The second national Family Arts Festival began on 17th October and continues through half-term until 2nd November.
The 2013 event drew more than 500,000 people to family and child-friendly arts events across the UK, and in its second year had added the support of Center Parcs as partner and former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo as its patron.
It has also added more than 2,000 high quality arts events from 500 organisations, all listed by date, region, genre, age-range and interest at www.familyartsfestival.com.
Highlights of the fortnight include the transformation of the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol into a fantastical world designed by and for families, combining contemporary art with an enormous picnic; a play date in Salford and Trafford that will take dance to Manchester’s trams and Lowry exhibitions to the Trafford Shopping Centre; and an interactive experience behind the scenes at Theatre Royal Brighton where props will come alive as the theatre and the theatrical comes alive.
The Family Arts Festival is part of a campaign, to help family audiences for the arts broaden and grow, by offering support to organisations and helping them offer high quality and accessible experiences, something Michael Morpurgo says is crucial to getting the attention of future audiences.
“I think an early cultural experience for children, whether it’s music, whether it’s plays, ballet, opera, it doesn’t make any difference, is wonderful,” he says. "Because what it does is open the door to a lifelong experience of these things.
“But here’s the thing. It has to be wonderful. It has to be good. If it’s not good enough you can put children off rather easily - they’re rather easily put off things. But if it’s fantastic and they just want to come back and back and back, think what that will do. That will turn them into theatre-goers, maybe actors, maybe designers of theatre sets - you do not know where it’s going to lead. So that first experience is absolutely critical.”
The Family Arts Festival doesn’t only provide support for organisations when organising events, but by asking families that attend the festival to rate their experiences, they provide valuable feedback on what events work best for family audiences.
Those ratings are also used to highlight the best family venues, family events and overall family welcomes at the Family Arts Festival Awards; in 2013 Oldham Coliseum and their play My Friend Nigel, Northern Ballet and Three Little Pigs, and Shakespeare’s Globe’s Muse of Fire were all commended along with several others; the full list of award winners can be seen here.
Alongside the Family Arts Festival, the campaign supports arts for all ages by encouraging organisations to sign up for the Family Arts Standards, a list of basic considerations that organisations should meet to ensure that families are catered for.
Organisations that sign up are expected to be welcoming to families, with helpful staff, good facilities and considered pricing, and clear information to help families decide what events are suitable for them and their children.
Around 200 organisations are signed up, and all display the ‘Fantastic For Families’ badge to help families find arts events that will be accessible and enjoyable.
“I think it’s very important for the arts to be accessible to families,” says Michael Morpurgo. "The first and most important thing is it hasn’t to be too expensive. You can put entire families off by charging absurd prices which you can fetch in opera houses and in concert halls for grown up people. There has to be a policy amongst all theatres and all opera houses, wherever, that when it’s a family show, you do something for the tickets to make it acessible to everyone. That’s really really important.
"The second thing is this. It’s important for those people putting on these plays, putting on these operas and concerts, that they bring the same qualities of production and expertise and inventiveness to the shows for the children and the families as they do for their so-called ‘serious’ shows. That’s really, really important.
“Whatever you do with children, you mustn’t talk down to them. You mustn’t make it seem as though it’s just for children so it doesn’t really matter very much - it matters more.”
With the campaign working to encourage high standards for families all year round, the Family Arts Festival can be a showcase and a promotional platform that lets families discover and sample what family-conscious arts organisations can offer them.
“A family arts festival is a once a year opportunity for everyone in the arts to reach out to families and children, and to offer their best wares,” says Morpurgo. "To show them what they can do, to bring in this new audience.
“This is in the interests of the families and the children, but it’s also in the interests of the theatres and the concert halls and the opera houses because this is your future audience: these are the people who are going to coming into your doors for the rest of their lives. So it’s very, very important for both sides of it.”
You can discover all the events being put on as part of the Family Arts Festival at www.familyartsfestival.com, and find out more about the Family Arts Campaign and Family Arts Standards at www.familyarts.co.uk.