Old&New: Turl Street’s tradition

Turl Street Arts Festival now becomes a platform for Oxford’s celestial art

For twenty years, the Turl Street Arts Festival has challenged creatives to abandon traditional collegiate division and unite for a week-long showcase of the arts. Year on year, the festival has provided a platform for the leading literary, artistic and dramatic talent from Exeter, Jesus and Lincoln to celebrate and explore the exceptional fruits of their extra-curricular labour.

From Tolkien to le Carre, Alan Bennett to Dr. Seuss, the three colleges boast a peerless heritage. This is a sphere in which Turl Street stands alone; OX1’s central thoroughfare has hosted an incomparable embarrassment of creative riches.

The festival’s origins, however, were not found amongst these shining literary lights. In fact, for much of the mid-to- late 20th century, any notion of harmonious co-existence was undermined; an intense sense of rivalry gripped the participating colleges. The ‘Turl Street Dash’, a somewhat tribal pre-cursor to today’s artistic co-operation, saw each JCR invade, steal and vandalise their neighbouring adversaries. When the ‘dash’ descended into the infliction of injury and genuinely costly damage, the colleges came together to galvanise this destructive energy into an autumnal week of art and creativity.

In the twenty years since, this now-annual celebration has called for abstract exploration, with thematic threads spinning from ‘Pastoral’ to ‘Love’ across two decades of existence. This year’s conception, the ‘Zodiac’, is fittingly esoteric.

Whilst modernisation is undoubtedly on the cards, tradition has its place. So, as ever, one college will lead the event and the curation of its poetry, fiction, art and spoken word. For 2017, the baton falls to Exeter, the street’s oldest college, and this year’s copresidents Ed Wignall and Eleanor Begley.

For the festival’s anniversary offering, the committee have promised ‘concerts, workshops, exhibitions, plays, rehearsed readings, poetry. Wignall, a fourth-year classicist, encourages potential festival-goers to ‘witness for yourselves what’s possible when students stop grinding axes and start speaking the language of the arts’.

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So it appears that Hilary will see this Turl Street institution come alive and perhaps, with its extensive budget and ambition, come of age.

The 20th anniversary Turl Street Arts Festival is running throughout fifth week, including an ambitious opening ceremony, writing and art workshops, a Cellar night and street fair. Like Turl Street Arts Festival 2017 on Facebook for more information on this fantastic programme of events.