Festival announces new Chair

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Andy Stuart, John Case, Guy Fraser-Sampson, Linda Harland, Michael Sweeney, Jane Fitch

Rye Arts Festival appointed novelist Guy Fraser Sampson as the new Chair of Trustees at their AGM on Sunday February 24.

It is expected that the appointment will be for three years to take the Festival to its 50th birthday in 2021. Guy will lead the Board of Trustees in creating a three year strategy and gave a preview on what that strategy could look like.

It was recognised that the Festival faced increasing competition – both from local arts festivals as well as the growth of on-demand digital entertainment. This coupled with an ageing audience has led the Trustees to review the Festival’s scope. Further pressure has been placed on the Festival due to a drop in  2018 ticket sales, with the Festival making a loss of £21,600. Part of the reason for the loss was due to the poor ticket sales to last year’s headline opera, Les Mamelles de Tirésias. In addition, the box office IT system needed a costly upgrade.

The Trustees were confident that 2019’s Festival will be an artistic and financial success and a number of new initiatives will be put in place:

  • Tickets will go on sale earlier in the year. Members will be able to purchase tickets for some performances as early as April this year;
  • They will grow the local audience (defined as Ashford, Eastbourne, Tenterden, etc) and undertake outreach activities with local schools;
  • They will work to increase the number of Members. With 50% of ticket sales attributed to the circa.500 Members, growing the membership base is imperative. It was suggested that current Members could give a membership as a birthday gift to someone near and dear to them;
  • The Trustees will review their processes and continue to investigate what other comparable festivals do well, and start to plan a year or more in advance so they can book top artistic talent;
  • Finally, they will look to attract a new audience – the “professional festival goer” who we were told travels the country attending festivals.

The Festival Treasurer, John Phillips, made a plea for those Members who had not yet renewed their membership to do so by the end of March. To date, of the 500 Members, 150 had yet to renew their membership.

The outgoing Chair of Trustees, Mike Eve, was thanked for all his hard work in setting up the new CIO’s governance structure and leaves behind him a strong team of Trustees. But Mike isn’t withdrawing completely. He will remain involved as Chair of the Operating Committee of the Festival, who handle the day-to-day issues, and continue with the important job of fundraising and enlisting corporate sponsorship for the Rye Art Festival.

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird.

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