Greenbelt 1997: The long established arts festival under the microscope

Friday 1st August 1997

The new Festival Manager at Greenbelt Andy Thornton talked to Tony Cummings about the event's history and aims.

Continued from page 1

Andy: "I'm told that when Cliff (Richard) used to come here it put another three thousand, four thousand on the gate so many came to see Cliff. I don't think that that would be the case any more, in the sense he gets older and his audience gets older, so I don't think his audience want to come and camp. I think the situation would change if Delirious? became a massive crossover act. But there is still very little history in terms of rock/pop of anyone who is an out and out Christian ever breaking across the mainstream. I think it's the underlining culture of the rock industry. No one wants that sort of thing there. Let's fact it, Jesus got crucified, not made king."

Tony: I know you can't officially confirm but I've heard that there is a chance that Tony Blair might make a surprise visit to Greenbelt. Is that a possibility?

Andy: "Yes."

Tony: You're still getting criticised for inviting so many non-Christian artists Greenbelt.

Andy: "We take the attitude and 1 think people will understand this when I say in most people's record collection there is a variety, crossover bands, bands they like in the secular field and bands they like in the Christian field. So we take the approach that it's good for us to have a mixture there at the festival. We want the festival to be entertaining and we also don't want it to be seen as a ghetto event."

Tony: I understand this year there's going to be a special effort to encourage up-and-coming artists.

Andy: "We have brought a stage back that we used to have where the sort of up and coming UK bands could play who send us demos. We get about 150 demos a year from people who want to play. I see it's very important we're there as a place where people can come and be seen and also that Greenbelt is seen to be supporting the acts who want to come and make their mark on the festival. So we brought the stage back. There's literally going to be 250 bands at the festival this year."

Tony: Greenbelt isn't alone today. Soul Survivor, the Alliance Festival, the Kingston Festival, even Cross Rhythms. Would you say that the plethora of other smaller festivals has effected Greenbelt's attendances in recent years?

Andy: "I think so, yes. There's no reason why Greenbelt should have a claim to own this territory. It's good that other things are happening. Having said that, if 10,000 more people came to Greenbelt, if we could bank on that income, it would be a more impressive event in some respects because it would have more money to spend on more bands. Swings and roundabouts. If more people were coming then they would get a better festival."

Tony: How do you view an event like Soul Survivor?

Andy: "Soul Survivor represents a whole other thing to an event like Greenbelt. They represent an exciting movement of young people picking up on the Christian faith and exploring what it means to have a living faith. As the years go by, whether they want to come to an arts festival like Greenbelt or want to start their own, it's got to be good news. I would really like it that people thought that Greenbelt was accessible to them. I don't think that Greenbelt is a rival to Soul Survivor. Greenbelt is an arts festival; Soul Survivor is a kind of youth event with worship, ministry, praise. It's really for younger people growing in the faith and that isn't comparable to an event like Greenbelt which is an arts and culture event. I would hope that people would find their way to both. I think there's only one thing like Greenbelt, and if people still want it it'll keep going, or we'll do what we can to act out our vision of what it should be. But if Greenbelt falls and something else comes up and it's in God's economy then that's the way it goes."

Tony: Like most Christian events Greenbelt partly relies on giving to make financial sense* of the whole thing- How does that work?

Andy: "We've got about 700 people who give regularly, who just want to make sure the festival stays. Mind you, if we have another two years like last year then we'll all be at Soul Survivor!" (Andy laughs)

Tony: What dream do you have for Greenbelt's future?

Andy: "Greenbelt is really important to the Church in the UK and beyond because it's a place where arts overflow and it's almost like the whole message of art becomes prominent in your life over the weekend. I think that's very important, particularly in a society where it's becoming more mechanistic, more scientific. As we start to base our lives on urban issues and technological issues what we lose is the other side of life, which is creative, which sometimes does things and doesn't know why. If the Church loses a sense of that and loses the way of celebrating that then it loses some of its humanity, and if it loses some of its humanity, it loses some of its vocation, it's calling in God who made humans in the beautiful breadth and diversity that we have. My dream is that it becomes a place where people discover more about themselves and more about themselves in communion with God because of that. A place where people who have been outside the Church and who think the Church is all about going through certain forms of behaviour, or certain liturgical drudgery can come and discover that all the things they wondered why weren't in the Church, actually are. The way that you live your life is one, which is profoundly sacred, that transforms yourself and which leads you to transform others and to share the good news to others. I do believe that the message of art and the message with art in connection with God is vital for the way the society is to go as we hit the next millennium. We're in danger of drowning under technological success and stressful society. If I think about my brain I end up comparing it with a computer and once I compare myself with a computer I am an android, I am no longer fully human. There's all sorts of reasons why art needs to underline all the activities in the Church, so just having one place to celebrate that every year helps people keep all that energy alive within their Christian experience and help them feel confident to share that experience beyond. I don't think Greenbelt needs to change its shape dramatically. I think it needs to be much more creative, it needs to be continually surprising people by the way it brings in creativity." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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