Use your imagination: Maxine Peake, Jeremy Deller, Jeanette Winterson & friends launch a new festival

Polly Checkland Harding
Maxine Peake by Jonty Wilde for Manchester International Festival

Selfridges Festival of Imagination shines a welcome, creative light during the darkest months.

Festivals these days are ten a penny. Everywhere has one. Everyone is doing one, has been to one, has a little events line-up tucked into their back pocket ready to produce with a flourish on a rainy day. There are boutique festivals, urban ones, one-dayers and the mother of them all – and arguably the behemoth that began the whole jamboree – Glastonbury. But you don’t get many festivals in January, and fewer still inside a British retail emporium.

Step forward the Festival of Imagination, Selfridges’ response to the gloomy post-sales period. It’s a festival that takes place simultaneously in the company’s stores in London, Manchester and Birmingham, celebrating, as the name suggests, that which lies behind almost all creative and scientific achievement: the power of the imagination.

It features talks by the likes of Maxine Peake, Jeanette Winterson & Jeremy Deller

In Manchester, the festival features talks by the likes of Maxine Peake, Jeanette Winterson and Jeremy Deller, as well as drop-in “imaginative” sessions that enable you to do something interesting with your lunch hour – such as take part in workshops run by the Alternative Camera Club and Manchester Urban Sketchers. Perhaps most exciting of all are plans to bring some of the Whitworth Gallery’s stellar collection into the Exchange Square Selfridges store itself, via a pop-up gallery that serves as a useful reminder of the Whitworth’s ongoing, £15m redevelopment.

The talks series, meanwhile, focuses on “creative conversations” between artists, designers, musicians, writers and innovators who have long collaborated with each other – and promises to reveal just how those at the top of their creative game actually work (it has been curated by Maria Balshaw). So, for example, Maxine Peake speaks to the artistic director of the Royal Exchange, Sarah Frankcom, in a talk that will be underpinned by Peake’s relationship to the Exchange (she becomes its Associate Artist in 2014) and by the fact that the pair are working on a radical reworking of Hamlet next autumn.

Jeremy Deller, Mary Anne Hobbs and Dave Haslam, meanwhile, examine the dark underbelly of the imagination – the trio have frequently worked together on art and music projects – and Maria Balshaw talks to long-time collaborator Richard Wentworth about the “artist’s mind”. Elsewhere, Jeanette Winterson expounds on the subject of writing and creativity, Helen Storey and Caryn Franklin chat about fashion, science and sustainability, and two of the UK’s most respected graphic and interior designers – Ben Kelly and Graphic Thought Facility’s Andrew Stevens – discuss what makes for a productive, creative working relationship.

All in all, it’s a thoughtful start to the New Year. And while it may well be the case that there are more festivals than there are grains of sand on the Gaddings Dam beach, this one at least supplies something to look forward to in the months usually best known for their decidedly un-festive feel. Download the Festival of Imagination calendar.

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