How do you organise an event like St Ives September Festival? St Ives Local editor Liz Norbury and St Ives School student Dylan Kemp meet the festival’s press officer Mike Sinclair to find out

Mike Sinclair St Ives September Festival
St Ives September Festival press officer, Mike Sinclair. Photo: Dylan Kemp

It’s more than 40 years since the first St Ives September Festival. How has it changed over the years?

The format hasn’t changed since a group of artists and musicians decided to put on a fringe event which evolved into the September Festival — it’s just on a larger scale. From the early days, big-name performers were brought to St Ives, but it is also a celebration of the art and music of the town. There are also walks and talks, open studios, workshops, exhibitions, films, poetry, and two Saturday afternoons of street entertainment. Bob Devereux, one of the artists who took part in the original 1978 festival, is still involved.

How did you first become involved?

The festival committee were looking for a press officer, and I thought my experience in newspapers would help raise the profile of the festival. Having been a journalist, I enjoy the writing and the photography. I’m also a director of the festival.

How did Covid affect the festival?

After the Covid break, several people who’d been part of the committee for quite a few years stood down. The core committee is now five of us, plus a loyal band of stewards and volunteers. We thought the 2021 festival would be on a smaller scale, but there was a big input from St Ia Church. They’ve always been involved, but they run more events each year. This year, for the second year running, the church is the festival’s second busiest venue, after the Guildhall. They brought Seth Lakeman last year, and this year their programme includes Cara Dillon, the Irish folk singer.

How do you start planning the festival each year?

There’s a blueprint which we stick to, and we started on this year’s festival pretty much as last year’s finished. We book the headline performers for the Guildhall: we get offered a stream of performers from their agents and management. We try to change the performers every year, but some people ask to come back, and we like to have them. Our art event coordinator deals with venues like Porthmeor Studios and Penwith Gallery, and organises the artists who take part in Open Studios. The festival is also an umbrella organisation, and other performers and venues — like the church — arrange their own shows. We’re always looking for new venues and activities. Last year, we had a trapeze workshop, and the unveiling of a plaque marking Virginia Woolf’s connection with St Ives. The Royal Cinema joined us for the first time last year, and this year they’re showing a new film, Zennor Spirit of Place.

How is the festival financed?

We have funding from St Ives Town Council, St Ives BID, and St Ives Rotary, and a good group of local sponsors: Aspects Holidays — who sponsor the street entertainment — Tregenna Castle, St Ives Brewery, Carbis Bay Holidays, Greenwood Wilson accountants, and A1 Cars.  All the people taking part contribute towards the cost, and any profit from one year’s festival goes towards the following year’s festival. I’d like to see more backing from local businesses, and more involvement from people who live here. We could do more if we had more people on board!

What do you enjoy most about the festival?

I love seeing the performers we’ve booked appearing on the Guildhall stage — and I love it even more if the event is sold out!

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