Arts festival in cash crisis

IT has been a fixture on the local scene for more than a decade but the Hampstead and Highgate Festival looks doomed as the financial crisis bites.

The annual arts extravaganza, which took place in September this year, failed to draw in big audiences or sponsors and trustees have had to let artistic director Danny Driver and festival director Gwenneth Bransby-Zachary go.

This has led to speculation that the festival will not go ahead next year although trustees have pledged it is their ‘aspiration’ to hold a festival of some sort.

Even if something does take place, events will be significantly curtailed and the festival will not be the imaginative, wide-ranging, 40-event spectacle it was this year, especially without the guidance of an artistic director.

Toby Spanier, chairman of the trustees, said: “The economic climate is difficult and we have found it difficult to get sponsorship. Our experience next year will be similar so we have to plan accordingly.

“We are not going to be planning as ambitious a programme as in previous years but we will still keep to the principles of the festival – high quality with a broad appeal. The number of events and the timing will be different and we want to put more events on throughout the year.

“It is definitely my aspiration to hold a festival next year. We are still reviewing the format. Unfortunately we are not in a position to spend lots of money in the way we have been able to in the past.

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“Obviously it is more difficult if we do not have paid staff but it is not impossible. It requires a great deal of involvement from the trustees and we are willing to do that.”

Mr Spanier said the festival has been in a difficult financial position before and they dealt with it and they will be able to do the same again.

He added that the festival will be more reliant than ever on supporters and volunteers and the overhead costs of having two members of staff are too much to maintain in the current economic climate, although Mr Driver has done a fantastic job.

Former artistic director George Vass said it will be very hard to put on a festival without directors.

He said: “It is impossible, especially somewhere like Hampstead of all places, to put something on of high quality, and the sort of quality people expect, without professional support.”

Mr Driver said it was a disappointment so few people came to the events this year.

“I had a great time being artistic director,” he said. “It is a disappointment that I cannot be kept on and it is a shame that the decision was made so soon.

“It takes a long time for new things to take hold, especially in the arts world and the 2010 festival was different from previous years. All the good momentum we built up will now be lost which is a pity.

“I, myself, do not really see how this kind of thing will happen next year in the absence of a festival director and an artistic director – people responsible for making it happen.

“It is not clear what will happen next year but it is very unlikely that there will be the kind of festival that we had in 2010.”

The trustees are holding a board meeting on December 14 to decide their next steps.