Cultural Exchanges is a festival of ideas and performance which takes place annually and features high profile speakers and guests from literature, arts, media and public life. Past guests have included Grayson Perry, Ben Okri, Meera Syal, Adrian Lester, Matthew Bourne, Billy Bragg, Ken Loach, Nitin Sawhney and Germaine Greer.
The objective of the festival, now in its 12th year, is to link town with gown by encouraging members of the public who might not normally engage with the university to come through its doors. Most events are free to encourage access and the main programme is often complemented by workshops, day conferences and performing arts events.
The weeklong programme of events reflects not only the life of the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities but also the various demographics that exist in the city and county.
This is achieved via partnerships with organisations such as Arts Council England, Leicester City Council, Curve Theatre, Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival and Leicester Poetry Society. However there are also strong links with key community based organizations such as Leicester Society of Jamaicans, the Centre for Indian Classical Dance, Leicester Deaf Centre and the local FE Colleges.
Programme ideas reflect the needs and interests of our partners and diversity has a central place within the festival. This ranges from talks about racism in sport (in collaboration with local BME football club Highfield Rangers) to seminars on the representation of disabled people in the media. The appearance of iconic gay actor and musician Heather Peace in this year’s festival is a good example of the way in which the festival engages and represents a wide range of communities and interest groups, as are the sessions conducted on Social Enterprise involving Transition Leicester and seminars and talks on festivals and sustainability. In addition important issues such as the role of arts in prisons are explored with bodies such as the Arts Alliance (the national body for the promotion of arts in prisons).
Please click on the link below to access this year’s brochure as well as further information about previous Cultural Exchanges festivals including the festival gallery.
The average attendance for the week of the festival is 4,000 people, just under half of which are members of the public. This ranges from school pupils to retired people. Booking takes place mainly on line via a dedicated webpage on the university’s site. This year 2,400 people booked in advance on line. In addition there is a comprehensive promotional campaign via social media (the festival has approximately 250 friends on its Facebook page and over 800 followers on twitter).
8,000 brochures as well as posters and flyers are produced and distributed and there is also a press campaign which has achieved TV coverage and interviews from BBC East Midlands as well as BBC Radio Leicester (including specialist programmes such as Talking Blues which is aimed at the African Caribbean community). Special pull outs and editorials in the local Leicester Mercury newspaper and the free Leicester Link magazine complete the external media presence. Student blogs and coverage by the student radio (Demon FM) and newspaper (The Demon) also ensure the maximum profile for the festival across a range of audiences.
Questionnaires provide invaluable feedback, the results of which are analysed and used to inform future developments in the festival.
The following small sample of quotes from previous festival guest speakers provides evidence of the impact that the festival makes on its many participants:
• Andrew Motion
‘I liked the pioneering way it connects with the audience-it’s as inclusive as possible. This festival is exemplary in comparison to other events ’
• Grayson Perry
‘I had a very good time – been looked after very well. I had a full house! You can’t do better than that!’
• Matthew Bourne
‘I really enjoyed it. It was very well organised and attended. There was a good mixture of ages, people had travelled. Good questions too ’.
One of the key and distinctive features of the festival is the fact that it is organized and delivered by students on the BA undergraduate degree in Arts and Festivals Management at De Montfort University as part of their degree course. This entails the students working with Arts and Festivals Management colleagues and the Festival Director (who is himself subject leader for the Arts and Festivals Management degree course) on all aspects of the festival including programming, marketing (incorporating brochure, poster and web design), health and safety, technical requirements, hospitality, sponsorship and financial management.
Students are assessed on their planning, implementation, problem-solving, teamwork, and reliability through the entire months leading up to the delivery of the festival in addition to the week itself. The festival recently featured as a case study example of good practice in the report written in 2011 by the Cambridge University National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (please click on link below for pdf of report).
The festival is a key part of the university’s cultural calendar as well as that of the region and each year the university commits £10k to its delivery. A call for ideas enables members of the Faculty to engage in the programming process. Particular initiatives such as the suspension of teaching for a week during the festival ensure the sustainability of the programme in terms of availability of spaces as well as the opportunity for students and colleagues to attend alongside members of the public.
The university offers further assistance by providing the festival venues for free. A ‘research into teaching’ award in 2008 also enabled key events to be transcribed on to the web thereby allowing the content of talks by luminaries such as Grayson Perry and Claire Tomalin to be accessed beyond the conclusion of the festival for that year.