Two Moors Festival: unexpected impact

Penny Adie, artistic director at Two Moors Festival, writes for IAM about the impact her annual arts event has had on the Southwest of England.

When Two Moors Festival was set up in 2001, no one ever dreamt that it would have such impact on the Southwest’s development of culture, as well as the community and the region’s tourism. Originally set up as a one-off event bringing cheer to Dartmoor and Exmoor in the aftermath of foot and mouth disease, its success was such that it quickly became an annual festival of international standing.

The Festival spells class. Artists at the top of the tree appear regularly as do up and coming professional musicians, while there are ample opportunities for those still at school. The fact that many famed instrumentalists and singers ask to perform is testament to the standard of recitals that take place. Bearing in mind that most of the concerts are performed in venues that are far removed from a smart concert hall, this is quite something!

The choice of programme is imaginative and I, as artist director, prefer to collaborate with the artist in order to create a recital that is a little bit different. I don’t like being offered a ready-made concert as, apart from anything else, it shows little creativity on my part. Our audiences are discerning and happy to be confronted by more adventurous programmes. Another aspect that gives me a particular thrill are the programmes that were originally too obscure to attract many people, but that are now very popular: our lieder shows are a good example of this.

Community concert at Two Moors Festival
Community concert at Two Moors Festival © Two Moors Festival

So on to the next knock-on effect: tourism. The aim in 2001 was to bring inspiration back to an area that had lost almost everything due to the foot and mouth crisis. Many were suffering from personal heartache and depression. It was imperative to put some cheer back into people’s lives. This was our original intention.

But what happened was that many visitors came from outside the area too – almost a third of concert-goers – who then stayed at local hotels and B&Bs. They started to make a holiday out of the event. A typical visitor will spend three or four days, staying in one place and driving all over the moors in order to go to as many concerts as they can. Many audience members are also keen walkers; it is often a combination of a strapping hike over wild countryside, taking in a recital along the way and then, having built up an appetite, enjoying a rich cream tea for good measure.

As a direct result, income has increased for small businesses. The most recent estimate suggests that GBP400,000 (€445,000) was injected into the local economy during the ten days of the festival. While this may not seem more than a drop in the ocean in global terms, it is a welcome boost to those whose livelihoods depend on tourism. It is especially important as the money comes outside the usual tourist season.

Finally, the festival brings community benefits. Over the years Two Moors Festival has brought a lot of joy to people’s lives. School children have been introduced to classical music at concerts and during workshops – funnily enough, it is invariably Bach that sparks the most interest and not anything heard on Radio 1! Children love stories and the moment one plays, say, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf they latch on to the themes in a major way.

Many living in remote places have been given access to music through the festival – those who don’t have the opportunity of going into the bigger towns or cities to hear live music of any kind. Further, through the festival children (and adults) have been given ample projects in which to participate whether it be a choir (for choral works and Tarka the Otter, the opera commissioned in 2006), an orchestra or the Young Musicians competition, which is now of a very high standard.

The festival has brought people together. There is often little community feel in some villages and the concerts that take place make good conversation and gossip. There are also volunteers to be found in different areas who offer splendid accommodation to artists, and this is something that they really like to do – they feel involved. The concerts bring happiness, joy, an a sense of fun and commitment. Local residents like to be appreciated and they like to offer the best honey and clotted cream to take home.

Two Moors Festival runs annually every October across Dartmoor and Exmoor, and this year from 13-21 October. For the full programme of events visit the festival website