To say it’s been a challenging time for the arts sector over the past year and a half is a bit of an understatement. But as you might expect from an industry rooted in creativity, it has pretty much across the board risen to the challenge by occupying the digital space and making all art forms accessible online.
Now that most restrictions have been lifted, the return to live events has been welcomed by audiences and performers alike – everyone has missed that experience of connecting with others in real life in a room.
Several literary festivals in the region have returned over the past few weeks with some presenting hybrid digital and live versions and others, such as Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival this month, embracing the real-life, in-the-room encounter.
“We talked a lot about whether this should be a hybrid festival or whether we should focus on live events,” says Sharon Canavar, Harrogate International Festivals chief executive.
“We decided that we wanted to make sure we had the best people and the best programme and that it would be live. Having said that all the events will be recorded and will be free and accessible to everyone online. What is interesting now though, talking to other festivals, is that digital events are not getting the same sort of numbers – people want to be out seeing things live.”
And there will be plenty to entice them over the long weekend of events that Canavar and her team have put together. The programme features leading politicians, academics, activists, journalists and historians discussing a range of timely and resonant themes.
“We are really proud of the programme which has some challenging topics in there,” says Canavar. “There a lot less fiction than we would normally have, which is partly to do with some of the disruptions in the publishing schedule, and we have some discursive events with panels discussing contemporary issues – and some of those are discussions we need to be having.”
These include a talk from the campaigning group Led by Donkeys, a group of four friends who began an anonymous guerilla poster campaign to call the Government to account on the misinformation around Brexit; former Labour leader Ed Miliband sharing his ideas on how to deal with some of the most pressing issues of the day from affordable housing to the climate crisis, and a panel of experts will be asking what is next for the UK as it emerges from the pandemic, detached from the EU.
“I think literary festivals are about listening and learning,” says Canavar. “They are also a safe space in which to have meaningful, civilised discussions exploring our options for the future.”
Canavar says she is excited at the prospect of a weekend of lively debate, entertainment and connection. “We are so looking forward to welcoming people back with a programme that has been designed to entertain, inspire and surprise.”
Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, The Crown Hotel, Harrogate, October 21-24. harrogateinternational-festivals.com