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Lancaster has had several prominent cultural venues for a long time, but it has particularly developed as a city of culture and the arts in the last 50 years since the University was formed. The city’s existing venues were The Grand Theatre, which has been standing since 1782, and The Storey Institute, built in 1898. These are still going strong, and more and more venues and events have emerged in recent years.
The Grand has seen the likes of Lee Evans and John Bishop walk its stage, and presents a variety of different musical and theatrical performances every month. The Storey has been remodeled and is becoming more and more diverse in its presentation of art exhibitions, theatre, and creative enterprises, all housed under one roof. The gallery space itself has seen several collaborations with Lancaster University, which shows the strong links between art and culture in the city and on campus. This included an exhibition last year, ‘The Beauty of Science’, in association with the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC), which paired a display of images, photography and model animations, with a series of talks by speakers from the University’s science departments.
The Storey is also home to Lancaster Litfest, which has been running since 1978. The Litfest event includes traditional author talks, poetry readings, workshops, and even offers publishing and professional development advice; it acts as an incredible resource for students of the University, as well as benefiting from staff members from the Literature department taking part in the event, allowing the University and the city a partnership beneficial to both sides. Litfest also founded the Lancaster Arts Partnership, which binds all cultural venues in the city together in order to promote and expand the potential of Lancaster to be an arts city, and this brings together venues both in the city and on campus.
In association with Litfest, The Storey also holds a weekly open-mic session called Spotlight, which invites poets, writers, musicians and comedians to take the stage and try out their own material. This is an impressive way of giving new voices the chance to be heard, and the opportunity to develop in a positive, and friendly atmosphere.
Lancaster is not home to just one theatre venue in The Grand either, but in 1971 The Dukes Theatre opened to the public. Not only is this venue a theatre, but also it houses a cinema, which shows a variety of new and old releases; it is certainly worth keeping an eye on The Dukes’ cinema schedule, which often screens films that have not made it into the multiplexes. The Dukes could not have opened without the support of the University, alongside aid from the British Film Institute and the Arts Council, which shows once more how the University has been able to contribute to expanding the city’s art and culture.
Even more recently, Lancaster Arts City and Lancaster City Council have teamed up to create ‘Light Up Lancaster’, a fantastic yearly event that is popular with local families and students alike. The event is completely free and, last year, took over a large part of the city, featuring a variety of illuminations, art, music, and dance. What intrigued me most was ‘Light up the Waterways’ which illuminated parts of the canal up to the Lune Aqueduct, an exciting location for a lights performance in the dark. The culmination of this four day festival is the spectacular Lancaster Firework Display, which has been launched from the castle the last few years, providing a spectacular backdrop to the flares. This is an example of an event helped by the University, because many of the stewards assisting at the event were students. Having such a strong community of willing volunteers at the University allows such large scale events to run smoothly and thus greatly benefits Lancaster’s cultural aims.
The Arts City council has also developed ‘First Fridays’ in association with the cultural venues of Lancaster, and the University’s own Live at LICA. This was launched in 2012 and aims to make the arts accessible to everyone, allowing people to try new things on the first Friday of every month. There is even an app now which you can download to keep in touch with not just First Fridays’ events, but also to find out what else is on in Lancaster. The University then, has definitely been key to Lancaster developing as a city of arts and culture. You’re only here for three years and both campus and the city have a lot to offer, so go out and try something a bit different.