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Charleston Festival: From Pottery to Politics

Updated: Apr 29

Surrounded by green fields there is a house full of paint. Walls and doors and bathtubs have been used as canvases, history has been made. This is the house where artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant lived, their own relationship as fascinating as the house they shared.

For 35 years the house has also played host to a festival that brings together a line-up of artists, writers and changemakers. We are going to be there this year for the first time and we can’t wait!

The programme is a gorgeous mixture of creativity and forward-thinking (sometimes at the same time) and we’ve handpicked some of the events we don’t think you should miss!

On Art

“What constitutes art and who gets to be an artist?” This is the question celebrated potter Grayson Perry, artist Dannielle Hodson and charity director Marc Steene will be asking and answering, as they discuss non-traditional ways of working, creating in unlikely situations and what it means to make art on the margins. Book your tickets here.

Iconic art duo Gilbert & George have made a career from challenging and entertaining, with work that is necessarily personal and deeply serious. They will be in conversation with Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, to discuss life, art, provocation and transgression. Tickets are available here.

If you miss tickets for Grayson Perry’s talk there’s another chance to hear from a potter later in the programme. Cult potter Florian Gadsby is going to be in conversation with Rose Schmits (The Great Pottery Throwdown) to talk about the beauty that can be found in small things, and exploring what our relationships to process reveals about us. Book here.

On Politics

War photographer Don McCullin has documented some of the most violent conflicts of the late 20th century. He’ll be talking to photography journalist Sean O’Hagan about the ethical challenges of capturing images of conflict at its harshest. Find out more and get your ticket here.

Sketch writer John Grace (The Guardian) and comedian and writer Rosie Holt will be speaking to Isabel Hardman (The Spectator) about the country’s distrust in our elected officials and the absurdity of our political landscape. And they’ll be bringing plenty of humour to the conversation. Book your ticket here.

Who will hold the reins of global power in the future? Journalist Sathnam Sanghera and former UN advisor to the USA Peter R. Neumann will be examining the legacy of the British Empire and colonial rule, how global power structures have shifted and will shift, and the new world order the future might hold. Book here.

On Literature

I love Olivia Laing’s writing and I love gardens so I’m really excited to hear Laing talking about her new book ‘The Garden Against Time: In Search of a Common Paradise’, which investigates the story of the garden, and gardens as a space for possibility and for dreamers. Tickets are available here.

As a queer collective, we are always drawn to queer stories, and poet Seán Hewitt and artist Luke Edward Hall’s new book 300,000 kisses is going straight on our bookshelf. They’ll unveil queer stories of the ancient world, reflecting on the Greek and Roman traditions of love and desire, and our modern relationship to lust. Book here.

Who doesn’t love a literary monster? Award-winning author A.K.Blakemore (The Manningtree Witches) and Mark O’Connell’s (A Thread of Violence) are going to exploring our fascination with dark characters in literature, and why writers often seek to evoke empathy for monstrous characters. Book your ticket here.

I can’t help but mention one last event: my family are all actors so the idea of having living legends Judi Dench and Bill Nighy on a stage together is a pretty electric one. They’ll be looking back at Judi Dench’s astonishing career, and talking about the magical space of theatre. Find out more here.

Charleston Festival 2024 promises a brilliantly curated and varied programme covering everything from pottery to politics and we can’t wait for it!

The festival runs from the 16th-27th May at Charleston House. You can view the full programme here.

Photo credits: Charleston Festival 2023 - Lewis Ronald

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