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The best visual arts and festivals in Oxfordshire

By Kingfisher Visitor Guides

Oxfordshire’s culture is not all about history – there is also an incredibly vibrant visual and performance arts scene and here are some of the best places to visit.


Theatres

Theatres include the Oxford Playhouse and Burton Taylor Studio in Beaumont Street and The New Theatre and Old Fire Station in George Street. Others include Pegasus Theatre in Magdalen Road, which focuses on productions for young people, while Summertown’s arts centre is the North Wall in South Parade.

The Art of Noises exhibition at Modern Art Oxford

The Art of Noises exhibition at Modern Art Oxford

Oxfordshire is also lucky enough to have its own travelling theatre company, Creation, which performs in unusual venues such as Oxford Castle and Prison and the Bodleian Library to the Covered Market and Blackwell’s bookshop in Broad Street. The best spot to take in contemporary art is Modern Art Oxford on Pembroke Street, packed with paintings, photography and sculpture plus a bright, modern cafe serving coffee, lunches and cakes.

Oxfordshire has its own travelling theatre company, Creation, which performs in unusual venues such as Oxford Castle and Prison and the Bodleian Library

Live music

Be sure to have your black tie or ballgown handy if you pop into July’s Henley Festival, recognized as ‘the poshest of music festivals’, it offers a chance to let your hair down to live music. Henley is also the setting for Rewind each August, an open-air blast of 1980s nostalgia. The final word should go to what is described as a piece of Oxfordshire’s music history – Fairport’s Cropredy Convention near Banbury is a magnet for folk music lovers and regularly packs out its farmland venue for three days during August.

Carnivals

No round-up of Oxford events would be complete without a mention of the vibrant Cowley Road Carnival. This takes place in July, with 50,000 revellers packing out the East Oxford street to watch the colourful procession. The carnival procession is the jewel in the crown of a wider arts festival offering talks, performances and workshops for all ages and spanning music, theatre, art, dance, comedy and film.

There’s a chance to watch live music acts and browse a huge array of stalls offering street food, trinkets, clothing and crafts. Guests have included Hollywood film director Sam Mendes, poet and novelist Ben Okri and BBC arts correspondent Will Gompertz.

The carnival procession is the jewel in the crown of a wider arts festival offering talks, performances and workshops for all ages and spanning music, theatre, art, dance, comedy and film

Festivals

Foodies won’t want to miss the Big Feastival held every August at the farm of Alex James, best known as a former band member of Britpop band, Blur. James, who makes his own award-winning cheese, centres the Chipping Norton-based event around food and it has featured many celebrity chefs such as the late Antonio Carluccio and Rick Stein. Other regular music festivals include Truck near Abingdon in July and Towersey near Thame.

Book-lover’s heaven

Bookshops and colleges are transformed into book-lover’s heaven for two weeks each April when the Oxford Literary Festival takes over the city. The event, which has been running for two decades, attracts big names such as Chocolate author Joanne Harris, Darcey Bussell, classicist Mary Beard, explorer Ranulph Fiennes, Remains of the Day author Sir Kazuo Ishiguro and queen of crime Val McDermid.

With so many culturally-rich venues and festivals in Oxford, you will be spoilt for choice.


Take a peek at Cowley Road Carnival

Read more

Explore Oxford on foot


Top 10 things to do in Oxfordshire


Discover Oxford’s stunning historic buildings

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Image credits: ©Geraint Lewis/Oxford Playhouse; Helen Messenger/Moden Art Oxford; Jim Shannon/Cowley Road Carnival; Olivia Williams/The Big Feastival; Video: Cowley Road Works Organiser of Cowley Road Carnival/YouTube

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