Festival mania: George Town Festival
This inimitable island has become the go-to-place for festival lovers over the last few years and James Lochhead clues you in on the ones that you should make time for
In 2008, George Town was officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in recognition of its unique characteristics in terms of both built’ and ‘intangible’ heritage. Cue annual celebrations, which first started as a small two-day event but which within four years have now become a full-blown, month-long extravaganza that is the George Town Festival.
This is an amazing celebration of all things George Town. Its programme now includes art, opera, music, dance, theatre, poetry, film, food, fashion, photography, and much more. It combines celebration of Penang’s diverse and traditional cultures with contemporary performances that will take your breath away. You can expect lots of free activities and events, as well as high-end, invitation only shows, and all else in between. There will be things going on in rooms, galleries, theatres; there will be plenty going on in the streets and in the parks. In other words, there will be lots for everyone, for every pocket, all month long. And if 2011 is anything to go by, we can expect some highclass international and regional performers and artists to give extra colour and opportunity for audiences to revel in excitement. So choose your preference, or simply come to Penang for the whole duration – there’ll be something for everyone.
Festival Director Joe Sidek talks of the ambition to both promote arts and culture in Penang as well as stimulate Penang’s economy and its value as a tourism destination: ‘That means we work with a huge range of stakeholders including community groups, cultural organisations, arts activists, business groups, hoteliers, tour guides, companies, government agencies, regional groups. It’s exciting, it’s a challenge, and we just hope we can build on the tremendous success of last year.
One part of the festival will be called ‘The Tapestry of Cultures’ where the myriad traditions of the different ethnic groups that make up inner-city George Town are celebrated through performances, open houses, exhibitions and craft demonstrations. This year, we hear there may be invitations extended to troupes in regional neighbours like Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia to showcase their traditional performing arts, especially those that are ‘endangered’. That would be a great chance to catch some not-to-bemissed events.
The festival will also be a unique chance to savour the many heritage landmarks in George Town, with private homes also opening their doors to visitors. In 2011, you could have joined in a heritage bicycle ride where you can whiz by the iconic Fort Cornwallis, Islamic Museum, Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion and Suffolk House, the newly renovated St. George’s Church, all the different Kongsi and more. The George Town Festival is strongly supported by the Penang State Government and further sponsorship is highly encouraged. If you have the means, why not sponsor an event or two? You’d be helping this celebration of the diversity and heritage that makes up this fabulous city.
When June 15 – July 15
Where Venues throughout George Town
Cost Varies considerably according to event but many are free so check the programme