The Belper Arts Festival – A Beautiful and Flourishing Community Initiative

An astonishing community initiative, launched six years ago, with the aim of boosting the local economy by promoting its local artists and artisans through one whole month of events and exhibitions.

Over the past five years, each touristic season in Belper started in May with an exquisite Arts Festival, built by the community members to help the growth of the local economy and to promote the artists that reside between the walls of this beautiful little town of Derbyshire.

Throughout the entire month, Belper is dressed in color and fun, showcasing over 200 artists in over 50 venues, that offer a huge variety of events, exhibitions, installations, trainings and performances. There is a little something for everyone from a wide pallet of domains such as arts, music, theatre, dance, film, literature, comedy and photography, all under the motto “Inclusivity not Exclusivity”.

Over 60.000 visitors walked through the streets of Belper during festival times

In 2012, the organizer George Gunby had in mind to stage three short plays for the Queen’s Jubilee and after hours of brainstorming, everything turned into a month-long festival. In 2013 it started with more than 150 events that attracted over 3000 visitors.

During the festival the entire economy nourished, and the organizers decided to continue, bringing together more artists each year. In fact, since 2013 the festival attracted over 60.000 visitors that spent an estimated £900,000 in the local markets, shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels, community centers, etc., boosting life in Belper and activating all its sleeping corners, hopefully for many years to come.

Photo credits: Claire Simpson
After the first edition, the Belper Arts Trail was created in which local artists decorated the streets and buildings of Belper, with an impressive amount of original art, conjuring a magical atmosphere throughout the whole town. Park Woods became the home of the enchanted Woolen Woods in which artisans exhibited their knitted and felt creations all over the park, putting together an original and playful display.

After the success of the Woolen Woods, over 100 crafty community members decided to decorate the little town of Belper for Christmas, with over 1700 crocheted and knitted little angels. A local printer added little labels on each angel to inform the public that these angels are free and that they were made to bring a little happiness in everyone’s hearts and to show the true meaning of Christmas.

Another spark of the festival was the Belper Arts and Crafts Market, a monthly market developed by Abi Sawyer, a gorgeous local painter. Impressed and inspired by the huge number of artisans and talented people hidden behind the walls of Belper she decided to come up with a monthly exhibition spot to encourage their work and to help them grow and the result is a great success.

The Belper Open Houses, the Belper Short Plays festival, the new film festival at The Ritz, the Belper Short Stories competition along with all the other projects mentioned above managed to draw together new and existing events from all the town’s art scenes, predicting a flourishing arts-economy in the future.

The echoes of the festival were heard in the entire county and from the neighboring regions and received wonderful feedback from each corner. Even more, the previous edition of the Belper Short Play Festival attracted more than 350 entries from as far as Australia, Canada and the US, showing that the festival is already capturing the public’s imagination from a much wider spectrum.

The Belper Arts Festival is now larger than anyone might have anticipated and because it was built on a fairly strong foundation it should be thriving for years to come.

Anyone who wishes to be an active part of the festival is more than welcome to join in and the enrolment is simple and accessible. Join the Belper Arts Festival Website and get access to all the details, terms and forms necessary for the enrolment.

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Roberta Black Author