Festival of the Mind nurtures collaboration between academics from the University of Sheffield and local creative organisations, aiming to showcase the university’s most exciting and engaging research to the wider public.

This year the festival returns with a vengeance. Running from 18 to 28 September, the full programme features 75 local artist commissions and a total of 150 projects, covering everything from comedy and mind reading to pop-up gardens and 3D modelling. The only requirement is that research forms the basis of an exciting and engaging creative project, resulting in all kinds of weird and wonderful cross-discipline collaborations.

I took time out to speak to Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of Festival of the Mind and the National Fairground Archive, and Head of Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield.

What was the inspiration behind Festival of the Mind and what are the aims of the festival?
The original aim of the festival was to provide a collaboration point between academic research and creative engagement. There were many people involved in the original discussions, but the concept came from Anthony Bennett, an artist in the city. With my background in festivals, I thought you get better value and better impact if you put everything into a festival.

How does this year’s festival differ from the first one in 2012?
This year there’s a lot more expectation, because people know about it. Two years ago we were like a satellite that just landed out of nowhere. Suddenly it was there. Secondly, we’ve got a lot more projects and there’s an international dimension to it, with [guerrilla gardener] Ron Finley coming, which is going to be amazing.

I think also the collaboration with the Arts Council at Castle House makes a difference. They’ve sponsored 20 £1,000 commissions for the whole of the bottom of Castle House, which will be the Sheffield Bazaar. We’ll have 20 artists showing their wares and doing one-off commissions for the whole of the festival. We’ve got Rocket01 and Phlegm doing work. We’ve got somebody building a zoetrope. We’ve got somebody recreating a Victorian photographic bar.

The National Fairground Archive is celebrating its 20th year. How will the NFA be involved in this year’s festival?
We’ve got ten shop shows. Again, we’ve given commissions out to local artists inspired by the NFA to create shop shows based on the collections.

What are you most excited about at this year’s festival?
I think bringing the NFA into it is quite interesting for me, because I’ve always kept them separate. There’s the Wondertours. We’ve commissioned a street theatre company to do a walking tour of Sheffield’s entertainment history. They’re free on a Saturday and Sunday, twice a day. But I don’t have an individual favourite. I get excited by all of it. I get excited by seeing the city vibrant and alive.

We’ve profiled a few choice projects, listed participating venues and put together our pick of the festival across the following pages. To browse the full programme, book tickets or find out more, visit festivalofthemind.group.shef.ac.uk.

Image: Shaun Bloodworth

Sam Walby