Catching the festival of ideas fever
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Ideas – they’re pretty important. Not a lot would happen without them, and humans certainly wouldn’t get very much done; all of humanity’s greatest accomplishments have started life as nothing more than a notion in someone’s head. As students, we’re pretty well-placed to notice this: we see the importance of ideas, one way or another, every day. In lectures, seminars and labs all over the country, ideas have a habit of being demonstrated, and turning into things. But there’s a new recognition of the importance of ideas outside our sheltered academic world, and it’s gaining ground fast: it’s called the festival of ideas. Springing up in a handful of cities around England and originating in Bristol, the festival of ideas (or, rather, the idea of the festival of ideas) has only in recent years started to become popular. But what are these new festivals, and how do they work? As yet, there’s no unifying body behind the festivals of ideas; there are annual festivals in Cambridge, Bristol, York and Leicester, but they’re all independent and follow no hard-and-fast rules. Nonetheless, they all call themselves ‘the festival of ideas’ and they all enjoy close links with the universities based in their cities. They also all provide the public with an opportunity to attend lectures given by some of the leading lights of the academic world – a chance that will be of particular interest to students. As a York student, I was already pretty well placed to find out about the city’s first ever festival of ideas in 2011. Not satisfied with this, however, I got a closer insight by volunteering as a steward for the festival – and I got to see most of the stuff that went on. As anyone familiar with York will know, we have a bit of a ‘friendly competition’ thing going on with Leicester – so between you and me, it’s no surprise that after the success of York’s first two festivals of ideas, Leicester decided that they would have one too. Anyway, the theme of the first York festival of ideas was meant to be ‘Beckett, Bodies and The Bible’ – and if you think that sounds pretty general, you’d be right. York’s inaugural festival of ideas was basically an amazing week-long mess. I spent a whole day minding a gallery of photos of Samuel Beckett produced by celebrated photographer John Minihan – but I also ended up at lectures, plays, musical performances and a reading by Nobel-Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee. One evening ended with some sort of soiree in the spacious Ron Cooke building on campus, where the floor had been covered in actual turf – I can’t remember why, and I don’t think anyone knew at the time.
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