Brighton Festival 2022 - a huge triumph of resilience

Compared to pre-pandemic numbers of events, Brighton Festival 2022 is right back where it would want to be.

Tristan Sharps - Credit_ Sara Kiyo Popowa

There will be more than 150 events, exhibitions and installations from May 7-29. 124 events or installations will take place indoors across multiple venues. 36 events will be free.

It feels like – and it most certainly is – a huge triumph of resilience. It is also a huge reward for all those Brighton Festival-goers who stood by it during the tough years of 2020 and 2021 and offered significant moral and financial support.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

As the festival begins, Andrew Comben, chief executive of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival admits: “It is just great to be back to this sort of scale.

“We had an amazing festival last year even though there were still all sorts of restrictions and there was still social distancing.

“In 2021 I would say that we had about 40 per cent or 50 per cent of what we usually do but it was really important – and really important for a lot of reasons, I think first and foremost for the artists. It is really important when you are making work to be able to put it in front of an audience but it is also so important from the audience’s point of view because I think there’s a real hunger to be back at events. Last year when we had social distancing people were still keen to come. It is that great opportunity to experience live art together again. I think if there is one positive to come out of what we have all been through perhaps it’s that people will properly value the contribution of the arts and culture to our lives.

“The artists who were all involved last year were amazing and they were just so pleased to be able to do something again even if the restrictions were changing all the time. It was just great to be back together again and we had great support. And it feels like 2022 is now an opportunity to pay back some of that and give people a really great time. We have got 150 events across the three weeks which is pretty consistent with the festival pre-pandemic in 2019 and we have got some major works which are really exciting.”

Brighton Festival 2022 will take as its theme Rebuilding, a theme chosen by guest co-directors Marwa Al-Sabouni and Tristan Sharps – an opportunity, they said, to “cement the Festival’s reputation as a crucible of ideas, illuminating and commenting on the world’s complexities.”

It is Rebuilding in the sense of healing the physical damage wreaked by war as Syrian architect and author Marwa knows only too well, but also rebuilding in the sense of finding our way out of what we hope will prove to have been the worst of the pandemic.

“For our community it is an opportunity to reflect on what we have all been through and to think what we want to keep of what we had before, what we want to cherish, what we want to change, what we want to renew and what we want to restore.”

As for audience confidence, Andrew said: “Audiences are clearly in many ways hungry for live performance but we also seeing that some demographics of our audience are feeling a bit more cautious still so I would like to say that Covid mitigations are certainly in place. There is a huge range of events and a huge variety of events so people will definitely be able to find something that fits their level of confidence whether it is the huge scale experiences that we have in the concert hall or whether it is the smaller scale events, the more reflective, the quieter events that we have coming up.

“I do think we are in a new world in many ways but that does not preclude us from the joy and the exuberance of previous festivals and you will absolutely see that from the children’s parade when we have got for the first time since 2019 5,000 kids parading. But at the other end of the scale, as I say we do have more meditative events.”

As for the legacy of the pandemic: “I think we are resolutely trying to find ways to draw positive experiences from the period that we’ve been through however horrid that was. It has given us a stronger sense of community and really strengthened the relationships between us and our audiences and our artists. The way that the audiences responded to the absence of a festival by donating ticket purchases or by supporting us financially or morally has been extraordinary and we really cherish that support. Similarly artists have gone out on a limb for us over the past couple of years and again that’s something we are hugely grateful for. So I do think that is possible to think in terms of the positives that we can draw from our collective experience – without in any way downplaying the awfulness of it.”