In Art & Culture/ City Highlights/ People

Bringing the city streets to life

It’s the UK’s longest-running festival of outdoor arts, attracting audiences of 58,000 to over 200 live performances last year.

This year’s Hat Fair runs from 30 June to 2 July, with a new director, Andrew Loretto, at the helm.

“Hat Fair was conceived as a busking festival in 1974 and is inspired now as it was then by the people, heritage and public spaces within the city,” Andrew says. “Our aim is to transform the everyday into the extraordinary.

“It’s a bit like letting your cheeky cousin loose in Winchester. It’s playful, it’s fun and it’s full of surprises, but most of all it entertains and encourages people to discover city spaces in an entirely new way.”

International artists will join those from across the country and from Winchester for the three-day festival, offering a combination of dance, theatre, circus and music as well as interactive experiences for all ages at over 20 locations. Some of the performances are specially commissioned for Hat Fair, which is now highly regarded on a national scale.

“Hat Fair is not only important to the city but is also an event which performers far and wide want to be part of,” Andrew says. “Hat Fair now encompasses a year-round programme of cultural celebration around the city and beyond with other special events. I’m looking forward to developing that even further with existing and new partners.”

Ensuring that the festival remains free is at the heart of making Hat Fair accessible to all, with vital funding received from Arts Council England, Winchester City Council and headline sponsor The Brooks Shopping Centre.

“Behind the scenes, securing funding is a big part of the work we do for Hat Fair each year,” Andrew says. “Free performances not only make it inclusive but also ensure we can take a few risks and offer our audiences the chance to try something a bit different. As well as providing pure entertainment we’re also staging work that deals with ever-pertinent socio-political issues like sexual identity, asylum and ageism this year.”

Hat Fair is also about bringing people together – not only from outside the city, but within the city too. “Something very special happens when people enjoy a shared creative experience, especially when it’s in the open air,” Andrew says. “You can see it in their body language: they relax and engage in a unique way. Last year we had a marriage proposal on stage on The Broadway. That’s what excites me most of all about Hat Fair. It’s about making connections between people, the arts and our city at all levels, and along the way offering plenty of fun.”

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Photography

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