Our history

Members of the festival founding committee receiving a Community Award for Contribution to the Arts from television presenter Fred Dinenage

A festival phoenix from the ashes

Everyone who cared for the cultural life of the city was devastated when it was announced that the 2012 Chichester Festivities would be the last. Having promoted such a wonderful range of arts-related events over many years, the Festivities had become a Chichester institution. A dreadful gap suddenly loomed in the cultural life of the city.

For some of us, this thought was too much to bear. Chichester is a city of culture boasting national gems like the Festival Theatre and Pallant House Gallery, not to mention the vibrant cultural life associated with the Cathedral. It could not be allowed to happen. Something had to be done – and so it was that at a public meeting held in the Council Chamber that the Festival of Chichester came into being as the natural successor to the late, lamented Festivities.

With the active support of the Chichester Observer, the Cathedral authorities, the city council, the library service and local arts organisations, a voluntary committee set about filling the gap. Serving on this founding committee were Anne Scicluna, then the current city mayor, Dr Anthony Cane, chancellor of the cathedral, Phil Hewitt, the chairman, the arts editor of the Observer, Felicity Masters from WSCC library service, Roger Redfarn, a theatre director, Helen Watt from Johnson Press and Barry Smith, director of Chichester Poetry, as festival co-ordinator.

A flood of entries for that first 2013 festival ensured there would be continuity and no missing summer, no empty year in the Chichester festival calendar. We even had star names with former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, the brilliant Hanover Band and legendary pop icon Geno Washington. It was a bit of a miracle really as the first festival was launched and run entirely on goodwill.

Since that first festival in 2013, we’ve been delighted to work with groups and performers locally and nationally to develop what is now one of the largest festivals in the south, bringing audiences in from not just the city and surrounding area, but the wider region.

Every year we have visitors from across the country and even internationally to enjoy the distinctive menu we provide of the best of Chichester alongside the visiting stars. During the festival month, there’s a real buzz to the city with festival events in churches, halls, theatres, museums, art galleries, outdoors and in many unexpected places. Posters and banners proclaim the festival fare – and, of course, visitors enjoy shopping in our busy streets and supporting our local businesses.

The festival is now one of the key events in the Sussex tourist calendar, alongside Goodwood, the Festival Theatre, the Pallant Gallery and all the other iconic attractions the district has to offer.

In 2022 Barry Smith stood down as Coordinator and Mark Elliott took his place. In the same year Kate Mosse became the festival’s first president.