Dorset is a region that’s crammed with art and culture. For opera lovers, the Dorset Opera Festival gives six performances of two fully staged operas every year. Many of the performers are aged 16 to 25 and are trained by a talented team with more than 40 years’ experience. The productions take place in The Coade Theatre in the dramatic neo-Georgian Bryanston School at Blandford Forum, with audiences picnicking in the lovely grounds in the intervals. One of the main venues for art is the Lighthouse in Poole, where the varied listings include theatre, family shows, comedy and dance productions all year round. National dance companies and touring ballets perform at the Lighthouse, and it is also the home of the acclaimed Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as well as housing an independent cinema.
Another picturesque artistic space in Bournemouth is the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum overlooking the pier. Completed in 1901 – the year that Queen Victoria died – it is one of the last Victorian houses ever built. Wander through the stunning house with its panelling and galleries to soak up the architecture and glamour: a particular treasure is the iconic Venus Verticordia, a Pre-Raphaelite beauty painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Victorian garden with its statues, fountain and stone grotto is well worth exploring. And some seven miles north of the city, Wimbourne is home to a contemporary crafts gallery housed in a beautiful old red-brick mill building. On-site artists work in disciplines ranging from silk weaving to print making.
During the summer months you’ll discover festivals most weekends, with one of the most notable being the Christchurch Food and Wine Festival in May – a weekend of foodie events and tastings all over the delightful riverside town. The Dorset Food and Arts Festival, usually held on the first weekend of August, in Queen Mother Square, Poundbury, is a celebration of everything Dorset. More than 50 food producers from the Dorset Farmers’ Market come together with artists and musicians to put on a fine one-day festival.
Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum
Tolpuddle, Dorchester DT2 7EH
One dawn, in the bitter February of 1834, six Tolpuddle farm labourers were arrested after forming a trade union. A frightened Squire’s trumped up charges led to an unfair trial and transportation to Australia. That dawn arrest created the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The mass popular protest at their treatment was the crucible for the Trade Union movement, changing forever the face of British justice and freedom for everyone in society. The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum’s interactive displays tell this remarkable story. Visit website
25 High West Street, Dorchester DT1 1UW
This World Heritage Exhibition, currently shown in Dorchester, is the original Tutankhamun Exhibition established following the success of the Treasures of Tutankhamun Exhibition at the British Museum London. The Exhibition is unique for its innovative approach. It features Tutankhamun’s major treasures meticulously recreated, wherever possible, in their original materials, and has been extensively featured in television programmes and major documentaries on Tutankhamun throughout the world. Visit website
Blandford Town Museum
Beres Yard, Blandford Forum DT11 7HQ
There is so much to see packed into this small museum situated just off the Marketplace in the Georgian town of Blandford Forum. The eclectic contents include a diorama of the 1731 Fire, a working scale model of the railway station in the 1950s, a Victorian playroom and a collection of locally made clocks from the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum also exhibits archaeology, geology and a trip through 400 years of Blandford’s history, regular exhibitions by local artists, a shop and much more. The museum is run entirely by volunteers. The adjacent Museum Victorian Garden is a quiet place to relax and listen to birdsong, the River Stour and the church clock. Visit website
Blandford Fashion Museum
Lime Tree House, The Plocks, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 7AA
Located in the heart of this beautiful town, Blandford Fashion Museum opened in 1996 and is managed and ran by volunteers. Over the years collection has trebled and now holds a large number of historical costumes including day wear, evening wear and wedding/party dresses together with a large collection of accessories. The museum has also received full accreditation by the Arts Council. Visit website
Burngate Stone Carving Centre
Kingston Road, Swanage BH19 3BE
The Burngate Stone Carving Centre located in the heart of Purbeck, provides traditional stone carving skills for people of all ages (six and over) and abilities. The Centre also offers a wide range of art and rural craft courses and children’s and family activities throughout the year, whatever the weather. Visit the centre’s exhibition of sculpture or art and craft by established and emerging local artists or just pop in for a cup of tea and cake. Burngate also encourage visits from schools, colleges, corporate groups and parties. Visit website
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