The UK’s most exciting visual art festivals
Alongside its many museums, galleries, and commercial art fairs, the UK has a host of arts festivals to offer. Here is ArtWeb’s roundup of some of the most exciting.
Artwave is an annual festival held in September in which artists and craftspeople from Lewes, East Sussex, and the surrounding area open their homes, studios and gardens to the public over three weekends, offering visitors the opportunity to discover new works by established and emerging artists (and to enjoy the beauty of the local area).
Fringe Arts Bath
Fringe Arts Bath is an annual visual arts festival of free contemporary art exhibitions, events, and workshops that takes place in May or June each year, occupying empty shops and unusual spaces in the Somerset city. The festival seeks to promote and celebrate contemporary art in Bath and beyond, and to support early career artists and curators who find it difficult to break into (or prefer to operate outside of) the gallery-based arts scene.
Belfast International Arts Festival
Originally established in 1962, Belfast International Arts Festival encompasses theatre, dance, and music, alongside film, literature, and the visual and digital arts. Taking place in venues throughout the city, it aims to offer local and global audiences inspirational and transformative aesthetic experiences from world-class artists, thinkers and leaders.
Caerleon Arts Festival
The Caerleon Arts Festival is a yearly celebration of the arts held in the historic Welsh town of Caerleon, near Newport. Originally focusing on arts, crafts, and sculpture, the festival now also incorporates music, literature, dance, and entertainment, with many events celebrating the unique history and setting of the town, once the site of a Roman legionary fortress, and linked in British literature to the legendary King Arthur. Events take place throughout the year, culminating in a 10-day Summer Festival in July.
Edinburgh Art Festival
Established in 2004, Edinburgh Art Festival coincides with the city’s International and Fringe festivals, providing art lovers with yet another reason to head north each summer. While the London art world sleeps in August, the Scottish capital enjoys a city-wide celebration of the visual arts involving museums, commercial galleries, and artist-run spaces. From blockbuster museum shows to site-specific works, events, tours, and workshops, you will find plenty to discover in the festival’s programme.
For more on the city’s creative scene, read our art lovers’ guide to Edinburgh.
Folkestone Triennial is the largest exhibition of newly commissioned works presented in the UK. During the Triennial (whose first edition took place in 2008), artists are invited to use the town as their gallery, and to create and exhibit new works in public spaces around it. Around 20 works are commissioned for each edition of the Triennial, aiming to reflect issues affecting the town and wider world, and to engage with its rich cultural history. Artists previously commissioned include Cornelia Parker, Christian Boltanski, Martin Creed, Mark Wallinger, Cristina Iglesias, Richard Wilson, Andy Goldsworthy and AK Dolven, with many works remaining in situ after the festival’s end.
Inaugurated in 2005, Glasgow International is Scotland’s largest festival of contemporary art. Taking place over three weeks every two years, the International celebrates Glasgow’s strong visual arts scene, and the work of both local and international artists through commissioned works and exhibitions throughout the city.
Founded in 1998, Liverpool Biennial takes place across the city’s public spaces, galleries, and historic buildings. Since its inception in 1998 it has commissioned over 340 new artworks, and exhibited work by over 480 international artists inspired by the context of the city, including Doug Aitken, John Akomfrah, Mona Hatoum, Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, Yoko Ono, Ai Weiwei and Franz West.
Manchester International Festival
Launched in 2007 as an artist-led festival focusing on original, new works from across the performing and visual arts, and popular culture, Manchester International Festival has been described by the New York Times as ‘one of the leading worldwide incubators for new, cutting-edge art.’ Taking place in July in a rich array of venues across Greater Manchester — from theatres, galleries and concert halls to railway depots, churches and car parks, the Festival has commissioned works by artists such as Steve McQueen, Jeremy Deller, and Marina Abramović.
Established in 1981, Oxfordshire Artweeks is the longest-running and largest open studios event in the UK. Exhibitions are held in the city of Oxford, south Oxfordshire, and north Oxfordshire for a week each on consecutive weeks in November and December. Previous editions have included over 1,000 artists and over 500 exhibitions, including fine art, folk art, and craft, so whatever your artistic passion you’re sure to find something of interest!
Sonica is an award-winning 11-day biennial festival devoted to visual sonic arts. Launched in 2012, the festival has presented more than 980 events in diverse venues around Glasgow, showcasing cutting-edge performances by both local and international artists that blur the boundaries between music, theatre, visual, and electronic art.
Taking place each September, Wirksworth Festival is Derbyshire’s leading rural arts festival, featuring the work of more than 150 artists, along with an inspiring programme of performances and events, and an art and architecture trail in the historic market town.
Pestival (brilliant name!) is an arts festival dedicated to the celebration of insects. It helps raise awareness of the critical ecological need for insects, and need to protect them. Visitors will see swarms of art (groan) and installations aimed to inspire children and adults alike and start to see insects at their ‘best’ rather than ‘pest’.