The largest and most established annual curated multi-arts festival in England, Brighton Festival is a celebration of music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film, literature, debate, outdoor and family events, which takes place in venues both familiar and unusual in the city of Brighton and Hove in England each May.
Established in 1967, Brighton Festival has become one of the city's most enduring symbols of inventiveness over the past half century. In 1964 the first moves were made to hold a Festival in Brighton, and Ian Hunter, the eventual Artistic Director of the Festival, submitted a programme of ideas. This was followed by a weekend conference in 1965, and the Board of the Brighton Festival Society was born. The first Festival was held in 1967, and included the first ever exhibition of Concrete Poetry in the UK, alongside performances by Laurence Olivier and Yehudi Menuhin.
In the introduction to the 1968 Festival programme, Ian Hunter explained the original intentions of the Festival: “The aim of the Brighton Festival is to stimulate townsfolk and visitors into taking a new look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the apparently flippant ride side by side.”
Now one of Europe’s leading arts festivals, Brighton Festival is known for its ambitious and daring programme that aims to make the most of the city’s distinctive cultural atmosphere, drawing some of the most innovative artists and companies and adventurous audiences from the UK and around the world.
Jointly produced with award-winning community arts organisation Same Sky, the annual Children’s Parade officially launches Brighton Festival and has delighted participants and spectators for over 25 years. The largest of its kind in Europe, the parade is attended by almost 5,000 children from schools and community groups from across the region and cheered on by many thousands of spectators.
In 2016 Brighton Festival celebrated its 50th year of commissioning and producing innovative arts and culture. The milestone 50th edition - with experimental artist and musician Laurie Anderson as Guest Director - was the most successful in its history.The Festival’s biggest talking point was Nutkhut’s Dr Blighty, an ambitious, large-scale, free immersive, outdoor experience co-commissioned in partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums and 14-18 NOW, which highlighted the story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during WW1. Ending each night with a spectacular light display using projection-mapping, Dr Blighty set the city and social media abuzz and drew audiences of almost 65,000 over its five-day run.
The Festival regularly commissions new work from some of the most innovative artists and companies. The 2016 Brighton Festival featured 54 commissions, co-commissions, exclusives and premieres including the UK premiere of Laurie Anderson's unique Music for Dogs, a concert specially designed for the canine ear; the UK premiere of Lou Reed Drones, an installation of Anderson's late husband’s guitars and amps in feedback mode which she describes as ‘kind of as close to Lou’s music as we can get these days’; The Complete Deaths, a re-enactment of every onstage death from the plays of Shakespeare from Brighton-based Spymonkey and Tim Crouch; and Blast Theory & Hydrocracker’s immersive undercover police drama Operation Black Antler.
Since 2009, the festival has featured guest artistic directors: in that year, Anish Kapoor fulfilled the role, followed in 2010 by Brian Eno, in 2011 by Aung San Suu Kyi, in 2012 by Vanessa Redgrave, in 2013 by Michael Rosen, in 2014 by Hofesh Shechter, in 2015 by Ali Smith, in 2016 by Laurie Anderson and in 2017 by Kate Tempest.
this year's Brighton festival, which is guest-directed by author, broadcaster and former children's laureate Michael Rosen.