East Leeds: Focus on Garforth Arts Festival

Garforth Arts Festival director Dave Evans (right) and his assistant James Jelliman.
Garforth Arts Festival director Dave Evans (right) and his assistant James Jelliman.
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What do pop anarchists Chumbawamba, legendary jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela and much-loved folk-rocker Billy Bragg have in common?

Answer – they’ve all appeared at Garforth Arts Festival.

First held in 2005, the annual celebration regularly books stars who wouldn’t look out of place at Glastonbury or Edinburgh.

But, as festival director Dave Evans explains, the event is about more than showbiz glitter – it also aims to fire the creative talents of as many Garforth residents as possible.

Dave, a teacher at Garforth Academy, said: “The vision is to put members of the community and professional artists alongside each other to create new, exciting experiences.

“The festival is a culmination and also a catalyst.

“We have seen new groups – dance groups, folk groups – form as a result of the festival. This year we’re running an urban arts project that we want to get loads of kids involved with.

“Once the festival is over, we’re not just going to drop them!

“We want to keep them engaged for a long time to come.”

Last year’s event worked directly with more than 3,500 people through 260 participatory arts sessions.

The performances of its professional guests drew a combined audience of nearly 6,000 people over 13 days.

Standout attractions in 2011 were Hugh Masekela – all the way from his native South Africa – and Billy Bragg, the man known to his fans as the Bard of Barking.

Top draws in previous summers have included Buzzcocks, Richard Hawley and Courtney Pine plus the aforementioned Chumbawamba.

Their involvement begs one obvious question – how does the festival persuade its big names to turn out in unassuming venues such as the grounds of Garforth Academy, formerly known as Garforth Community College?

“We ask them,” says Dave. “I think it surprises a few people, but all we do is ask them outright and they say ‘yes’.

“They’re steeped in festival tradition and I think that’s why they’re happy to take part.”

Dave, of course, does not do it all by himself. Support comes from colleagues at Garforth Academy, Garforth’s primary schools, local councillors and partners like Phoenix Dance Theatre and the Red Ladder Theatre Company.

Funding for last year’s festival was supplied by the academy, the School Partnership Trust educational charity and Arts Council England.

Preparations are now in full swing for this summer’s festival, due to run from June 28 to July 7.

Acts already on the bill include the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers and tribute band The Total Stone Roses.

Dave, however, is ready to announce more acts in the coming weeks – and no doubt has some high-profile surprises up his sleeve.

Watch this space.