Preston has been urged to be “a city that dreams big” as preparations for one of its biggest cultural events get underway.
Council bosses have this week issued a sneak preview of what revellers can expect from this year’s Lancashire Encounter Festival.
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The weekend extravaganza of arts and culture returns in September for its second instalment, billed as “bigger and better” than before.
Coun Peter Kelly, cabinet lead for the authority’s cultural output, says it can be a stepping stone for grander ambitions.
He told the Post: “We need to be a city that dreams big. We may be a new city but that shouldn’t hold us back.
“If you dream small you may meet your expectations every time but if you dream big you can achieve a lot more.
“Lancashire Encounter is about us thinking big and saying we are going to do this for the people of Lancashire.”
The biennial festival - interspersed with the smaller scale Brief Encounter - launched two years ago to keep the city’s cultural offering ticking over in between Preston Guilds.
The previous events have brought around 36,000 visitors into the city, the council has said.
To whet the appetite, a few details of this year’s celebration have been released including performances by a 300-strong community choir and a colourful procession by performance groups from across the county tasked with showcasing the best of their individual areas.
Also featuring will be a “thrilling” performance by the renowned NoFit State Circus.
Last month council leaders approved a budget of more than £215,000 for the three day festival including a £95k Arts Council grant in addition to contributions of £25k from the University of Central Lancashire, £3k from the Community Gateway Association and £28k from the Without Walls arts organisation.
The council will itself provide £40k with additional funds expected through sponsorship and other grants.
Coun Kelly said: “The Guild is of course the one that people look forward to and families and generations across the city have always been involved in.
“But in the meantime, we want everyone to know there is something else. We want to show that the city can produce these large scale events.
“It all takes a lot of planning and we want it to truly be a Lancashire festival, that’s why we’ve been encouraging groups from across the county to get involved so everyone knows it is representative of them but held in Preston.
“We have such a rich heritage and we should embrace it.”
The festival will form part of a much wider schedule of events to take place this year in Preston including the Harris Live Outdoors live music showcase, the Caribbean Carnival, RockPrest, the return of Preston Pride.
As the Harris Museum having secured Arts Council funding for the next four years, Coun Kelly says the benefits for the city in staging regular events shows to arts funding organisations that they are “serious” about their cultural commitments.
And with the new Markets Hall recently opened - adding additional performance space to the city - the Encounter festival will be an opportunity for the city to work together, Coun Kelly said.
He added: “When the cultural economy is rich, it benefits everyone. We will be working with shops and businesses to make sure everything in the city centre is seamless.
“It’s a great opportunity for Preston to show off all that it has to offer. The programme is shaping up to be a fantastic mix of performances and experiences from artists and groups across Lancashire.
“Manchester and Liverpool are doing their own things on a larger scale but it has taken them years to get there and at some point there will have been decision to focus on their culture and art offerings. We’re on that journey.”
Further announcements about the line-up for Lancashire Encounter is expected in the lead up to September, the council said.
And expectations are high that it can eclipse its debut, when the showpiece event was a torchlight parade - led by a giant figure - that lit up the city centre.
Coun Kelly added: “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s one of those things that takes a lot of time and effort (to organise) but then as it approaches it is wonderful to see it all come together.
“From where we’ve come from in 2012 when we came up with the idea to bridge the gap between the Guilds, we’ve come a long way.
“Now people are expectant of what is happening next, and that’s very important. It’s a great time for the city.”
Lancashire Encounter takes place Friday September 21 to Sunday 23 at venues across the city centre, including the Harris Museum and Art Gallery.
Performances include BLOCK by Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus, a Lancashire Revue by producer George Harris and the Encounters Outreach Community Choir.
BLOCK is a piece of performance art that sees “dance and circus collide”.
A spokesman said: “ 20 oversized blocks are deconstructed and reformed into an infinite variety of shapes for the performers to play on, move with and explore.
“What happens when dance and circus collide? When they converge, rub against each other, blend into one another?
“The modern city is a nest teeming with activity.
“Human life streams through it. BLOCK is about living in the city, its contradictions and its challenges.
“Living large, living fast and sometimes living in the cracks, this extraordinary cast stay on their toes to survive and thrive in the world of blocks.”