As previously reported, Barry Smith has stepped down after ten years as coordinator of the Festival of Chichester. The voluntary role will be taken on for next year by newcomer Mark Elliott, a Sussex-born travel writer and former tour guide.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” says Mark. “Barry has been coordinating the festival since its inception and I can’t hope to replicate his vast experience and range of contacts. Perhaps the main aspect that I can bring to the role is my enthusiastic naivety, an open mind and a willingness to get stuck in.”
Mark is the author/co-author of over 70 books – mostly travel guides written for Lonely Planet and Trailblazer covering destinations from Azerbaijan to Belgium, Iran to Denmark, Turkey to Taiwan, Greenland to Siberia… Though he has lived on five continents he returned to a Sussex base in 2011 and has lived in Chichester since 2016. He has since been an occasional volunteer at the New Park Cinema bar and is part of the front-of-house team at the Novium – our city museum.
Having been an enthusiastic attendee of the Festival of Chichester events in recent years, he is now excited to find himself on the ‘other side’ as part of the committee that makes it happen.
“I love the way that the festival is ‘democratic’ in facilitating local people to organise the events they want rather than prescribing what they will get – a strength that I have only recently come to appreciate. As coordinator I hope that I might be able to help spread the word to more people about the festival’s possibilities and encourage a wider range of participants to take the plunge and put on a greater spread of experiences. I am in awe of what the small group of volunteer organisers has managed to achieve over the past decade and will do my best to be a worthy part of this tightly-knit team in the years to come.”
Though a writer rather than a performer, theatre is in Mark’s blood, his parents having met through the Wick Theatre Company, a Sussex amateur dramatics group based at Southwick near Brighton. Although studying chemistry, at university Mark became arts editor of the Palatinate student newspaper and the president of the Durham Union Society – the prestigious student debating society. Later, while doing a PGCE at Bath University he also studied TV Production and did a Blues Show on college radio – though fortunately for his listeners, not subjecting them to his own very basic skills as a blues harmonicist. Later, while living for three years as a teacher in rural Japan, he was part of a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which entirely bemused an audience of local rice-farming pensioners. Mark’s love of African music stems from a five-month sojourn in a 42-house village in The Gambia where he witnessed first-hand the power of dance as something transformative and a source of joy even where people are living in extreme poverty. But he also loves classical music, and has indelible memories as a child of the frisson of listening to his first ever orchestral concert – Dvorak played in the magical environment of Chichester Cathedral.
“Now things have really come full circle” he muses, “and I will be part of the team that makes concerts like that happen. I feel happy to think that I’ll be doing my own small bit to bring inspiration to the latest generation of children, much as that concert did to the wide-eyed 9-year-old me half a century ago.”
Read an article in the Chichester Observer, 4 October 2022
Meet the Festival of Chichester team.