30 August 2018

Festival of the Mind is a thank you to Sheffield

As Festival of the Mind approaches, Professor Vanessa Toulmin explains how this is our thank you to the city that founded us, a time when we share freely our world-class collaborative research for the citizens of Sheffield.

As the summer draws in and autumn starts to slowly creep up on the city, a feeling of anticipation starts to gather as we welcome new arrivals to the city and the start of the university terms. For myself growing up on the fairgrounds, the months of September and October were the highlights of the year as this period was known as the backend run – the time when all the major fairs congregated together.

September would be spent in Oxford, Bridgewater and Barnstaple, October we would visit Nottingham, Hull, Ilkeston, Stratford and many more and November would see the great street fair of Loughborough heralding the end of the season.

I would either be peeling onions, spinning candy floss and if I was good I’d be allowed to work on the waltzer. The large beautiful galloping horses would spin round next to me with the ornate lettering proclaiming ‘Patronised by All Classes of People’ and I would see this demonstrated by the people who came to the fair.

Many decades later I still find myself in the same calendar but this time it is not the fairground season I am looking forward to but it is instead the time of year when Festival of the Mind and Off the Shelf return to the city.

This September as we welcome our new students, staff and colleagues at the University will be out and about in the city, collaborating, designing and engaging in a myriad of ways.

The beautiful Speigeltent will return once more to Barkers Pool and forming the focus of talks, happenings, music and events. Venues across the city will host collaborative exhibitions, plays, installations, workshops and talks with with Sheffield’s finest creative talent.

Some will move and astound you, others make you chuckle or raise an eyebrow so look out for posters, brochures and web information from the start of September.

The Festival of the Mind is our thank you to the city that founded us, it’s a time when we share freely our world class research for the benefit of the citizens of Sheffield. Some familiar faces such as Pete Mckee, Dean Horner and Jo Peel have collaborated with colleagues in Medicine, Science and Landscape Architecture creating beautiful and ground breaking partnerships across the artistic and academic divide.

I believe this year’s festival captures more than anything the resilience, spirit and strength of our city and I hope everyone embraces it as positively as ever.

With over 90 events, 47 collaborations over 17 venues we hope to break our record of 50,000 visitors in previous years.

No sooner has the speigeltent been packed down, the venues cleared and the party over, we start all over again. A week later the 27th edition of Off the Shelf starts in October with over 130 events packed into the three week period.

Working once again in collaboration with colleagues at Sheffield Hallam University, a packed programme has been curated by the Off the Shelf team and the University of Sheffield.

Alongside the world class authors, poets and artists we have curated three separate strands to celebrate key anniversaries taking place this year such as the 250 anniversary of circus, the 200 th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein and the 100 th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act.

Highlights are discussed elsewhere but it is important to understand the passion, love and energy that goes into producing both these events that appear to magically appear as if from nowhere.

In the case of Off the Shelf, the two universities have worked tirelessly since March to finance and deliver a most fantastic array of talent and ensure its continuation.

The University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind, was created to bring vibrancy to the city and to demonstrate both to new students and fellow residents the importance and impact of our world class research.

We are also delighted to host within Off the Shelf, as part of our partnership with Marketing Sheffield and funded by the Arts Council, a wonderful three days of readings, performances, projections, installations and discussions.

Taking place in the newly opened Site Gallery and other venues, ‘Strong Language’ is curated by the artist, writer and performance maker Tim Etchell and highlights radical writing and independent publishing with a range of new commissions, all free.

So many years on, the end of summer still brings in the frenzy of activity that is the backend run, it heralds a time of activity, festivity and little sleep. I might not be spinning candyfloss or waltzer cars anymore but I will be instead telling stories, spinning plates literally and metaphorically and bringing together a calendar of events that will continue to be patronised by all classes of people.

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