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Cultural eXchanges Festival goes online to mark 20th anniversary


Celebrated choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne OBE and well-known drag artist Jamie Campbell are among the stars gracing De Montfort University Leicester’s (DMU) annual Cultural eXchanges Festival.


While marking milestones during a global pandemic is challenging, the final-year Arts and Festivals Management students behind Cultural eXchanges have expertly adapted to the circumstances, bringing key figures from the arts and culture sector together for a 20th anniversary online special.

Traditionally taking place across campus and Leicester city venues, this year’s week-long festival from Monday 1 to Friday 5 March boasts guest speakers from as far as Canada and the USA, thanks to its digital format.

With 30 free events to choose from there’s something to delight everyone, including inspiring talks, compelling performances, and engaging workshops which add an interactive element much-missed by many during lockdown.

Jamie Campbell

Beth Chilvers, one of the 11 DMU students behind this year’s festival, said: “Covid-19 has been challenging in lots of ways, but it’s also had positives like really successful online events and experiences taking place. That’s why we worked so hard on a line-up that will draw in a range of people and show them a good time.”

Coursemate Isabella Blount said: “There’s never been a better time to host a festival online and we’re doing it in a fun and exciting way. We thought carefully about making it as interactive as possible, as an extra incentive for people to take part.”

Guest speakers include Sir Matthew Bourne OBE – world-renowned choreographer and director of hit productions such as Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Edward Scissorhands – and famous drag artist Jamie Campbell, whose life story inspired the award-winning musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Donna Payne

Creative Director at Faber & Faber Donna Payne will be talking about her 25 years in publishing, singer-songwriter Megg Nicol will be sharing her journey from West End performer to voiceover artist, and leading handwriting identification expert Beverley East will be in conversation about her work in profiling and fraud.

Audiences can take part in workshops to flex their poetry, drawing and song writing skills, and enjoy performances by creative writers at DMU, a live gig by BYFYN – the synth pop producer and singer Ellie Isherwood – a double bill featuring well-loved indie bands Low Girl and Courtney Askey, and much more.

Students have been responsible for every aspect of the festival, from the planning and budgeting to booking artists and marketing the events.

Low Girl and Courtney Askey

“I really want to go into digital marketing when I graduate, so the unexpected online format of the festival has been really beneficial to me. I’ve learned so much and it’s been great to exchange knowledge and share skills with my coursemates,” said Isabella.

Beth said: “I’m so grateful we still got to do this despite the pandemic. We’ve overcome challenges and setbacks which will make us better graduates and I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”

Tony Graves, DMU lecturer and the Cultural eXchanges Festival founder, said: “To be successful, a festival has to stay current and keep evolving. As difficult as marking our 20th anniversary has been, we’ve reinvented Cultural eXchanges and that’s as true as a festival can be.

“This year more than ever, the programming has been very much in the students’ hands – a deliberate and appropriate move. As the future of our sector and a product of this pandemic, they are very much reflected in the programme and the potential appeal of it.”

Follow Cultural eXchanges updates on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and book onto events online.

Posted on Monday 22nd February 2021

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