ArtsFest organisers raise bar again with four exciting days at Ardingly College

The Horne Section
The Horne Section

Tim Coker laments the fact that imagination is being squeezed out of the school curriculum.

His response is a thrilling four days of top-quality professional performances and student workshops in this year’s ArtsFest at Ardingly College (June 22, 23, 24, 25).

Tim was brought in by the college to teach and to set up an arts festival. He immediately delivered, “going massive”, as he says, for last year’s inaugural festival and raising the bar again for 2014.

A busy programme lies ahead:

Sunday, June 22: Royal Opera House Gala Evening. Some of opera’s most well-loved music and arias performed by artists of the Royal Opera House and international soloist Sir John Tomlinson. 6pm: Sir John in conversation with David Lawrence-March; 7pm: Gala Concert

Monday, June 23: Comedy Night, 7pm. An Evening with Bradley Walsh: from footballer via stand-up comedy to star of Law & Order and host of ITV’s Hit Show, The Chase. In conversation with Matt Trueman, of the Guardian.

Monday, June 23: Comedy Night, 8.15pm. Radio 4’s Alex Horne and The Horne Section: Alex and his band create a heady mix of stand-up comedy, cabaret performances and live music with special guest Terry Alderton.

Tuesday, June 24: Bowie Tribute Band, 8pm. The UK’s premier Bowie tribute band, Absolute Bowie.

Wednesday, June 25: The Reduced Shakespeare Company, 8pm. Enjoy all of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies in one wild ride.

Wednesday, June 25: ZIMBE! Come sing the songs of Africa, 6pm. A special occasion in support of Ardingly in Africa with more than 500 singers in a spectacular community performance of British composer Alexander L’Estrange’s African-Jazz choral masterpiece Zimbe!

“The festival was an idea that they had in an embryonic form,” says Tim. “This is my second year and our second festival. I don’t know that they were really sure what they wanted, but this is a strange week when it is all a bit in limbo. The exams are finished, but you don’t know whether to start the next year’s course, and so you end up sticking on Blackadder DVDs.”

So the school devised an enrichment week, which became the basis for the festival: “We’ve gone from that enrichment week to a major national festival with A-class celebrities and with some of the world’s finest orchestras. It has been a steep and very rapid development.

“But that’s great. The heart of it is a wonderful sense of creative and cultural richness at a time when things are becoming so much more conservative in terms of the tightening of the syllabus, fewer exams boards, a time of drawing back to the old-fashioned 1950s philosophy of education, much less creative, much more emphasis on the three Rs – a philosophy that is very damaging in some ways.

“The outcry from the subject leaders in the arts has been massive. You simply cannot take away the arts or diminish their place in society. And so we are answering that with this festival. We are saying that ‘Yes, we absolutely believe in the arts and that we want to endorse them and promote them!’ The arts are a vast part of the British economy when you look at the whole festival set-up in this country, you look at the theatres, the shows, the West End, all that is happening, all the people that are employed in the arts. And we want to excite young people about the arts. We want to introduce them to dance and to opera. With the more restrictive philosophy of education now where you are teaching to the syllabus and there is the pressure to get results, we want to bring the imagination back in.

“You look at young people these days, and they are always looking down – either looking down at their mobile phones or at their exam papers. We want them to look up and communicate properly across the parapet, to communicate with real people!”

That’s why the festival’s outreach is such a big part of the event, an open invitation to all kinds of schools across the county to participate, without charge, in the festival’s extensive programme of workshops.

It’s a young festival, but hugely confident: “We started massive last year. We had Judi Dench. We had Russell Kane. We went big. We didn’t want that horrible vision of a festival being a headmaster being put in the stocks and people throwing sponges. We wanted something that had a flavour of the outside world. We wanted to get the public in; we wanted to engage with the community.”

For the full ArtsFest programme, visit