It’s all in the Mind

Vanessa Toulmin
Vanessa Toulmin
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AS festivals go, it sounds exciting enough – 10 days of gigs, plays, magic shows and art exhibitions held across Sheffield and centred on a huge 300 capacity spiegeltent in Barker’s Pool.

“We’d like it to rival Tramlines for visitor numbers,” says organiser Vanessa Toulmin.

The inside of the spiegeltent which will appear in Barker's Pool for Sheffield's inaugural Festival Of The Mind

The inside of the spiegeltent which will appear in Barker's Pool for Sheffield's inaugural Festival Of The Mind

There will be a rocket launch in Weston Park, hordes of street entertainers patrolling the city centre and up to 14 hours a day of free performances in that big top.

The unusual thing?

This will be a £500,000 extravaganza – exclusively revealed in The Diary today – dedicated to what may initially appear to be a somewhat dry subject: academic research.

Teachers and scholars from Sheffield University to host – and star in – the inaugural Sheffield Festival Of The Mind taking place in September. Mathematicians, physicists, historians, engineers and designers will stage shows in a bid to illustrate how the work they do is relevant to us all.

The spiegeltent which will appear in Barker's Pool for Sheffield's inaugural Festival Of The Mind

The spiegeltent which will appear in Barker's Pool for Sheffield's inaugural Festival Of The Mind

But – wait, come back! – they promise there won’t be a traditional lecture in sight.

“This will be huge,” says Vanessa, head of cultural engagement with the university. “It’s about showing Sheffielders the work and research we do at the university is important, and to show we’re part of the city and not just some institution on the hill.”

So, among the 80 free events held in that specially-built spiegeltent, will be plays staged by the history faculty; gigs featuring local bands arranged by the music department; poetry readings courtesy of English scholars; and magic shows organised by the school of psychology. It will open from about 8am to 10pm every day with a bar inside.

Physics experts, meanwhile, will oversee a model rocket launch at a fun fair-style day in Weston Park; while several departments will put on shows in Ponderosa Park.

Archaeologists will stage a mock Time Team-style dig outside the Town Hall; a digital display – potentially being exhibited on big screens in the Peace Gardens and Tudor Square – will show ‘50 ways to improve Sheffield’; and some 70 of the city’s advertising billboards will be commandeered to display work by artists and photographers.

The uni’s science labs will be open one evening allowing families to explore the work that goes on there.

The extravaganza – funded by the university but with significant help in kind from Sheffield City Council – will be based around five themes: magic, city, space, craft and identity.

City drama companies, music studios and art galleries have all teamed up with the university to ensure shows are completely professional.

“There is really nothing else like this in the country,” says Vanessa, who, is in charge of the university’s National Funfair Archive and who, outside of her university work, also organises London’s huge biennial Circus Festival. “There is an ideas festival in Cambridge but that is a much more traditional presentation of research.

“This is about providing something that is free and fun for the whole family, while showcasing the creative skills right here in the city.

“We want there to be a feeling in Sheffield over those 10 days that something big is going on, that it’s an exciting time to be here.

“It’s the first one so it’s very much a learning curve but we see no reason why this can’t become one of the highlights of the city’s calendar.”

n The Festival Of The Mind runs September 20 – 30. An exact schedule of events will be unveiled during the summer.