Making arts accessible to all: Popular Yorkshire festival returns with exciting new programme

After taking a year's hiatus to reassess the direction of the event, Wakefield's Long Division Festival is returning with an exciting arts programme which aims to put West Yorkshire on the cultural map.

Post-punk band, The Membranes, lead a stellar line-up of artists

Taking place in more than 20 venues across Wakefield from Friday 1 to Sunday 3 June, the festival will welcome a host of artists alongside a varied arts and culture programme, 90 per cent of which will be completely free to attend.

The free events will be offered as part of Long Division's commitment to making the arts more accessible to all in West Yorkshire and provide wider support to more local artists.

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"Making the event accessible to more people was very important," explains festival organiser, Dean Freeman.

Festival organiser, Dean Freeman, hopes the event will showcase the thriving arts and culture scene in West Yorkshire

"We live in very difficult times and I think arts and culture have a huge part to play in the happiness of us as a society and as communities.

"Making 90 per cent of the festvial free to attend has been made possible by our support from Wakefield Business Improvement District and it opens it up to new audiences who may have faced a financial barrier, or perhaps see arts and culture as something outside their world."

A revamp for 2018

Since its launch in 2011, Long Division has proved to be a popular event in the city and is Wakefield's largest festival of music and culture.

Singer, songwriter, Billy Bragg, will appear as a special guest panelist at the Write Place, Write Time event

The event is dedicated to promoting independent, creative and forward-thinking artists, and while it has consistently delivered a great line-up of artists year on year, last year's hiatus served as a turning point to take the festival in a new direction.

"Putting the festival on hiatus was very much a chance to take stock and plan our next steps," says Freeman.

"The process had become a bit of a conveyor belt with one year leading straight into the next, so the time allowed us to formulate some quite radical ideas and go back and reconnect with why the festival was created in the first place.

"Now we feel really energised and refocused and the response has been amazing."

Festival organiser, Dean Freeman, hopes the event will showcase the thriving arts and culture scene in West Yorkshire

Named 'A Manifesto for a New Wakefield', the arts and culture programme encompasses events including 'Write Place, Write Time', a panel on the creative writing process featuring special guests Billy Bragg and The Guardian's deputy music editor, Laura Snapes.

Also on the programme is 'Visible Words From Invisible People', a project where people from Wakefield's homeless community worked with artist Richard Wheater to develop their visual language through light, to communicate their stories to the wider public through a series of extraordinary neon signs which will be displayed at the festival.

"The Manifesto project might not grab the headlines but, for me, it's the most important thing we are doing," explains Freeman.

"Thirteen artists have been commissioned to create new work that will be debuted at the festival, including music, dance, photography and theatre.

Singer, songwriter, Billy Bragg, will appear as a special guest panelist at the Write Place, Write Time event

"I think too much of our culture looks backwards - we want to look firmly to the future; I want work that creates memories and situations, and reflects where it comes from in real terms.

"I find it interesting that a festival as small as ourselves is now a major provider of opportunities in Wakefield, but we hope to inspire a wider support for local grassroot artists. "

A cultural event for all

Post-punk legends, The Membranes, lead the line-up of artists set to appear at this year's event and will be joined by a full live choir to perform at Wakefield Cathedral.

Joining them will be garage rock super-group, The Surfing Magazines, Leeds up and comers, Fizzy Blood, and rising post-punkers, ZoZo, among others, ensuring there's plenty of entertainment to cater for a variety of tastes.

"There are more than 20 venues, varying from poetry in a tearoom and an arts workshops in an Elizabethan Gallery, right up to the headline performers such as Billy Bragg in Wakefield Cathedral," says Freeman.

"The Saturday has around 80 things going on of a much larger variety than ever before, with the majority being free to attend and we have a lot more focus on family friendly activities including workshops and storytelling sessions.

"It's a great event for lovers of music and those wishing to discover new sounds and artists, but it's also a very social event and due to a lot of it being free, you can dip in and out without fear of not getting your monies worth."

And while the festival will provide a wealth of exciting entertainment for people from far and wide, Freeman hopes the newly revamped event will help to promote the thriving arts scene here in West Yorkshire.

"We will hopefully help to drive the local economy, having had previous events which have brought in up to £100,000 in secondary spend, and turn people on to the vibrant arts scene on their doorstep, improving quality of life and hopefully pride too."

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