Uckfield celebrates the arts in its 13th annual festival

PUBLISHED: 12:11 13 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013

Rose Slavin went to meet the organisers and some of the artists involved.

Dorothy Sparks, Kathie Corbin and other members of the community created The Uckfield Festival in 1999 thinking it would be a one off. Thirteen years later its still going strong, stretching over two weeks of adeptly organised celebrations of the Uckfield arts.

Dorothy, who is chairwoman of the festival, suggests that this is a testament to the towns strong community spirit and commitment to uncovering talent that nobody would ever see.

This year the festival is fully embracing the spirit of the Olympics. Because the Olympic torch will not pass through Uckfield as it journeys around Sussex, organisers have decided to create their own homage to the Games. The festival will host The Alternative Uckfield Torch Run as students from local schools tread 750 yards each, passing through the town on 17 July. The Festival Association has also sponsored workshops at Uckfield primary schools, where children can create puppets representing stories from around the world. We will have to wait until The Big Day (14 July) to see their masterpieces that will march along the high street with the drumming band, Spiritus. But no doubt the sea of foreign characters will capture Uckfields excitement for London 2012.

The Big Day is of course, when the bulk of the festival comes to town and parks up in Luxford Field. Dorothy mentions there will be around 100 stalls to satisfy visitors, whilst the Arena will showcase performers to keep all entertained.

There will even be an interactive theatre group, Puppets and Digits, that will merge with the crowd, keeping any lethargic guests on their toes! The drama continues throughout the week as the festival exposes Uckfields own acting talent. Rock Park School will perform a modern-pantomime reworking of a fairytale classic, taking to the stage with Cinderella Rockafella (16 July at 2pm, 6:30pm and 17 July at 6:30 pm). The play promises to deliver some home truths on the pitfalls of fame and celebrity, a useful lesson for its young stars!

Dorothy is also proud of the many clubs that the umbrella festival has created. Most notably is The Uckfield Art Trail, an all inclusive group that involves all artists and art enthusiasts in and around the community. Tim Benians founded the trail in 2006, after noticing the amount of talent passing through The Uckfield Framing Company.

It is in this workshop where I first meet Tim and where the organisation still operates from. He has since enlisted graphic designer Natalie Banton who is currently revamping their website and is busily designing the programmes for the upcoming exhibition. Tim has wisely recruited ex-headmistress and fellow artist Jan Spry-Shute to oversee this years event. He says her exquisite organisational skills and polite policing of the artists will be vital for the efficiency of the Art Trail.

Jans diplomacy skills are evident in her desire to include all in the trail, especially children from the many local schools. Twenty-five artists and three groups have signed up for the exhibition, which will run as part of the festival.

However, she assures me that there wont be any spotlights at the event, as she stresses everyones art is important.

Tim introduces me to three artists at the Civic Centre, the space that will transform into the gallery. They are already brimming with excitement at the prospect.

Carlina Oliver, a retired sheep farmer from Chailey insists that the whole point for art is to be seen. And whilst she is initially apprehensive about revealing the pieces she has brought in her portfolio, any reluctance subsides with encouragement from Jan, Tim and the other artists. Her skill in pastel is impressive. Firle Beacon is particularly magical, even more so when she reveals she has had no formal training and was discouraged from art at school.

Jan hopes that her work with The Art Trail will avoid any repetition of Carlinas experience. Like Dorothy, she is committed to discovering the artist in everyone, but especially children. She advocates the benefits of art and that encouraging creativity in children allows them to think differently about things. Carlina also focuses on animal portraiture, lovingly capturing the wildlife of Sussex, though she admits that she can find subjects to paint wherever my husband fishes.

Tony Gillingwater is a retired art teacher who happily found The Art Trail has made him do something. And whilst he quips that the canvases that make exhibition are the ones he finishes, his paintings are sensitively rendered and timeless. The last artist I meet is Philomena Harmsworth, a new member of the Art Trail. Philomena is a professional artist from Dorset, who likes to capture people and narrative. Her palette is commanded by the seasons, so she is eager to escape her dusty studio as the weather brightens.

With this years talented team, The Art Trail is sure to be a success. And with a newly secured sponsorship from Hurstwood View, a new care home built by Barchester Health, this years space will be fully equipped to bring out the best of Uckfields bubbling art scene. The Uckfield Art Group exhibits at the Civic Centre in Uckfield on 20 July from 7pm-9pm, 21 July, 9am 9pm and 22 July, 1:30pm 5pm.

For more details on The Uckfield Festival and a full listing of events, visit their website at www.uckfieldfestival.co.uk

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