The Lichfield Festival

It's hard to believe, but the Lichfield Festival has now been with us for 32 years. This surprising fact emerged from the talk given by April's guest speaker, Fiona Stuart, the Festival director. In those 32 years, the Festival has evolved into a multi-cultural celebration, which reaches all parts of the local community. Although it has a loyal core base, much effort is put into developing programmes which will satisfy a wide range of tastes. For many the Festival is the only cultural experience for many members of the community and Fiona and her staff are anxious to attract - and retain - newcomers. To those who annually say that it is elitist, Fiona would answer that in 2012 there were 63 main events and 131 fringe events catering for all tastes. Resources prohibit Lichfield mimicking the Edinburgh Festival, but that doesn't mean that it is second best.

Fiona is justifiably proud of the Festival's links to schools. Last year 2,500 children took part in workshops, whilst a further 83 community workshops were held. This is very much the Festival working within the local community. The 2013 season will see younger persons further involved through the Aspire programme, designed to engage young people who perhaps have not been involved in cultural events before.

Besides bringing events to Lichfield which would never normally take place here, the Festival gives a major shot in the arm to the city's economy. It has been calculated that in the 10 days of the Festival, 1.6 million is spent in the city. Ticket sales have continued to grow healthily over the last 5 years. Sponsorship has also held up well despite the depressed state of the economy. Although a small Arts Council grant is made available, it in no way covers costs. In fact, little in the way of Arts Council funding finds its way to Staffordshire at all. In addition, the Festival is now supported by a strong and growing Literary Festival each Autumn, which Fiona hopes to develop further. It has already gained national recognition.

Fiona concluded her presentation, by detailing this year's programme, which has just been published. There will be major performances at the Cathedral, backed up by the Garrick Theatre and Studio, a young artist series chiefly based in the Chapter House, a new vintage tea party on the Cathedral lawns and an exhibition of Dame Barbara Hepworth's work.

Finally, we must not forget the most unusual success story of the Festival pigs. These continue to haunt Fiona, since they appear to have struck a chord with the media, who sometimes prefer "pig stories" to publicising the range of exciting cultural events which she and her staff continue to organise.

Roger Hockney
April 2013