Festival to push links with our US twin town

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Organisers of a new arts festival are hoping to set-up an exchange programme to allows local artists to draw inspiration from the inhabitants of Belper’s American twin town.

Belper Arts Festival co-ordinator, George Gunby, is hoping to strengthen Belper’s ties with Pawtucket, the Rhode Island town it has been linked with since 1994 by launching an art exchange.

He said: “As with textile town’s the world over, Pawtucket has suffered but it has a thriving arts community and it stages an arts festival each September.

“It’s hoped that Belper and Pawtucket will begin ‘art exchanges’ that will benefit both towns.”

The idea builds on already strong links between the two town’s and could see artists being inspired by each others’ works and travelling to both events. However, the exchanges are not the only way in which momentum is gathering on an international scale towards the festival next May. Mr Gunby has been receiving scripts from all over the world from writers interested in having their work performed at the festival.

“The enthusiasm for the project has been astonishing,” he said. “For example, as part of the theatre festival, I launched a Short Play competition through the internet.

“I expected 20, maybe 25 scripts to arrive. I was wrong. The scripts have been arriving at the rate of 15 per week, including plays from California, New York and Denmark.

“If that rate continues we will receive between 150 and 200 scripts by the closing date of October 31. That possibility knocks me sideways and it’s a whole slew of people who hadn’t heard of Belper before. ”

The event has come about as a consequence of the Belper Short Plays Festival, which was staged over the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend, to piggy back on the town council’s official celebrations.

Originally that event was going to be three plays in three venues over three nights. The reality was 10 venues, 50 actors, 125 performances over three days to over 3,000 people.

Now the festival is being planned, including literature, film, photography, music, theatre, art and dance.

Mr Gunby continued: “If the festival can attract seven to ten thousand visitors into the town businesses of all kinds will benefit. Cafes and restaurants and shops will see their customer numbers increase. According to research, B&B’s and hotels see their businesses grow during a festival.

“Just as importantly, manufacturing and service businesses enjoy a spin off due to the higher profile a festival brings to a town.

“Believe me, the Belper Arts Festival isn’t merely a bunch of arty types showing off. A great deal of planning and thought is going into the event in order that Belper benefits. Funding is always an issue and it would be wonderful if someone threw a shed load of money at the Festival but we live in the real world and we know that’s unlikely.

“The festival is looking for sponsorship and financial support from businesses and individuals.”