I had the privilege of attending the press opening for the Southbank Centre‘s Festival of the World this morning and it’s a very good effort at an engaging arts festival. The large-scale cultural event begins tomorrow, June 1st, and will include a wide range of activities and installations through to it’s conclusion on September 9th.
When I received an invitation to the opening, it was presented to me as an art event, but I was still a bit unclear on exactly what it was about. Though I was a little unclear on the exact purpose of the festival, I gladly accepted the invitation because the Southbank Centre is a highly respected institution and I was eager to find out exactly how the festival would work. Having gone this morning, I know a little better what the festival is meant to achieve, but I still find myself a questioning how well all of the individual events/activities come together.
The event is meant to be a celebration of the world’s collective culture (I think the words “collective imagination” were thrown around) by featuring poetry, installations, dance and more from various countries and over 4000 artists. There is also a feeling of promoting unity, as seen in the very clever idea of allowing visitors to get free “World Citizen Passports.” I had my picture taken for my passport, but unfortunately was unable to get my little booklet before I left. For some reason, the passport is issued from Antartica– I thought it might say “World” or “Earth” instead as it’s for world citizenship? Not sure of the significance there. Nevertheless, it’s a very cute and fun idea.
It’s safe to say that the festival is a cultural mash-up. There are enough activities throughout the 21 acres of the centre to keep a family busy for a weekend, and I’m told that the festival will change throughout the summer, so it’s worth visiting a few times if you like it. This weekend, the festival kicks off with Jubilee Celebrations. There will be craft activities, ballroom dancing and a specially choreographed dance by Lea Anderson. I caught a glimpse of the dancers rehearsing today, and it should be a lovely message to the Queen as she comes down the river.
There were a few things that I didn’t get to fully experience today that I would like to go back for. The Priceless London Wonderground looks like a blast. Inside is a little circus tent originally constructed in 1929, that will host side shows and other fun events. There are also some lovely gardens inside this area that look like the perfect place to go enjoy a beer on a nice day.
There’s also a giant sand pit that will be constructed after the Jubilee celebrations. For now there are just these little boxes of sand that show a promise of what’s to come, but I think when the sand pit is out, I’ll jump right in with the kiddies!
Lastly, before I leave you with a few pictures, I have to say that one of the more adorable aspects of the festival is that they brought in some help for designing some of the outdoor structures from the children of the Hounslow Heath Nursery School. The designers worked with the children to to conceptualise the structures and I think it’s a brilliant way of cultivating young minds. A few of the children came by to give a few words and bring a smile to everyone’s faces.
Overall, the event looks promising in terms of offering a variety of ways to get engaged with the arts, though I worry that the international theme may be lost for those who aren’t fortunate enough to be given a tour as I was today. I encourage you to read the crates which are dotted around Southbank and contain information about art projects going on throughout the world, as well as any other placards with information you can find. The Festival of the World requires that you come ready to engage to get the full experience, but if you come prepared, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.