Souters say aye to YES arts festival

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SELKIRK is planning a new contemporary arts festival next September, writes Sandy Neil.

The four-day YES festival, which stands for Yarrow, Ettrick and Selkirk, aims to celebrate the natural, built and social environment of the town and surrounding valleys.

The programme focuses on live performance, visual art and the spoken word, and makes use of many venues around the area, such as village halls, empty premises, shops, existing galleries, artists’ studios and The Haining.

The festival will also support smaller-scale events and exhibitions within the town and in rural locations, promote active participation by all ages living locally and commission new artworks.

“It’s a great chance to show off the terrific talent in Selkirk and the valleys,” one of the event’s co-directors, Lawrence Robertson, told TheSouthern, “and put us on the creative map. We sensed there was a lot of art being created in the area, but anyone arriving in the Market Place wouldn’t know it was there. This gives it a chance to be shown.”

The idea was initiated by the Selkirk Regeneration Company (SRC), a community-based company with charitable status set up just three years ago in 2009, which aims to improve the quality of life in and around the town. “It was just the right thing for us to do,” explained Mr Robertson, an SRC director: “It’ll be very good for Selkirk and the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys.”

A steering group of five event directors, composed of Lawrence, Jenna Agate, Judy Steel, Mary Morrison of the Creative Arts Business Network and the general manager of Peebles’ Eastgate Theatre, Caroline Adam, toiled for several months to turn the idea into reality.

“We’re now ready to move up several gears,” Mr Robertson revealed, as the group advertised for a project development officer to put their plans into action.

According to the advert, the group’s long-term aims is to “establish YES festival as a biennial event which engages with local and national audiences and contributes to the cultural, economic and social life of Selkirk and the surrounding areas.”

The YES festival enriches an already flourishing cultural scene in the Royal Burgh, with the Flodden 500 commemorative events over two weeks in September 2013, Selkirk Sessions every October and the annual Scott’s Selkirk on the first weekend of December.

The Haining also aspires to host more arts events, such as the Children’s Book and Storytelling Festival last Saturday, which organisers hope could become another annual fixture on Selkirk’s cultural calendar.

Selkirk’s new YES festival is, Mr Robertson said, “all part of a surge in interest to make things happen in the town,” citing as more examples the £1.4million regeneration bid to Historic Scotland, the Community Action Plan 2012-15 and the opening of the Market Place’s new pop-up shop ‘48’ last week.

More pop-up shops are planned by Selkirk’s Chamber of Trade, which is actively trying to reverse the town’s 30 per cent drop in footfall between 208-11 – the biggest drop in all Border towns. YES festival organisers also hope visitors can increase income for local businesses and traders.

“There’s a lot of good initiatives,” Mr Robertson added: “We’re very gratified by the response we’ve had – there’s an appetite in the town to see this happen.”