Arts Derbyshire


A Brief History Of Melbourne Arts Festival


Melbourne Festival is very much a part of the vibrant Derbyshire festivals scene in the County and has established itself in the arts calendar over the last 15+ years so we thought we’d delve into its history and origins in this article.

In 2005, a group of people with a shared interest in the arts decided to raise some money for the parish church. Sixteen years later, the Melbourne Festival has survived a pandemic to return to the town in 2021.

The very first festival was a smashing success. Over a thousand people came to take part, and the following year, even more artists were keen to participate. There was simply too much art and enthusiasm to fit in one building, and too many buildings worth seeing.

Melbourne is a conservation area, noted for its Georgian character and numerous listed buildings, and so the Art & Architecture trail was born. The two problems solved each other: artists could be hosted across the town in private homes, and visitors could take in Melbourne’s historic ambience on the Art and Architecture Trail.

The trail loops all the way round town, with several stops along the way. The very first festival wasn’t too family friendly, but organisers have since made sure to include stops on the trail especially designed to keep children occupied and interested to allow them to enjoy the event just as much as their grown-ups. There has been storytelling, arts and crafts, anything and everything to get those creative minds whirring and let kids let off steam.

That’s not to say the kids have all the fun. Festival tradition says that Friday night is comedy night, and there are always plenty of performances for all ages. However, since the beginning of the festival, focus has shifted away from the performing arts and more towards the visual arts.

The festival prides itself on having something for every taste and pocket. In recent years, more attention has been given to contemporary art, as opposed to the prevalence of conservative art during the early years. Investing in some wall art remains the most popular choice for festival visitors; why buy something mass produced when for not too much more, you can support a local artist and have a unique work of art in your home?

Some of the exhibiting artists grew up alongside the festival, bringing a local story to these pieces of art that visitors love to hear about. The festival is embedded in the local community in other ways too and works closely with local schools to encourage children to engage in the arts.

The wider Melbourne community is the heart and soul of the festival; since the beginning, organisers have worked closely with local artists, and in 2015, they set up the Emerging Artists Award. The aim of the award is to support young artists from the area, and winners are invited to exhibit their work at the festival making the perfect launch pad for budding artists to experience exhibiting their work in a professional setting.

What truly makes the Melbourne Festival unique are the community projects that form a part of the festival each year. The projects seek to highlight local themes; in 2016, For the Love of Lettuce brought Melbourne’s long history of Market Gardens back into the spotlight. The centenary of the First World War had community members teaming up to knit 4,680 poppies in memory of fallen Grenadier Guards, inspired by a local resident who is himself a former Grenadier Guard.

Not even the advent of coronavirus in 2020 could put a damper on the spirit the festival cultivates. This year’s community project, Whispers from the Woods, encouraged people to share their experiences of the wonderful woodlands, culminating in a poem to be shared at this year’s festival.

From humble beginnings as a parish church fundraiser, the Melbourne Festival has made its mark on the Derbyshire culture scene and inspired artists for generations to come.

Find out more about Melbourne Festival and its return 18 and 19 September 2021.

Melbourne Festival is a part of Derbyshire’s thriving festivals scene; you can read about other festivals in Derbyshire on our dedicated page on our website.

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