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FESTIVAL | INTERVIEW
The festival man
The Bath Festival wants to make the arts accessible to all with original programming, innovative performances and community involvement. Emma Clegg talks to chief executive officer Ian Stockley
he decade leading up to 2017 saw the audience base at The Bath Festival narrowing into a more elitist, more middle-class following who could afford to go to the events. Sight was being lost of what the festival needed to be about; a celebration of the city that connects the wider community and creates opportunities for those with less access to the arts,” says Ian Stockley, explaining the strategy behind the merging of the music and literature festivals in 2017. The idea of community access and involvement is now at the heart of the festival ethos, Ian explains: “The power of the arts is all about connecting a wider community. And the more of that community you can take the arts to, the more successful you are as an organisation. I feel strongly that other festivals that connect to community are the multi-arts ones.” In 2022 the festival will receive less than 10% public funding, which naturally brings considerable financial challenges. “We have to build the commercial model as well as protect and savour the artistic integrity and the level of quality,” says Ian. “Because the reserves have been so low we haven’t been able to commit far enough ahead and we haven’t been able to secure some of the showstopping international names, particularly in the classical field where they are booked two or three years ahead. We have to grow the level of reserves to plan further ahead than we’ve been able to do up until now.” In order to balance financial stability with artistic integrity, Ian points out that it is
Ian Stockley: “I’m looking forward to...” Song Play The Lure of Hollywood in Film and Song, 21 May, 7.30pm, Komedia Richard Rodney Bennett: Portrait of a Composer in Film and Song, 22 May, 7.30pm, Komedia I’m excited by the Song Play events at Komedia, curated for The Bath Festival that combine the different art forms of words, film and song, while informing and enriching our knowledge of different key periods of 20th-century musical development.
critical to bring acts to Bath that sell out The Forum, the city’s biggest venue. He also says that it is much harder to make a music event pay for itself, as the cost to produce a music event is higher than a literature one.
The festival will continue to grow as an alchemy of music, words and dance, bringing wider art forms together
Ian has a magical combination of musical and marketing expertise that he brings to his role. At school he played the tenor horn and later the French horn, gaining a musical scholarship to Charterhouse. After an economics degree, Ian went to the Royal Academy of Music and then worked professionally for 10 years as a classical singer (bass baritone). Later he moved into marketing, starting out at Reader’s Digest where he became fascinated by the market research process, and in 2000 launched the Bristol-based marketing agency Indicia. Ian is modest about his background and prefers to focus on the here and now: “I love my job because it combines that tremendous passion I have for the arts with my analytical side. It combines my heart and my brain. “We are all about making classical music more accessible to the next generation.
And curating a merging talent of young artists alongside established artists. I would love, in five years time, for someone to say “I saw Sheku Kanneh-Mason live at the Bath Festival in 2018”. We’ve got Jess Gillam coming this year, who has just been appointed as the youngest-ever presenter on BBC Radio 3 at the age of 20. And we have pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason, Sheku’s sister.” The Bath Festival Finale weekend, introduced in 2018 in its 70th anniversary year, brought an extravaganza of music and fun – audiences of almost 9,000 filled the Recreation Ground to watch headliners Paloma Faith and Robert Plant. The Bath festival has a long heritage and respecting that, while forging a new vision, can be challenging. “The heritage is a huge advantage but it also holds you back a bit,” says Ian. “From a blank piece of paper I’d start very differently. But I want to build on the heritage. The Norwich, Norfolk and Brighton festivals, more recent UK festivals than Bath, have always been about connecting people, whereas if you go back to The Bath Festival in the 1980s, Yehudi Menuin, William Glock and Michael Tippett were there to give platforms to wonderful musicians, but it wasn’t about using the arts to connect with the community. “May 2019 will be the third festival since we became a combined art festival. So we’ve got the context and the position for the next three years. It will continue to grow as an alchemy of music, words and dance, bringing wider art forms together in innovative programmes that will increasingly be seen as a distinctive feature of The Bath Festival.” n
24 May, 8pm, Assembly Rooms
24 May, 8pm, Bath Pavilion
Our Planet has just been released on Netflix and has received five-star reviews. This new series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, showcases the planet’s most precious species and fragile habitats. Hearing the behind-thescenes stories from Our Planet director Alastair Fothergill and producer Keith Scholey will be fascinating.
I’ve missed the different experience of a Pavilion event in recent festivals. It’s great that Penguin Café have been invited to the festival this year to perform there – they really transcend the divisions between popular and classical music. It will be a spellbinding evening of innovative and beautiful music.
The Imperfect Sea by Penguin Café
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