Festival of the Mind returns and launches digital platform for 2020 with live and online events

The University of Sheffield’s unique collaborative festival showcasing local creative talent and world-class academic research, returns to the city for the fifth time

An image of two computer generated busts, one green and one purple, representing our work for Festival of the Mind
  • The University of Sheffield’s unique collaborative festival showcasing local creative talent and world-class academic research, returns to the city for the fifth time
  • For the first time this year’s events - including podcasts, films and performances - will be hosted in a new online festival hub enabling Sheffield’s creative talent to be brought to a wider audience
  • The festival will run from the 17 - 27 September 2020 and is one of the few events to now be held physically in the city as well as online

With more than 100 collaborators from across Sheffield’s cultural sector, 25 specially curated podcasts, 17 films and more than 35 different exhibits and performances, Festival of the Mind will once again showcase Sheffield's creative talent with the University’s world-leading research with engaging, interactive and inspiring events over 10 days.

Following the themes of Sustainability, Extinction, Hope, Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change and Health, this year’s festival will put creative talent and culture back into the heart of the city.

The iconic Spiegeltent - normally a fixture in Barkers Pool for the event - has been recreated digitally and will continue to be the home and heart of the festival through its digital reincarnation. The festival will bring live events back to the people of Sheffield safely, with interactive exhibitions of virtual realities open to the public at Futurecade in the Millennium Gallery, and a gallery of inspiring artwork that will be on display at Sidney & Matilda.

This year more than ever we wanted to showcase the amazing talents of Sheffield’s creative sector and put the lights back on in the city. That’s why we moved quickly to join together with Sheffield’s cutting edge digital technology providers to bring Festival of the Mind online.

The Spiegeltent may not physically be here but we will bring its magic to the online world and encourage audiences from around the world to make themselves at home in Sheffield. The Festival of the Mind show must go on!

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Culture for the University of Sheffield and founder of the festiva

The biennial festival, which attracted over 50,000 visitors in 2018, is now a regular feature of Sheffield city centre’s cultural activities and is designed to bring pioneering research led by the University of Sheffield’s academics to life using the city’s community of freelancers despite the difficulties of COVID-19. 

Jo Peel, Sheffield artist and collaborator on the project 'Common Ground', said: 'My project, Common Ground, with Professor Duncan Cameron is all about food sustainability and when lockdown happened it served to highlight this issue, with some people considering food availability for the first time.

“We had already planned to make a film about people's relationship with food and the situation with COVID-19 made it even more timely. I'm delighted to have been involved in the Festival. This collaboration was one of the only projects that has been able to take place in the last few months and it has helped sustain me as an artist.”

Highlights from this year's festival include:

Image credit: David Cameron

The festival will examine the possibilities of verbal and non-verbal interactions between humans and robots.

  • Futurecade - from robots to virtual reality, learn more about the future of technology in this interactive and in-person exhibition located at Millennium Gallery.
  • Protopia - a series of thought provoking and inspiring artwork showcasing local Sheffield talent available to view through the digital platform.
  • Brain Orchard - A series of artworks showing how brain connections work in a state of disease.
  • Age of Love, Audioplay - Launch of an uplifting, sensitive play about an older Sheffield couple encountering sexual difficulty.
  • Common Ground - An art installation and talk on the issues of unsustainable production, food waste, environmental cost and new technologies.
  • Creating Hope: A Choir Concert - A choir concert of uplifting popular songs on a theme of hope, showcasing engineering research.
  • Physical Education - A high flying, science circus extravaganza taking a humorous look at the energy in our bodies and the world.
  • Future High Street - A virtual walk through Sheffield city centre in the future.
  • Suicide Monologues - A play highlighting the emotional stories of people who have experienced caring for a person who has attempted or committed suicide.
  • What Does It Feel Like - Performance-based experiments examining the possibilities of verbal and non-verbal interactions between humans and robots.
  • Castlegate - Film premiere and discussion about the regeneration of Castlegate to celebrate the launch of a book on the history of Sheffield Castle.
  • Salmon of Steel - A celebration of the return of the iconic salmon to Sheffield after 220 years of absence, including a steel sculpture and walk map.
  • Maker Futures - A research project engaging with local school children and families to collaborate with actors and makers using everyday items.
  • Sheffield Carescapes - An exhibition featuring immersive storytelling which considers social care and creating a more caring society.

The outline programme for the festival will be available online at Festival of the Mind from 14 September 2020 with the full programme released daily from 17 September 2020.

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

The University of Sheffield, with partner Universities Leeds and York, supports White Rose University Press, a not-for-profit Open Access publisher and one of the new wave of university presses focused on making high-quality research and scholarship available to all.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For more information, please contact:

Rebecca Ferguson
Media & PR Officer
0114 222 3076