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Manya Benenson - Derby Festé Interview

A flagship outdoor arts festival for the East Midlands, Derby Festé celebrates its 15th year with another fantastic programme of jaw-dropping performing arts and events this September. Since its inauguration in 2007, Festé has built a reputation for presenting work of national and international recognition, attracting over 30,000 visitors across Derby. Filled with immersive, innovative, and ground-breaking pieces showcased around the city of Derby, there’s something for audiences of all ages during the two-day celebration, which this year investigates environmental issues and new ways of looking at and tackling them.

Look Mum No Hands. Performers Danielle Summers and Laura Dajao. Photo by Rachel Hardwick

Ahead of the 2023 festival taking place on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd September with an exciting array of events taking place throughout the city. I chatted Manya Benenson, the creative programme manager of Derby Festé to discuss the event.

Where did the origins for Derby Festé begin and what does your role entail?
This year Feste is 15 years old. In its first year it marked the opening of the Westfield Derby shopping centre (now Derbion) and then, the following year, the opening of QUAD arts centre. Like the city itself, Derby Festé has previously grown in size and stature.

15 years of ambitious programming and dedicated partnership across a range of cultural partners in the city has built a bold Festival with a strong identity and a big heart. Festé brings over 30,000 people together, to line the streets and pavements of Derby city centre over two days in September.
What have been your highlights of working on Derby Festé?
Working closely with artists and performers and our small but dedicated team, to make their wonderful acts shine in our city.
Working out how audiences can best enjoy the experience of the festival especially the procession on Saturday night and producing inventive solutions with partners!
What can people expect from the Festé this year?
The programme is packed with over 50 acts and moments of surprise, awe, and wonder for everyone to experience. We strongly believe the arts are for everyone and this year it felt more important than ever to make almost every event free of charge.

We hope there will be intimate moments, of dance, storytelling and puppetry coupled with all-encompassing moments of giant wheels turning, acrobatic spins and leaps, and vertical dancers abseiling form the Silk Mill. It is a big, bold, and bright festival this year.

And yet, it’s also a transformative one. Déda’s Chapel Street is getting turned into a skate park, Illuminos will be lighting up the Guildhall and changing it into Toyota City to celebrate a 25-year link between our two cities, and there is a Dance VR piece in Derby Cathedral, as well as a tented village of workshops on Cathedral Green.

Totems. Photo by Simon Garnier

There are two integral ingredients to Festé - the Headline Act and Procession – so we have moulded both things together in what we hope will be a spectacular Processional extravaganza to close Saturday night. We wanted to combine the magic of the professional acts with the joy and enthusiasm of our communities and joining together side-by-side to create an unforgettable procession in Derby. It will be huge. It will ambitious. It will fill the river side with colour.
How do you approach what events/performances fill the line up?
Earth and Water and a little bit of Fire!

We try a find something different that will surprise and excite people. Particularly following Covid. It felt important to find work that allows people to feel joy and to connect with each other. An environmental theme strongly resonated with artists, so this year’s procession has drawn its inspiration from the river Derwent and there are also several acts which reference the importance of protecting our planet in different ways. We have tried to select a diverse mix of acts and present a range of high-quality outdoor arts disciplines. This year there are well Over 150 Artists, works from France, Spain across the UK, and Home-grown talent from Derby and Derbyshire.
What keeps you inspired as a creative?
Seeing Artists work, especially work that is innovative and pushes the boundaries. I enjoy supporting artists in developing their work and helping to find opportunities to extend how they can work with communities. It inspires me when people working together to find creative solutions or ways to present new and exciting work that have not been done like this before. Building our confidence as a city to present work in new ways and push the bounds of what is possible together. In doing this we make Culture accessible and relevant to people and their daily lives. Art and Culture brings people together, it’s a force for good, a positive way to find meaning and interpret life, to create new experiences and memories, hopefully for a long time to come.
Can you sum up Derby Festé in just 3 words?
Brave, Bold, and Joyous.

Derby Festé runs across Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd September 2023. To find out the full line up of events and more information visit

Finale. Photo by Delrevés

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