Festival of the Mind set to return after resounding success

Festival of the MindThe University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind is set to return to Sheffield after the resounding success of this year’s festival, which saw over 16,000 visitors in 11 days.

Festival of the Mind will return to the city firstly as a mini-festival in September 2013, then as a full festival in autumn 2014 - creating new projects, ideas and collaborations to inspire Sheffield again.

The first Festival of the Mind took place this year (20-30 September 2012) and was the brainchild of Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Head of Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield and showman sculptor Anthony Bennett. The Festival also formed part of the University’s work as a modern Civic University, founded a century ago on the aspirations of the people of the city of Sheffield and continuing to make a real difference to the education, economy, health and cultural life of the city and the wider world.

The 11 day experience featured 56 city-wide events, including tours of the University’s ‘secret’ Alfred Denny Museum, a poem being launched into space and an army of robots creating art, to name but a few of the weird and wonderful highlights.

The festival was the first of its kind and achieved international media coverage. Professor Vanessa said: “We were blown away by the success of Festival of the Mind. Everyone worked so hard, but we never could have anticipated 16,000 visitors, it was fantastic. I knew the people of Sheffield would have a real appetite to engage with our research if we presented in the right way, and this just shows how much potential this kind of activity has.”

The University has committed funding for the next Festival of the Mind in 2014, which is set to be even bigger and better than this year. Events will again take place across the city but centre around the beautiful 1920s cabaret spiegeltent that captivated audiences in Barkers Pool this year.

“We’ve got big ambitions for the next one,” continued Professor Vanessa. “This year’s festival was a great opportunity to learn what works really well and has given us some brilliant ideas for next time around. I want more next time. I want more projects, more collaboration, more interaction with the parts of Sheffield that we need to reach out to most. I think what was most rewarding about the whole thing was hearing feedback from members of the public. People saying that they thought they couldn’t afford university, but it came to them. Academic colleagues have been really inspired by this to go out into the community and make their research count to the people of Sheffield.”

Professor Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: "The Festival of the Mind was a wonderful success and a real tribute to the combined energy and talent of the University and Sheffield's creative community. From science to poetry, from philosophy to computer design, we shared our ideas and 16,000 people joined us. We saw the excitement and inspiration which results when ideas are shared and we want to do more.

"Over the next year we will continue to welcome the public to events in the University and take the University out into the city and beyond. We will also be holding another Festival in 2014, and our Head of Cultural Engagement, Professor Vanessa Toulmin will bring her unique combination of talents and extensive experience as a Festival Director to create a major cultural collaboration which is open to all."

Professor Vanessa has been Head of Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield for 18 months and has fostered deep connections with the city and its people. Originally from Lancashire, she came to the University as an undergraduate in 1985, has worked at the University since 1999 and is well known amongst Sheffield residents as someone that challenges the academic stereotype.

Her inaugural lecture caused a stir in 2009, featuring Professor Vanessa's 20 Performing Wonders, including burlesque beauties, dancing pigs, a sword swallower and unicycling jugglers. For the past five years Professor Vanessa has been Advisor to Blackpool Council on Heritage and Regeneration and is responsible for the international success of Showzam: Blackpool’s annual Festival of Circus Magic and New Variety which attracted annually 25,000 to the town during the February Half Term Holiday.

Professor Toulmin is the first person to hold a personal chair in early film and popular entertainment, and the founder and director of the University’s National Fairground Archive (NFA).

As well as curating and programming Festival of the Mind, as Head of Cultural Engagement at the University, Vanessa devotes much of her time and energy breaking down the barriers between the general public and academia through cultural activities, making the University, its staff, students and research more accessible and appealing to the people of Sheffield and beyond.

Professor Vanessa said: “We want to capitalize on the success of Festival of the Mind and keep the momentum going, reach out further and engage even more. Our University was founded by the people of Sheffield, so it’s only right that we put them at the heart of what we do.

“The success of Festival of the Mind has showed us that the public have a real appetite for getting to know us better through culture, as we do them. There is so much more that we want to do and I’m proud to be part of a university getting out there and doing it!”

Additional information

Festival of the Mind
Festival of the Mind

The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK´s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen´s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom´s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.

The University´s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.


For further information please contact:
Amy Stone
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046