkshire’s arts community, a place where the alternative view is welcome and where you can’t turn a street corner without bumping into a ‘creative’.

So an arts festival in the town is always going to be impressive.

But this year, for the 19th Hebden Bridge Arts Festival, the organiser have pulled off a major coup by joining forces with ArtsMill gallery and securing a touring exhibition from London’s Hayward, of the work of Henri Matisse.

The exhibition, Matisse: Drawing with Scissors, opens on July 7, but the festival proper kicks off tomorrow, starting a week full of events around the town.

The Matisse exhibition is just one of three visual art strands that will run through this year’s festival.

There is also an exhibition by Hebden Bridge based photographer Paul Floyd Blake’s Different Strokes: Extraordinary Swimmers, a photographic exhibition that focuses on three swimmers, Jane Grant, Danielle Bailey and Rosie Bancroft, who all have a disability.

As well as those two exhibitions, a third visual art strand will see Hebden Bridge based artists throw open the doors of their studios, and with so many artists working out of the town, there are plenty to choose from, making it an always popular event.

“Only in Hebden Bridge could you have Matisse sharing top billing with the artists of the town at Linden Mill, Brooklyn, Northlight and beyond during the Open Studios weekend. There’s even the chance for children to create their own Matisse inspired mini masterpieces,” says Festival Coordinator Helen Meller.

“The town is full of practitioners and we like to involve local people in the festival whenever possible. The reputation of the town is that you can walk around and meet a poet on every corner and it’s true that we have an embarrassment of riches. That means in some ways we have to actually work harder to surprise people and give our audience something different.”

The Matisse exhibition is certainly something different.

Organised by ArtsMill owner and well respected Yorkshire artist David Wright, the exhibition is touring directly from the Hayward Gallery on London’s Southbank, thanks to Arts Council funding.

“David had the exhibition coming up anyway – he is incredibly well connected in the art world – and asked if we would like to work together and bring it here during the festival,” says Meller.

The festival organiser jumped at the chance and suddenly, an exhibition by one of art history’s great painters is part of a festival in a small town in Yorkshire. But that’s not all the festival is about, says Meller.

“There will be a whole load of workshops running around the Matisse exhibition and local year six schoolchildren have been working with community artist Jude Wadley to create sculptures inspired by Antony Gormley, which will be dotted around the town,” she says.

“The artists opening up their studios is something else we do that’s really popular, people love getting a chance to look behind the scenes.”

The visual art strand is just one part of the two week long, Arts Council supported festival, which opens tomorrow and will feature, among other events, a performance by the Inspiral Carpets and a stand up show by Stewart Lee, but, says Heller, having an exhibition of Matisse is really exciting.”

Highlights of the Festival

June 30: Jordan Masserella, Barnsley dancer, will create a series of dance ‘incidents’ around the town.

July 3: Jane Green, multi-million selling author, visits the town to discuss her new book.

July 5: Miss Havisham’s Expectations is a one- woman show from acclaimed actor Linda Marlowe.

June 30: Different Strokes opens and is exhibited through the festival at the box office.

July 7: Matisse: Drawing with Scissors opens at ArtsMill in the town with 35 lithographic prints.

Details at www.hbaf.co.uk or 01422 842684.