Bognor's Blakefest goes online with unique celebration of visionary poet

Bognor’s Blakefest 2020 launches online on Saturday, November 28 for William Blake's 263rd birthday, involving more than a hundred artists.

You can peruse galleries, watch a poetry film, listen to original music and much more, says organiser Rachel Searle.

This year’s material will remain online permanently at

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“You will find myriad wonders inspired by the art and poetry of William Blake. We are a creative community united by visionary differences celebrating the poet’s voice in every human being.

“It became quite apparent that, relatively early on in 2020, in our eighth year of operating, we would not be able to hold a normal annual event this year so we have improvised to meet this challenge.

“Funded by Let’s Create, Arts Council England, we have commissioned and organised several lockdown projects which are housed on the website, along with a large archive containing hundreds of photographs of performances and artwork spanning years from 2014-2019, which will only grow as time progresses. In total over 100 artists and performers have been involved with this year’s BlakeFest.

“The visionary poet William Blake lived in Felpham from 1800-03, the only time he lived outside London, where he wrote, among many other things, the words which would become the lyrics to Jerusalem, England’s unofficial National Anthem. Blake, voted 38th in the BBC’s Greatest Britons poll, was largely unrecognised in his lifetime yet knowledge of his genius and his influence has expanded through generations of musicians, poets and artists and is ingrained in our culture here and internationally.

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“BlakeFest came about to celebrate the time Blake lived locally and also in an attempt to help ensure that Blake’s Cottage was preserved for the future. Our goal was to enrich our community, encourage and present the spirit of creativity and provide entertainment through exhibitions and performances.

“Through the years we have done this at a variety of venues and spaces across Bognor Regis and area, hosting music acts as diverse as Dodgy, The Lene Lovich Band, David Devant and His Spirit Wife, Gwyneth Herbert, The Vibrators, The Jamie Leeming Trio, and Charlotte Glasson featuring legendary guitarist Chris Spedding as well as local bands such as The Boy Wonders.

“We have worked in partnership with the SouthDowns Poets and others providing talks, poetry events, pop-up art exhibitions, live art, psychogeographical walks, re-enactments, body art, face painting, sculpture, poetry and drama workshops.

“When lockdown began we started thinking about how we could carry on, keeping as much as possible of our ethos and how we could effectively deliver this to the public.

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“Early on, we put out a request for people on Facebook to send us their lockdown creations (art, poetry, music etc) which we would ultimately curate into two Corona Visions galleries which will be launched with our website, entitled Visions of Innocence and Visions of Experience to reflect Blake’s separation of the two themes in his work Songs of Innocence and Experience.

“We have collected well over one hundred works in these galleries and the artists are locals, international, novices and professionals as we believe that the Arts should be inclusive and in no way elitist. Facilitated by award-winning Chichester web-designer Clive Loseby this stunning gallery on the new BlakeFest website is fully accessible.

“Following the theme of Innocence and Experience, we also commissioned multi-media artist Nick Hogarth to create a piece incorporating individual readings of each of the 47 poems in Songs… with Blake’s images. Each of the poems was read and filmed by a wide range of people under lockdown and sent to BlakeFest organisers to collect and pass to Nick to build up the collection.

“Working under these conditions was extremely challenging but we are extremely proud of the final result, Visions of Innocence and Experience, which is nearly an hour of beautifully orchestrated and visualised poetry which really stimulates the mind and senses in the true spirit of William Blake. The full film is at the top of our new website and on YouTube, with each poem made available separately which will also, hopefully provide a colourful learning resource for all.

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“Longtime BlakeFest collaborator, artist and musician Mikey Georgeson has curated the exciting Virtual Visions online gallery on the website as well as a stunningly haunting new musical piece and video, As I Walk In The Garden, with James ‘Foz’ Foster as David Devant and His Spirit Wife. The video uses this new original song with images from the Corona Visions gallery to provide a deep and stirring experience for the viewer.

“Finally, with our launch on Saturday we are premiering another piece of lockdown art commissioned by BlakeFest, the wonderfully innovative dance poetry film based on Blake’s poems The Tyger and The Lamb, produced by Regis Dance and Wellbeing’s Choreographic Lab in collaboration with Kevin Miller and Michael Miller.

“This film is so cleverly choreographed and designed to explore the themes of nature and industrialisation, inspired by the works of Blake. You will see how they magically bring the movements of the performers together despite their enforced separation and how restrictions do not necessarily inhibit creative work but merely require new methods of working and solutions to be found to overcome these obstacles.

“We are excited to have been able to bring you this, notably different, BlakeFest this year through a combination of Arts Council England funding and a lot of hard, yet rewarding, work and the creative minds of our contributors. Who knows what 2021 will bring? Of course, we don’t know the answer to that but will do our best to keep providing quality arts to this community for as long as we are able.”