Harley Young talks with Festival Director, Rodney Adams about this year’s programme

Didsbury Arts Festival (DAF) has been giving those who live in and visit Didsbury the opportunity to experience and take part in cultural, creative activities since 2009. 

The festival is held over roughly nine days, give or take, and operates every other year. Over the past decade or so, it’s built such a reputation that people travel from all over Manchester and beyond to be a part of it. In fact, some of the performers for this year’s programme have travelled from opposite ends of the world to be here. 

With a rich and diverse schedule of music, film, theatre, visual art, exhibitions, spoken word and more, there is something to suit everyone’s creative taste and passions. With workshops aimed at both youngsters and adults, DAF is an inclusive way to experience art and discover a new hobby.

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Bulls on parade at a previous Didsbury Arts Festival Image: Didsbury Arts Festival

This year’s theme is ‘Your Festival: Your Voice’ and the team behind the festival have used community feedback to generate activities, performances, workshops and events over the course of the next nine days, starting tomorrow (24 June). 

I spoke to Rodney Adams, Director of Didsbury Arts Festival to find out more.

How has Didsbury Arts Festival developed over the past few years?

“The festival has been successfully established since 2009, but what [DAF] really wanted after lockdown was change. We wanted to bring in more diversity, bring in different art forms that might not have been as prominent as before, and to really show that Didsbury is quite a diverse, multicultural place. It’s why we have the tagline ‘A new dawn, a world of creativity’ on the front of the programme.”

Why Didsbury?

People come from all over to visit Didsbury. 50% of the people that use Didsbury live there, the other 50% come to Didsbury from all over Greater Manchester and even further afield to use the area on a day to day basis. Whether it's coming for work, or coming for meetings, or just coming to chill out in the bars and restaurants, it’s an area that draws people to it.”

How have the past few weeks been, ramping up to the event?

“We're getting great feedback at the moment. We've got approximately 120 events over nine days. 

“We have a festival team of 10 people - each have different roles. Everyone's doing a fantastic job and working really hard - some of those are on a volunteer basis as well. So you know, it's a real team effort.”

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Performers at Didsbury Arts Festival Image: Didsbury Art Festival/Facebook

Do visitors have to pay for events or are they free to attend?

“This year’s programme is probably 50:50. About half of them are totally free events. We’re a non-profit organisation so just aim to break even where we can. We’re mainly funded by the Arts Council of England but we do have lots of other sponsors and patrons as well including Siemens and Julian Wadden.

“We rely on a lot of public venues. We have about 40 different venues involved this year and the vast majority of them are letting us use their spaces for free as they want to support the community and be a part of the movement.” 

FLIGHT by DARKFIELD is one of your festival highlights this year. Can you tell us more about it?

“Enter a shipping container and you'll be transported onto this ‘aeroplane’. You’ll go through an experience - DARKFIELD will take you to another dimension. I can’t give away too much of what the secret is but it’s world acclaimed. DARKFIELD are setting Sydney alight at the moment with the different kinds of shows that they do.

“I think [DARKFIELD] were on the agenda since before lockdown as a potential for the 2021 Festival, which was just getting planning getting underway and then we had the lockdown and everything. So it’s been a long time coming.”

2023 06 23 Daf Flight Credit Mihaela Bodlovic
FLIGHT by DARKFIELD is said to transport you to another dimension Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

So, you’re looking to come back with a bang for this one then?

“Yes, we need to bounce back and remind a lot of people about the festival, because four years is a long time. A lot of things have changed for us, a lot of the venues and the team we’re working with are new so it seemed like the right time for bringing about even more change.” 

Apart from FLIGHT, are there any other big-hitter events you’re looking forward to over the festival? 

“A friend of mine, SK Schlomo, who has worked with Ed Sheeran, Rudimental and also performed at Glastonbury, is doing two shows for us. One of which is the BeatBox for Kids session at Parrs Wood High School on Saturday 1st July. 

“It’s great because it gets the younger ones involved, they get on stage and learn a new skill. Even the parents get involved. That event has been touring for a while and is really successful.

“And for the adults, Schlomo is also putting on an adapted version of their show called ‘Breathe’ which is a theatre performance that turns into a rave. It debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and they absolutely tore it up.” 

“We also have our International Street Art Project. I've always been a fan of street art. Since the likes of Banksy and people like that, it’s really growing in popularity around the world. 

“The idea came off the back of a consultation after speaking to around 1200 people from around Didsbury, where a lot of those surveyed said they felt they had a connection with America, whether it be through TV shows like CSI Miami or their favourite musicians and so on. 

“So we worked with New York-based street artists to have street art come across from America. We're going to be putting that on as an exhibition alongside the work of street art from Manchester.”

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This year's programme - see the full event listings on the Didsbury Arts Festival website Image: Didsbury Arts Festival

Are some events being shown more than once?

“Across everything we’re doing over the nine days, there’s some events that will be on more than once and some that are one-offs. FLIGHT by DARKFIELD for example, we have roughly eight-to-ten shows each day.”

What do the arts mean to you?

“For a lot of people growing up, ‘the arts’ has a historic kind of feel about it, almost as if it’s not for everybody. Whereas I actually think the arts, as a word, should be described as ‘creativity’.

“I think ‘the arts’ is just a term that has been used for so long that many people think it refers to music, or film, or theatre, or painting pictures. But that’s what this is about. We’re taking the festival from the angle that there’s a world of creativity out there. It’s about all of those different creative art forms and giving everyone the chance to experience them.”

How many people do you hope will attend Didsbury Arts Festival over the nine day period?

“Attendance for previous festivals has been around 10,000 to 15,000 people, so we’re hoping to have the same level of engagement this year.”

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FLIGHT, in position and ready for its first customers Image: Didsbury Arts Festival/Facebook

Where do you hope that Didsbury Arts Festival will be in 10 years time?

It is the Didsbury Arts Festival, that's the centre of it, but it doesn’t mean that’s the only connection. Like all festivals, the more connections we can make with other areas, the more we can bring creativity into the area. 

It would be great if we could make more international collaboration work and do more projects where we’re exchanging artwork, or even artists, with other countries and cities to showcase what we have here. That would be really cool.”

What’s one thing you’d like to achieve through Didsbury Arts Festival?

“We want to continue breaking down that barrier of people that think either the arts aren’t for them or they can’t be an artist. I think that's probably the core goal really.

“I honestly believe that everyone has an artist inside of them.”

Header and thumbnail image credits: Didsbury Arts Festival

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Didsbury Arts Festival flyers Image: Didsbury Arts Festival/Facebook

Didsbury Arts Festival 2023

This year's festival runs from Saturday 24 June to Sunday 2 July. See more details and the full event programme here.

Follow Harley Young on Twitter @Harley__Young