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Pandemic silences one Cheltenham festival – but another is reborn

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 14 May 2020 12:21

Pandemic silences one Cheltenham festival – but another is reborn

Looking back it will seem like an inevitability coronavirus would put public events on ice, and so it was that on April 7 Cheltenham Festival made an announcement. 

“It is with deep regret that Cheltenham Festivals has taken the decision to cancel this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Cheltenham Science Festival, in response to the worst public health crisis in a generation,” said Ali Mawle, director of learning and public engagement. 

“The safety of our Festival-goers, artists, staff, volunteers, partners and the wider community is our priority, in relation to COVID-19.” 

Just days later, however, the news was a little different – with a little innovative thinking worthy of a jazz musician at least one of the festivals was back. Well, sort of. 

“We are delighted to announce that this year’s Cheltenham Science Festival will still be going ahead as a virtual festival to be streamed for free 2-7 June via Cheltenham Festivals YouTube channel,” said a statement from the Gloucestershire events business. 

“This year’s festival will be called Cheltenham Science Festival @ Home as the team invite you to join them on your smartphone, smart TV or laptop for six days of science events. 

“The Festival will mix live online events, pre-recorded events with live Q + As with speakers,participatoryworkshops and other novel online formats. 

“The daily programme will start at 10am and run through until 8pm. The full programme and speaker line-up willbe announced on 19 May 2020.” 

The festival will be curated by something the organisers call AIDA – a form of artificial intelligence – which promises to make things just a little more out of the ordinary for those going on-line to keep up. 

In its earlier statement Cheltenham Festival Ms Mawle said: “Our charity was born in 1945 during the second world war as a response from the creative community to a global crisis. 

“Since this time, we have brought the very best artists, writers and scientists to Cheltenham; created unique experiences and a year-round outreach programme to engage everyone with science and the arts. We are determined to secure our work for the future with the help of all those who have been so generous to support our festivals over the years. 

“We know the cancellation of our festivals will be disruptive and disappointing. We ask for support and patience as we navigate our way through these unprecedented times and consider different options. 

“Extraordinary circumstances such as this pandemic have serious financial consequences for us. As a not-for-profit charity we hope our supporters and audiences will be willing to work with us to find a way forward. 

When this crisis subsides, we are going to need culture more than ever to lift the spirits, foster community and galvanise creativity. We ask supporters to help us safeguard the future of Cheltenham Festivals so we can continue to play our part locally, nationally and internationally. 

“We are brimming with ideas of how to bring world-class culture to Cheltenham in the months to come."