Culture Spark will underline the importance of the arts

Covid has told us just how important the arts are in our lives, says Caroline Sharman-Mendoza.

And that’s one of the great drivers behind Culture Spark, a season of events, performances, live entertainment and community projects being organised across the Chichester district to mark a momentous year of cultural anniversaries.

The season of events will help re-energise the arts after deeply troubled times; it will also promote economic regeneration; it will fill us with a sense of what we can do; and the hope is that it will leave a lasting legacy for the future, says Caroline who is Culture Spark’s creative co-ordinator.

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Culture Spark also celebrates multiple milestones for a range of the district’s cultural organisations. 2022 will mark 60 years of Chichester Festival Theatre; ten years of the Festival of Chichester; 40 years of Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery; 30 years of Chichester Cinema at New Park’s international film festival; ten years of The Novium Museum; and 200 years of the Canal Trust. It is also 75 years since the National Trust acquired Petworth House.

Caroline Sharman-Mendoza

All are anniversaries worth marking, but the pandemic makes it all the more important that we do so, particularly as we start to re-emerge and reclaim our lives.

“These have been very troubled times. A lot of arts organisations have struggled. Everybody has had reduced staffing and that has really had an impact. But I think the pandemic has also made us realise just how important the arts are. It is the great leveller. Everybody can be creative, and this will be an opportunity for everyone to come together and be creative together. It is partly about re-energising the local community but the main purpose is to get people thinking about all the opportunities across the district; that people in Petworth can see that there is something really exciting happening in Selsey and that the people in Midhurst might decide to go across to the Witterings. It is also about economic generation. The Great Sussex Way is our website, and the idea is that people don’t just come to Chichester to go to the theatre but that they should look at all the other things that they can do as well. It is about enabling people to stay longer when they come here and I think that people will still be staycationing this summer as well so we want them to enjoy all that there is to enjoy here.

“The other thing that is really important is that we want to celebrate volunteers. Over this Covid period there have been extraordinary people volunteering and doing extraordinary things and this is about letting them have a voice. They are the unsung heroes and we want to celebrate them.”

One of the great aims is to leave a legacy: “I feel like my role is putting a lot of people in touch with each other and enabling them to co-create so that together they can come up with something really exciting and also just to enable those partnerships to go beyond Culture Spark. Nobody is saying ‘You must do this and you must do that.’ What we’re saying is ‘What would you like to do?’ It’s about enabling people.”

Caroline is hoping to announce the programme for Culture Spark at three separate launches across the district at the end of March including the Cathedral Green and Cowdray Ruins. The point is to stress that this is a season of culture which stretches right across the district.

Culture Spark aims to give everyone – including every child in the district – the chance to participate in an “amazing cultural experience.” Caroline is delighted that so many groups are on board and so many organisations. The University of Chichester and Chichester College are important parts of the mix. She is also keen to reach out to individuals, particularly artists, who will all have their part to play.

As she says, “Culture Spark heralds a wonderful opportunity to harness the extraordinary supply of local talent and community spirit in our part of West Sussex.”

Events will take place up and down the district, from March to October, starting with First Spark! in Chichester, Midhurst and on the Manhood peninsular which promises teasing cultural tasters of what is to come.

People can look forward to the Carnival of Lights event which will take place on the evening of Friday, June 10. This will involve a grand parade of lanterns created by local schools, groups and artists from across the Chichester district, moving through the streets of central Chichester to the Canal Basin for a waterside extravaganza of music and dance culminating in a canal-side festival of food.

Other lantern parades, events and festivities will take place in Petworth, the Witterings, Midhurst and elsewhere across the district later in the summer as Homecoming Light events with further music and festive celebration.

If you would like to be a Bright Spark and host your own creative event as part of Culture Spark, contact [email protected]

The full programme will be announced later this spring. For more information, visit www.thegreatsussexway.org/culture-spark-2022/