Artsfest, it seems, has earned a reprieve. There were a lot of people beforehand chatting about how it may have been the last one, but it appears that it was successful enough to avoid the block for one more year at least. Don’t believe the “there were lots of people everywhere” claim, though, since it’s so clearly a lie I can’t believe there are even attempts to propagate it. The main stage in Centenary Square was rammed for Classical Fantasia but had only a few hundred people in front of it for most of the weekend, while this is not a misleading picture of the throng of observers at the Millennium Point stage.
I like it, though. I like being able to wander around and encounter such a wide variety of free stuff all over the place. I think a lot of the problems that people have relate more-or-less entirely to the name of the thing. Although it does feature art, this event is less ‘Artsfest’ and more ‘Nicedayoutforallagesfest.’ It isn’t a good Midlands equivalent of the Edinburgh festival, no; in the last few years (the only few I’ve been to), however, it hasn’t tried to be. It’s family fun, with only the occasional avante-garde or ‘adult’ bit, and in this sense I think it broadly (only broadly, I would add) succeeds.
This year’s was as badly organised as the proverbial piss-up failing to happen in the brewery, of course. The running times were broadly stuck to, but it really seemed that the infrastructure had been put together without the slightest thought for the actual punters that would be using it. I’ve already ranted about the programme, and I honestly don’t think I went particularly far over the top – making a booklet that people need to carry around all day A4-sized is outright cretinous. Some bright spark decided to have acts performing in the middle of Paradise Forum (i.e the main route between Centenary Square and Victoria/Chamberlain Squares), and the easily-predictable bottlenecks of people trying to get through did indeed occur. The sitting-down area for the Centenary Square stage was (get this) behind the standing area, and on a lower level with the giant sound booth directly between the two. No, really. You wouldn’t believe it, would you? I could go on. It was almost as though the organisers genuinely weren’t expecting anyone to turn up.
I went on the Saturday and Sunday, anyway, with my mother. Saturday was great, although we just couldn’t seem to find very much that was all that interesting on the Sunday. Following the innovative new idea I began in my ‘Darn Sarf’ post of not writing about every single little thing that happens to me, I won’t give you a blow-by-blow and instead will just write about the highlights. We did see and do other stuff too.
– Architects Of Air’s Levity II Luminarium was the first thing we visited, and was one of the main draws for us. It turned out to be one of the highlights, too – an ambient quasi-psychedelic bouncy castle-come-maze might be the best way to describe it, although even that (as ace as it sounds) doesn’t come close to capturing it. Every one of the panels in the walls, ceiling and floor were hand-made and all the light was natural (good job it was a nice day!). Pete’s face in this picture sums up how we (and, I suspect, most others too) felt. It would have been nice to spend longer there (some people we saw had brought a picnic and ensconced themselves in a bubble, which was genius) but there was more to be seen and done elsewhere.
– It wasn’t part of Artsfest as such (although it was no doubt cunningly timed to coincide with it), but Curzon Street Station was open for one of its occasional art exhibitions. This was my first time in there, and so the first and main priority for me was to see The Petrified Cat. Kitteh! Aaaaw. After that, there were various photography exhibits themed around railways, which reinforced to me the fact that has been semi-consciously in the back of my head for a long while: there really is a great romance about railways and stations. I loved it.
– Oh wow, another non-Artsfest thing. The thought is beginning to occur that many/most of the enjoyable things weren’t anything to do with the festival, but never mind. I’m telling you about our fun weekend. We had a look at the VTP stand in Millennium point, and my earlier vague approval was reinforced. I love “because we can” as a reason for doing something spectacular and mad. Watch the video embedded here.
– We saw the excerpt of The Playhouse/Language Alive’s “Hansel & Gretel” performed in The Rep Door and enjoyed it a lot. Possibly not as much as the pissed old fart shouting a bit more than was necessary during the audience participation bits did, but probably more than the absolutely petrified looking kiddies who were pulled out of the audience to be Hansel and Gretel (although that’s sort-of apt for the characters, one supposes). The story-teller lady (no idea of her name, sorry) really was fantastic.
– The Chinese magician who formed part of the Bai Ling Chinese Acrobatic Art Company wasn’t interesting in and of himself, but did amuse me by confirming my suspicion that the majority of magicians/conjurers practicing are smug gits irrespective of where in the world they might be from. Shiny jackets, as well. Always with the shiny jackets.
– The Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art-come dance form) demonstration we saw outside the Hall Of Memory at the back of centenary square was downright awesome. I’ve wanted to see a Capoeira demo (beyond Jean Silva fights) since I first heard of it, and it didn’t disappoint.
– It’s another non-Artsfest thing, but Café Soya was as great as ever. They didn’t seem to be doing their set menus on this particular night, but that’s a good thing in a way – it acted as an impetus to actually order something specific, which I personally hadn’t done since the first time I went there.
– Jasper Carrot was inducted to the Birmingham Walk Of Stars. Randal Brew had the set-up lines but couldn’t deliver them and thus proved the old showbiz adage of “Never work with children or local politicians” correct.
– I genuinely was and am sorry to have missed Blast (cf: here and here), but I cannot regret going to see the CBSO’s “Classical Fantasia.” The finale of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”, Elgar’s “Land Of Hope And Glory” and Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” in combination with the greatest firework display I have ever seen (some of them off the top of The Hyatt!) was amazing beyond belief. This, alone, justified Artsfest and whatever ills you may wish to ascribe to it.
– Another non-Artsfest thing, but my second visit to The Sunday Flea Market at The Custard Factory was as good as the first. It’s still very small, but I’m sure it will grow. I have decided that I am addicted to Jane Anderson’s paintings of sheep and may well have to collect all of the prints (I currently have two). I like sheeps. It also dawned on me that there’s a Saturday Flea Market too (yes, I am thick), so I may have to visit that at some point soon-ish.
– Non Descript Theatre’s “Black Pearl Earring” was a fun little kiddies tale of pirates ‘n’ Peter Pan ‘n’ such. Venturing into the City Centre Gardens really made me realise that I need to borrow a child next year to have an excuse to do some of the little ‘uns stuff (I wanted to go in The Whale!). Ah well.
Lets see what next Artsfest brings next year, then. My expectations are mixed, but I do genuinely mean that as ‘mixed’ rather than just as a euphemism for “I think it’s likely to be piss-poor”.