The Idbury Arts Festival was founded in 2005 in order to put on arts events in the village, with all proceeds going to local charitable causes, in particular to help keep the churches of Idbury and Fifield open for use by all members of the community.
The first two Arts Festivals raised over £3,500, which has paid amongst other things for the bells in the churches in Idbury and Fifield to be restored to full working order for the first time since they were silenced in WWII (the ringing of church bells was to be the signal of a Nazi invasion).
The wide range of the Festival, which includes literature, the visual arts, music, and all aspects of cultural life, including the indigenous tradition of morris dancing, reflects the history of Idbury itself.
For four decades from 1923, Idbury Manor was the home of the journalist and writer J. W. Robertson Scott, a radical squire devoted to vegetarianism, pacifism, feminism, socialism, free thought, and “rural advance” through education and social improvement.
Scott shaped the template for the Idbury Arts Festival in his monthly Village Neighbours meetings, at which the villagers were addressed by speakers such as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Professor Joad, or Edith Evans (who performed “The Death of Socrates”). Visitors to Idbury in the 20s and 30s include writers such as E. M. Forster and May Sinclair, folk song collectors such as Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, the potter Bernard Leach, and the composer Gustav Holst. There were also many visitors from further afield, such as Guru Saday Dutt from India, and the poet and folklorist Yanagita Kunio from Japan.
The Idbury Arts Festival is built on this tradition of intellectual curiosity and community spirit. There have so far been eight formal events, each one followed by a party at which those attending could get to know one another in a friendly and convivial atmosphere.
The first Arts Festival in 2005 was opened by the author Philip Pullman, who spoke eloquently on the difference between the novel and the fairy tale, and on the balance of these two elements in his own work.
The second speaker was the architectural writer Philip Wilkinson, who talked the audience Betjeman-style through the architectural and social history of St. Nicholas church, Idbury.
The third speaker, the writer Neil Philip, who lives in Idbury, spoke about Idbury’s literary heritage, focussing in particular on J. W. Robertson Scott, Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Frank Prewett
The festival was closed by the Ducklington Morris, who had specially practised the dances of the Idbury morris tradition, and danced them in Spring Lane, to the delight of all the residents, among whom were members of old morris-dancing families such as Harris and Bond.
In 2006, the festival was this time opened by the Ducklington Morris, who both danced and sang for our entertainment, while making fearsome inroads into a barrel of local Hook Norton bitter.
The first speaker was the psychologist, writer, and broadcaster Oliver James, who lives in Idbury. Oliver weighed up the psychological pros and cons of life in the city and the country, in a talk entitled ‘Bonkers in London, Sane in the Country? The roots of well-being.’
Next was the composer Raymond Head, whose talk on Holst was entitled, ‘Abroad As I Was Walking: Gustav Holst in the Cotswolds.’ Holst not only played the organ in the church at nearby Great Rissington, he also knew Robertson Scott, both of them having been part of the radical salon of Frances, Countess of Warwick.
The 2006 festival was brought to a close by the photographer Jenny Aston, who runs the Silver Apples studio in Stow-on-the-Wold, and who is an ex-resident of Idbury. She gave an illustrated talk on the theme, ‘What Makes a Good Photograph’.
For various reasons no Arts Festival events were held in 2007 or 2008, but the 2009 Idbury Arts Festival is already being planned.
Putting on the Arts Festival is a community effort, which involves a great deal of work from Idbury residents – organising the speakers, cleaning and decorating the church, arranging the parking, and hosting the after-parties. It is all done in the traditional Idbury spirit of Peace and Good Neighbourhood.
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