Artistic coastal village launches its own arts festival

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In a way, it’s something of a surprise that it has taken so long for Staithes to become the site of its own arts and heritage festival.

A museum dedicated to its most famous son, Captain Cook, aside, the tiny former fishing village isn’t exactly a hive of cultural activity. It is, however, a magnet for artists, thanks to the pretty cottages, the proximity to the rugged coast and the ambience of the town. Those two aspects of the town have combined to startling effect and this weekend sees the launch of the Staithes Arts and Heritage Festival.

The festival sprang from a chat in the pub with a group of local enthusiasts, who wanted to see more cultural activity in the town. That was a matter of months ago and today the town is about to see the launch of the festival. Not that this should be mistaken for a group of local amateurs – the festival has already received the backing of Welcome to Yorkshire, regional tourist agency.

Janet Deacon, Area Director of Welcome to Yorkshire, says: “We are extremely excited about this new festival. One of our key strategic aims is to encourage festivals and events outside of the main season to the Borough’s resorts. The Yorkshire Coast offers some superb scenery, Staithes being a prime example. It attracts artists from far and wide and having a festival to showcase some of this stunning artwork will highlight the beauty of 
our coastline and raise the profile of local and regional artists.”

Once home to the famous Staithes Group of artists, the town has an arts history to be proud of, and its small, steep streets are among the most photographed and painted coastal locations in the country.

One of the many organisers of this weekend’s festival, Barbara Govan, says: “We are bowled over by the response we have had from artists, heritage fans, home owners, everyone who has come forward to make this such a vibrant and innovative event.

“It’s like organizing a brilliant party at your home. Now we just want to invite as many people as we can to come and share in the event. It is a brilliant free day for all, though of course we hope that the fabulous art on offer will be snapped up by appreciative fans.”

Some of the prominent names booked to show their work are photographer Joe Cornish, local artist Rob Shaw, one of whose paintings is currently hanging at the Royal Academy, and Leeds portrait artist Garnet Dore who will be offering ‘instant’ portraits for visitors.

There will be a major exhibition of Staithes Group paintings curated by leading Staithes Group dealer Rosamund Jordan who will be giving illustrated talks on how the likes of Dame Laura Knight established one of Britain’s most influential art colonies on the Yorkshire coast.

The weekend will also see the first public showing of a unique set of Victorian lantern slides depicting life in Staithes more than 100 years ago when it was still a major fishing port but virtually isolated from the outside world.

Other attractions include outdoor night-time screenings of rare film footage and old photographs; an exhibition 
of salvaged treasures from ships wrecked on the treacherous reefs of the Staithes coastline; live music concerts staged both outdoors and in the pubs and workshops.

The festival runs Sept 22 and 23, details www.staithesfestival.com