2008 Merchant City Festival

2008 Merchant City Festival

Inner city life

With the 2008 Merchant City Festival set to showcase some of the best events in Glasgow’s cultural calendar, Natalie Woolman finds out what’s in store.

Anyone who has cast their eye over the website for this year’s Merchant City Festival will have found the photograph of Baillie Gordon Matheson flicking through the festival programme while a pair of parkour performers jump around him. In suit and tie, the councillor for Merchant City and the chair of the festival grins as the two be-trainered freerunners throw shapes in the air, framing the image as they fly.

The photograph is emblematic of the four-day festival’s urban feel, during which all kinds of theatre, dance, visual art and music events will take over the Merchant City. The metropolitan aspect of the festival was vital to the committee’s vision. ‘We explicitly wanted a multi-arts, international, edgy, urban festival. You couldn’t have parkour taking place in some twee suburban location. It’s not of the nature of the expression,’ explains Matheson.

When I mention that the first World Freerun Championships were held in London at the beginning of September, Matheson is quick to assert that the committee’s inclusion of the urban sport was not derivative. ‘The arts scene in Glasgow is cutting-edge. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that there’s a co-incidence of parkour here and the international competition. We draw on trends across the world.’

Now in its seventh year, the Merchant City Festival is part of the regeneration of the area. Matheson describes the synergy between the restoration of the buildings and the arts festival: ‘The energy that created the regenerated buildings, the arts quarters, the streetscapes and so on, requires to express itself en fête. The festival has burst forth from that.’

A local presence was also at the top of the festival committee’s agenda; Merchant City currently has the fastest growing residential population in Glasgow and the programmers wanted them to have a stake in the event. One result is the ‘My Merchant City’ photography competition, for which those who live and work in the area were invited to snap their impressions and send them in to be judged. ‘The photographic competition is a way of ensuring that the residents are able to express what their home means to them,’ Matheson says.

Matheson himself has a non-stop festival weekend planned, taking in everything from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to the array of international street artists. ‘I’m going to be festivalled out by the end of it.’

Various venues, Glasgow, Thu 25-Sun 28 Sep. www.merchantcityfestival.com

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