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Curious Arts Festival 2018: An Overview

A photograph of the large photo frame at Curious Arts Festival

Disclaimer: I was invited to cover this festival on a press pass.

This year’s Curious Arts Festival took place over the weekend at Pylewell Park in the New Forest, an estate that opens its gardens to attendees, and its house to the speakers, each summer. Organised for the first weekend of the summer holidays, Curious is an intimate luxury boutique festival that offers interesting talks, workshops, and lifestyle-related classes for the whole family, and positively welcomes well-behaved dogs (who are in turn welcome to heckle the comedians if they so wish, and did so on Sunday). From Friday afternoon to Monday morning (technically Sunday night as that’s when the last event takes place; on Monday morning everyone packs up and leaves) there were a great variety of things happening, enough that I was still discovering new things to do late on the Sunday. Numbers are in the hundreds, everything is within a couple minutes walk – generally under a minute – and the festival is such that if you wanted to come without going to any of the programmed events, you would have just as good a time.

I last attended the festival in 2016. It has grown since then in a lovely, organic way. The intimacy of the festival has not changed; the same relaxed nature remains, and the space is the same.

A photograph of the bar area

And these are perhaps the best features of the festival when looking at it from a general viewpoint – at Curious you buy a day or weekend ticket that entitles you to access all events that day or every event in the programme respectively. You bring your tent, caravan, or choose to glamp, and then everything else is there for the taking. Want to attend part of one talk and then saunter over to another? Absolutely fine. Want to bring an ice cream or burger with you? Go ahead. Events have a listed start time but these are not strict by any means and the set-up means you can be very early or a bit late. The speakers wait a few minutes for people to arrive.

A photograph of the Waterstones tent

In that regard, something I noticed this year, that was confirmed when a fellow attendee brought it up in conversation, was the attention to detail of the scheduling. Ninety percent of the events I – and she – wanted to attend, did not conflict in their timings with others. Evidently a lot of time was spent on thinking about what people would like to see and it had an excellent result. (This is not to say previous years did not have a good schedule because they did – it’s just that this one stood out.)

A photograph of an audience waiting for a concert to start

Just like the other subtle changes, the genre of the festival has broadened. Literature, comedy, and music are the biggest elements – are the ones with scheduled events – and have been before, but the previous leaning towards literature has moved to a more equal balance between the three. There were fewer literary talks than in 2016, but it wasn’t by much, and the extra variety of events created by the balance rounded the festival off nicely.

A photograph of the French crepe van

Outside food is not permitted but there is a good range of food vans and kiosks to purchase from. The festival supports all sorts of diets and food choices. This year the burger vans jostled for space with the Thai cuisine, neighbouring a fish and chips vendor, a Vegan burger option, and gluten-free choices. This year the crepes were sweet, but also savory. There were all-natural ice lollies, the Purbeck ice-cream that powered my afternoons, a number of bars, and very, very, good coffee. The festival as a whole is eco-minded, with more recycling bins than ones labelled ‘landfill’ and a good few food vendors using recyclable products.

A photograph of the colourful Kanga Spa signpost

Away from the main events, bohemian clothes stores, craft workshops, and giant versions of dominoes and Jenga, sat the Kanga Spa which offered morning Yoga, meditation, massages and other therapies. They also held tea ceremonies which I was very tempted by. They arrived with their very own teepees – you had to bend down to get into the reception – and proved very popular, their set-up its own little sanctuary, near enough the main stages for you to feel part of the festival, but far enough for a bit of quiet and privacy. Unlike 2016, where the options were more integrated, Kanga is its own outfit with training courses in India and events at the London School of Tea.

A photograph of a choir in robes singing amongst the crowd in the bar area

By mid Saturday almost everyone was in floaty clothing and shorts, and flower garlands adorned heads. Paul Blezard, a regular speaker at Curious and otherwise, said that at the festival it was either pouring with rain or burning hot. This year, in keeping with the UK heatwave that’s well into its second month now, it was scorching.

A photograph of a group of men in historic costume holding vintage bicycles

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Blezard presents a round up of the days newspapers along with guests, and this year there was a similar round up for children. Children get their own tent – during the festival this morphed into two tents (extra tents and event spaces slowly increase over the weekend), bedtime stories every night, craft activities, mini adventures (for example I came across a man dressed as a stereotypical cook leading a bustling crowd of children around the site), and a couple of talks.

And speaking of mini adventures, this year the dogs had a moment to play with each other and perform tricks. (Owners are asked to keep their dogs on leads throughout the festival.)

A photograph of an acoustic guitar duo

For book lovers, the genre tends to be literary and poetry, whether contemporary, historical, thriller and so on. Comedy is a mixture of well-known names and up-and-coming artists. The music is very broad – folk, acoustic, and then there are quirky choices and well-known stars.

There is a uniqueness to Curious that makes it one to seriously consider attending. The size, the setting, and the nearness of everything (even your tent is only between a minute and 3 minutes walk away) make it stand out from the rest. I highly recommend it. Next year’s date is 19-21 July. Tickets and more information will be available from the website.

A photograph of a wooden structure showcasing a poem that says 'Here comes the wild sky, the pounding horses of love defeat the timid Gods of death'

A note about access – it isn’t great due to the setting (some of the fields have lots of potholes), but people do visit with scooters and sticks and travel around the site at a fair speed. Chairs in the tents can be moved to make space for a wheelchair. In the largest tent, where the sound equipment required its own stage at the back, attendees in wheelchairs were able to park up next to the engineers with an unobstructed view of the stage.


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