From celebrating punk to environmental destruction: arts events at the Cambridge Festival

The environment, friendship, punk rock and our increasingly data-driven world are the inspiration for a kaleidoscope of artistic, musical and award-nominated comedy events at this year’s Cambridge Festival.

The Festival, which runs from 31st March to 10th April, is the University of Cambridge’s leading public engagement event and tackles and offers solutions for some of our most pressing issues, from the multiple crises in politics, health and climate change to global economics and human rights. 

Arts-based events include a set of four original creations which highlight the links between nature, wellness and sustainability. Co-created by an award-winning team which includes a surgeon, an award-winning playwright, a computer and a lawyer, Nature Minds! is curated by Centre of Intercultural Musicology at Churchill College and produced by renowned musicologist Professor Valerie Ross. 

The four pieces -  'Kaleidoscope of Rainforest Conservation’, ‘A Song of Silent Wonders’, ‘Reaching the Kármán Line' and ‘Bespoke Music & Poetic Imagery’ - include a piece on positive visualisation through auditory, visual and transpersonal representations of experience and imagination, an audio play inspired by scientific drawings of monster-like deep sea fish, a laptop orchestra which explores celestial sounds and the silence of space and a piece which draws on conservation work in Malaysia’s ancient rainforests [available via the  CIMaCC YouTube channel throughout the Festival].

The environment is also the centrepiece of another event Art and Nature, a musical exploration of mankind's artistic responses to various aspects of the natural world. [3rd April; Yusuf Hamied Theatre, Christ’s College].

Music of a different kind is also at the heart of the Junction’s Punk Alley, a loud, wild, and unapologetic joyride of live original punk music and high energy dance. The show centres around the Lazurr Tuts, a world-famous, guitar wielding, foot stomping punk band made up of misfits and outcasts. They are in the business of making music and speaking out, and the audience gets front row seats at an exclusive rehearsal. Described as “a show full of heart that asks big questions”, the audience is invited to participate in creating songs, writing placards and playing music, (10th April; Cambridge Junction).

The Junction is also the stage Old Friends, a show where writer and performer Tamara Micner reminisces about that one true friend who got away and explores who has replaced them, or hasn’t, where we can enjoy the close friendships as adults that we revelled in as kids and when we can finally mourn our friend break-ups with ice cream and bad TV? The soundtrack is provided by Simon & Garfunkel. [30th March; Cambridge Junction]

Elsewhere, the award-nominated show She! Justified and Ancient sees comedian Charmian Hughes discussing environmental destruction, expectations of human happiness and whether the 1960s cult classic She! starring Ursula Andress is an apt metaphor for how we live today, (7th April; Storey’s Field Centre).

Artistic pioneers, current and historic, are also featured in this year’s Festival programme. There’s an exhibition by artist and sculptor John Atkin (26th/27th March and 2nd/3rd April at Wolfson College). John’s work has been exhibited worldwide and he is actively engaged in the discourse surrounding public art and urban regeneration policies in the UK and overseas, especially China. And a talk on cinema pioneer and scientific instrument maker Robert Paul, who made narrative films as early as April 1895. His life and work will be celebrated by Professor Ian Christie of the University of London and Dr Joshua Nall of the Whipple Museum, (2nd April).

And there’s a focus on how complex research can be presented through the arts: 

Cambridge Creative Encounters returns - a unique exhibition of artistic creations that showcase some of the world’s burning research questions in novel and creative ways, the event challenges researchers to work with professionals from the creative arts to re-think the way they communicate their research, as plays, poetry, photography, animation and short films. [Throughout the Festival]

Life as data uses online games, videos, posters and interactive art to explore how ubiquitous data (through disease-screening technologies, labour management algorithms, polling software) is changing our lives. Drawing on art and play, the exhibit visualises the research of four Philomathia Fellows, challenging the viewer to think critically about the implications of datafication in everyday life. [1st and 2nd April; University Centre]

Plant Sciences photography exhibition is a stunning visual showcase of the work of researchers in the department, including photos of rainforest canopies, the muddy depths of Canada’s lakes and the fierce infernos of California’s wildfires. [Throughout the Festival; Department of Plant Sciences, Downing Site]

Pictures of ageing is an exhibition exploring the self-perception of a community of older people in Uganda based on  a multidisciplinary collaboration between University of Cambridge and Makerere University, using art to present the picture of ageing in Wakiso District, Busukuma Division in Uganda. [3rd April]

Other events that show how the arts can help communicate ground-breaking university research include:

  • Let me show you my research: comics as a communication tool, showcases collaborations between Anglia Ruskin University students and staff that aim to use qualitative research data as the basis for creative non-fiction. The comics explore visual storytelling techniques to communicate research themes in striking ways that draw the reader into the experiences described [AM HOPING TO GET SOME EXAMPLES] [throughout the Festival]

  • In Uncovered: the brick workshop researchers from Cambridge School of Art will describe the process of visualising research journeys. The workshop is linked to the exhibition Uncovered: How do you research through art' [4th April, Ruskin Gallery, Anglia Ruskin University]

And Festival favourite The Variables present: an evening of science variety returns for another night of science-based comedy [5th April; Portland Arms]

Other arts-based events at the Festival include:

  • Cambridge graduate orchestra concert performs Mendelssohn and Beethoven [20th March; West Road Concert Hall]

  • Curator’s tour: casting light is a guided tour of the Museum of Classical Archaeology’s 450+ plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture with curator Dr Susanne Turner [5th April] 

  • Festival evening service: the eight words of the Passion with the Tim Boniface Jazz Quarter. The Reverend Dr Tim Boniface is a Fellow of Girton College and the Girton College Chaplain as well as an acclaimed jazz multi-instrumentalist and composer. This is  an eight-part suite based on the eight sayings of Jesus in the Passion according to St John. It takes up the ancient practice of exploring religion through music while standing squarely within the mainstream jazz tradition. Through evocative melodies, powerful swing and rich harmonies, Boniface’s work offers a refreshing and exciting musical setting in which to encounter familiar texts afresh. [3rd April; Great St Mary's]

  • Generating the foundations of self is an interactive and immersive exhibit showcasing the work of the Self and Body Lab at Anglia Ruskin University. The exhibit explores how the foundations of the sense of self are generated by looking at the different aspects of what makes us who we are. [6th April]

  • React 2022 is an exhibition of science art produced by local year 7-9 school students for and inspired by the themes of the Cambridge festival. [Throughout the festival; Cambridge Science Centre]

*The full programme is due to be launched on 28th February via the Festival website: Bookings open on the same day from 10am.


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