Whether you're a budding artist, or your creative career's yet to bloom, the John Hughes Arts Festival is open to allSatya Amin and Posy Putnam

If you’re seeking a break from work next weekend, look no further. On Friday, the John Hughes Arts Festival at Jesus College kicks off, with a whole three days of events accompanying the open-hang gallery that is the festival’s main feature. In Jesus’s Roost Café, I meet Astrid and Sorcha, this year’s directors, to chew the cud about their vision for the event this year. In keeping with my column’s theme, I also want to draw out their thoughts on the impact artmaking in Cambridge can have on students here.

"It's a full weekend of things you can do to forget you're in Cambridge for a bit" - Astrid, this year's co-director of the JHAF

“What’s special about JHAF is that we’re encouraging the community to take time out from work,” Astrid says. “It’s a full weekend of things you can do to forget you’re in Cambridge for a bit.” She explains how she has submitted a piece of her GCSE artwork for the festival, emphasising that the weekend is meant to inspire people to pick up creative exploits they might have left off – “I used to do things like that; maybe I could do them again”. “Since the festival is in Week Four, it’s encouraging people to take a break,” Sorcha adds. “We wanted to make sure it was balanced from a welfare point of view.”

The festival is also committed to an ethos of inclusivity. Lots of submissions to the open-hang gallery were created at Jesus Art Club, but non-Jesus students, Cambridge alumni and members of the wider non-student community in Cambridge are all welcome to submit. As proof, the gallery this year will be mixing up media, featuring everything from giant fabric flags to poems stitched with painstaking detail onto paper. The committee, moreover, is made up of a diverse range of students studying everything from English to Law. And to top that, Astrid and Sorcha have relocated the festival’s linchpin, the gallery, to the Marshall Room, at the centre of Jesus. “We want to bring the college and the wider community together.”

"We wanted to make sure it was balanced from a welfare point of view" - Sorcha, this year's co-director of the JHAF

Why did they choose to get involved in the festival? “I really enjoy organising events and have done a lot of that throughout my three years at Cambridge,” Sorcha smiles. Astrid was on the JHAF committee last year and sought an additional challenge this time around. “It was a stressful time, but really rewarding when the whole thing came together,” she comments. “I wanted to see if I could take charge of organising something similar this year.”

But, crucially, the directors' aim to bring the festival back to its roots this year. It was originally founded in 2015 to commemorate the life of John Hughes, Jesus’s late Dean of Chapel and a reliable friendly presence in college. As it enters its sixth year, the directors are keen to remember why the festival began, especially as most students who were at Jesus while John was there will have left by now. The theme of “evergreen” links in with remembrance – as Sorcha puts it, “a way to keep John’s legacy going”. And having worked on the committee last year, Astrid was always keen to try out a different vision for the event: “It was important to me to bring the festival back to John and back to the centre of college; to bring it back to a feeling rather than it being just an artistic show.”

it's for anyone in dire need of a break or looking to rediscover their misplaced artistic side

The festival may be green in name, but it is no less so in nature. One event is a collaboration with VeganSoc for colouring and cake, and Sorcha and Astrid also express their desire to use found objects and materials rather than making new stuff for the festival. They have only printed a select number of flyers to give to fellows who may not be on social media. Otherwise, the event is being propagated on the trusty web. And with a team of thirty people working on the festival, getting the word round is easier than it seems.


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In their directorship, Astrid and Sorcha are aiming at “that feeling of trying things with people that you might not have tried before”. The calligraphy workshop organised as part of the festival, for example, is designed for beginners above all. “You’re not going to be a master calligrapher by the end of it,” of course, but that’s not the point. This is a festival for everyone in Cambridge, not just for confirmed arty types – it’s for anyone in dire need of a break or looking to rediscover their misplaced artistic side. Even if we might have left off art for a couple of years or feel we don’t have time for it in Cambridge, JHAF will remind us that these skills are evergreen.

The John Hughes Arts Festival opens on Friday 7th February at 8pm at the Marshall Room in Jesus College. A programme of events can be found on the JHAF Facebook page.

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