Celebrating 50 Years of Impact: Lichfield Arts

Charity Key Community Benefits/Initiatives 

For half a century, Lichfield Arts has been a beacon of hope and creativity in our  community. As we celebrate our 50th year anniversary, we reflect on the profound  impact we’ve had through our charitable initiatives. Our commitment to accessibility  and inclusion has allowed us to bring the transformative power of the arts to  everyone, regardless of background or circumstance. From outreach projects to  festivals, we’ve been at the forefront of driving positive change and fostering a sense  of belonging for all. 

 Value: Enriching Lives Through Art  

At Lichfield Arts, we believe in the inherent value of arts and culture to enrich lives  and uplift communities. Over the past five decades, we’ve witnessed first hand the  profound impact our programs have had on individuals from all walks of life. Whether  it’s through concerts, workshops, or outreach projects, our beneficiaries have  experienced the joy, inspiration, and personal growth that comes from engaging with  high-quality artistic experiences. As we mark our 50th year, we recommit ourselves  to providing meaningful and transformative experiences for all. 

 Emerging Talent: Nurturing Creativity for the Future  

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we look to the future with excitement and  determination to foster the next generation of artistic talent. Through engaging  events, immersive workshops, and empowering masterclasses, we’re dedicated to  cultivating creativity and excellence in young artists, providing aspiring talents with the support and resources they need to flourish, while ensuring that the arts continue to thrive for generations to come. 

 Sustainability: Building a Better Future Together  

Sustainability is the heart of everything we do at Lichfield Arts. From our development projects to our community initiatives, we’re committed to creating a lasting impact that supports and uplifts our community. By investing in projects that promote environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic resilience, we’re building a better future for generations to come.  

Growth: Evolving to Serve You Better 

As we commemorate our 50th year anniversary, we’re excited to embark on a new  chapter of growth and development. By listening to the needs of our community and  adapting to changing times, we’re committed to expanding our reach and impact.  

Through strategic partnerships, innovative programming, and a steadfast dedication  to our mission, we’re poised to continue serving our community for the next 50 years  and beyond. 

Here’s how you can engage with Lichfield Arts as we celebrate our 50th year:

Attend Live Events: Join us at the Lichfield Guildhall, The Cathedral Hotel, and other venues for live performances throughout 2024 and beyond. Experience the diversity of music genres we support, showcased by professional artists and emerging talents.

Participate in Festivals: Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the Lichfield Jazz and Blues Festival, the Fuse Festival, and the Lichfield Festival of Folk. These annual events, steeped in tradition and community spirit, offer outreach events and engagement activities for all ages.

Contribute to Emerging Talent Program: Support the Emerging Talent program, which provides young artists with opportunities to showcase their skills and connect with industry professionals. From songwriting competitions to performance opportunities, there’s a pathway for budding talent to flourish.

Engage in Outreach Projects: Get involved in outreach projects aimed at enriching the community through the arts. From working with local schools to collaborating with community interest groups, these projects foster creativity and connection.

Volunteer Your Time: Join our team of dedicated volunteers, who play a crucial role in making our events and projects a success. Whether you have skills in event planning, marketing, or technical production, your contribution is invaluable to our organisation.

Share Your Feedback: We value your input and strive to continuously improve our programs and services. Share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions to help shape the future of Lichfield Arts and ensure that we remain relevant and responsive to community needs.

Spread the Word: Help us spread the word about Lichfield Arts and our 50th year anniversary celebrations! By sharing our events and initiatives with your friends, family, and neighbours, you can help us reach new audiences and expand our community impact.

Support Sustainability: Recognise the importance of sustainability in our projects and events. By supporting our efforts to integrate volunteering opportunities into our organisation’s fabric and fostering a self-sustaining model, you contribute to the long-term success and impact of Lichfield Arts.

Celebrate Together: Join us in celebrating 50 years of creativity, community, and cultural enrichment. Your presence and participation make a meaningful difference as we continue to inspire and engage audiences for generations to come. 

Phil Beale, Chair of Lichfield Arts, shared his sentiments on this significant milestone: “As Chair of Lichfield Arts, I’m immensely proud of our 50th anniversary, a testament to our enduring impact. Here’s to celebrating our milestone and looking forward to continued creativity and community building.

Reflecting on its journey, Lichfield Arts expresses gratitude for the support of the community, volunteers, and partners. Together, remarkable milestones have been achieved, but the work is far from over. As Lichfield Arts embarks on the next fifty years, it remains committed to growing, evolving, and best serving the community through the power of the arts.

Lichfield Arts History

Our journey – 1974 to present

Lichfield Arts was formed in the early nineteen seventies by an enthusiastic team of volunteers who were keen to promote the arts in the city of Lichfield. Then called the Lichfield District Arts Association (LDAA), the organisation was formed as an umbrella for various different associations. They were the Archaeological Society, The Lichfield Society, The Operatic Society, The Society of Artists, The Lichfield Players, The Orchestral Society and Lichfield Camera Club

The 1970s

In 1968, a pivotal meeting took place at the Lichfield Guildhall, where representatives from various groups convened for the first time. During this meeting, a committee was formed, comprised of one member from each society. Their collective decision was to pool their fees into what would become the Lichfield and District Arts Association (LDAA).

The inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM) occurred on October 19, 1969, hosted at the Malt Shovel public house. The primary agenda was centered around deliberations regarding an intriguing proposition: the prospect of acquiring temporary accommodation in a structure formerly utilized as a Post Office.

Constructed in 1905, the Post Office on Bird Street had fallen into disuse in 1968, following its relocation to Baker’s Lane. Despite its abandoned state, the building retained its architectural charm. The offer of a short lease was accepted, and a team of dedicated volunteers faced numerous challenges in bringing this historic space back to life. These challenges included addressing issues such as flooding, navigating complexities related to the lease, and contending with the collapse of the neighbouring building. Undeterred, the volunteers persevered, marking the beginning of a transformative journey for this once-derelict but now thriving cultural hub.

A document written in the mid seventies by Tony Clayton Smith, the first Chairman of LDAA, was recently discovered in the Lichfield Arts archives while pulling together the information for this webpage. In it he explains the conditions facing the organisation when the Arts Centre first became available: 

“At that time we had no organisation, no home and no money but plenty of ideas and suggestions from everyone remotely connected with the arts….Then the Post Office was suggested. It had been empty for years and nobody knew what was going to happen to it.

Many of us remember the cold Saturday in February when we got the keys and discovered the parquet floor floating in a pool of water and the most remarkable collection of postal paraphernalia and dirt. We talked and talked and voted. By only two votes we decided to have a go (using the Arts centre as a venue), and with three months hard work and the help of Conduit Lands Trust we made it respectable and useable more or less – but oh so cold.

People used to come in and say ‘You’ll have to do something about this floor’, this to people who had spent the last twelve Sunday mornings sticking down parquet blocks with tar. We opened on time with Roger Wilkinson’s production of ‘Under Milkwood’ (believed to be the organisations first event) – a joint effort in the round and so very memorable.”

The derelict Post Office before its new purpose as the Arts Centre.

Despite these challenges the volunteers had the venue ready for its opening on the 30th September 1970. From this point the various societies paid hiring fees for the use of the Arts Centre for their meetings and events. The aims of the Arts Centre and the collective associations were as follows:

“…to co-ordinate local artistic activities, to provide help and facilities to local amateur societies and to provide, promote and finance professional arts and entertainment in the area.” 

In its inaugural year in 1971, the Arts Centre hosted a diverse array of activities, including art exhibitions, eighteen live performances, and was utilised over four hundred times for meetings, rehearsals, and performances.

Throughout the ensuing decades, the Arts Centre underwent a transformative phase marked by extensions, modernisation, and facility enhancements. The necessary funds for these developments were generated through successful fundraising events such as the popular New Year’s Ball, barbecues, and coffee evenings, which collectively raised substantial funds.

Financial support was also secured through grants from various trusts and local authorities. In 1975, a significant milestone was reached with the opening of the bar, coinciding with an extension to the building to further enhance its facilities. This revitalised Arts Centre, complete with its new extension, was formally inaugurated by the Earl of Lichfield in May 1976.

During the seventies, “The Night Out” became a standout and beloved feature of the Arts Centre, attracting notable celebrities of the time. Additionally, the annual children’s pantomime, a collaborative effort with the Civic Hall – no longer in existence – remained a cherished and popular event.

In 1974, what is now known as Lichfield Arts launched its first full season of events. Notably, this period witnessed the early performances of Jo Brand and Frank Skinner, who both marked their initial live gigs at the Arts Centre, laying the foundation for illustrious careers to come.

The 1980s

Into the 1980s and the Art Centre, and indeed Lichfield District Arts Association were still thriving, and the events held regularly had a strong local following who appreciated the vibrant, relaxed and high quality offerings. In a time when variety acts were extremely popular the pantomimes, magicians, comedy routines, impersonators and various other artists drew large audiences.

The Arts Centre was also hired out frequently at this point for weddings, functions, workshops, opera’s and birthday parties. Lichfield Players regularly performed with their youth theatre, and LDAA ran successful concerts featuring music in the genres of Folk, Blues, Jazz, Cajun, Roots and Rock.

Cinderella in 1982
Puss In Boots in 1984

It was during the 1980s that attending an event at the Art Centre would set back a customer the sum of £1.50, or for concessions 50 pence! In the days long before the internet, purchasing a ticket required completing a booking form and returning to the Arts Centre complete with a cheque and stamped self addressed envelope.

Some of the artists performing in those days are still firm favourites today, as in the image below of a young Mark Skirving of the ever popular King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, performing with Lichfield Arts over thirty years ago and still a popular crowd pleaser!

Mark Skirving from King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys performs at the Arts Centre circa late 1980s.

The 1990s

Despite the success of the organisation and its events, the venue itself had become dated and suffered structural issues which caused its closure by the mid nineties. The building has since been demolished and replaced by New Minster House, a new development with a restaurant, retail area and several apartments. Lichfield Arts needed a new home…..

The Arts Centre shortly before its closure in 1995.

A document in the Lichfield Arts archives dating from the time of the Arts Centre closure describes the need for a new venue and the uncertainty of the time as follows:

“…Volunteers who now look forward to a new century, inside a new building continuing the work begun twenty five years ago, contributing new ideas, keep what is good in the past and seeking to meet the demands of the people of Lichfield and District who have given so much support to the Arts at this venue. May the torch once lit never be extinguished.”

With the Arts Centre being closed in 1995 the organisation relocated to its current office in Donegal House on Bore Street. Without a performance venue of its own the Lichfield District Arts Association began to use venues across the city.

Despite the initial uncertainty, Lichfield Arts would thrive into the new century. The main concert venue became the Guildhall and with festivals now being an important and popular part of the programme of events, new homes were soon found for the annual Real Ale Jazz & Blues Festival at Lichfield Rugby Club and the Folk & Roots Festival also moving to the Guildhall. Outreach began to be more focused on education and events were tailored to the needs of the new venues and changing times.

With the Arts Centre gone the organisation would soon find innovative ways to meet the demands of the Millennium. The 1990s also saw the creation of the Lichfield Fringe Festival, initially in the Art Centre and later Stowe Fields.

In more recent years the Fringe would become Fuse, which today is one of the most popular and important free community festivals in the Midlands. The 1994 Fringe boasted 16 venues across the city as shown in the cover of the rather blandly presented (by todays standards) printed programme below.

Real Ale Blues & Jazz Festival Programme 1995
Fringe (Now Fuse) Festival Programme 1994

The 2000s

In the early 2000s, Lichfield Arts’ concerts resonated vibrantly within the Guildhall, and the organisation seamlessly acclimated to its relocated office in Donegal House. However, it was the festivals that truly soared to new heights during this period. Despite significant changes and the introduction of fresh challenges, the organisation steadfastly persevered, consistently delivering the innovative and high-quality events for which it had rightfully earned a commendable reputation over the preceding four decades.

Fuse in the early 2000s, health and safety has changed since then.

By the start of the second decade of the new century, Lichfield District Arts Association changed it’s name to Lichfield Arts and its status to a CIO (Charity Incorporated Organisation). It still retains the vibrant, community focused, diverse and well respected values it has stood for for so long, yet is always ready to meet new challenges and adapt to yet more change, while still retaining the tenacity and positive attitude that started the journey to where we are now fifty years ago. 

The Future

With an increased and dynamic social media presence and a strong desire to make a positive impact, Lichfield Arts will keep on constantly evolving, reinventing and remaining relevant, while meeting the demands of the social media and digital age, and facing the challenges and uncertainties of the modern world.  

As well as offering events and concerts in popular and valued venues in the city, Lichfield Arts is also enjoying a positive and successful relationship with several new venues, such as The Cathedral Hotel and Sandfields Pumping Station. The latter offering an industrial and unique setting for concerts. 

As we commemorate our 50th year anniversary, we’re excited to embark on a new chapter of growth and development. By listening to the needs of our community and adapting to changing times, we’re committed to expanding our reach and impact. Through strategic partnerships, innovative programming, and a steadfast dedication to our mission, we’re poised to continue serving our community for the next 50 years and beyond.

This is what Lichfield Arts is all about – our community enjoying live performance!