John Hughes Art Festival: Illuminate

Image credit: Aiden Chan

I met with Amelia Oakley, co-director with Emma Veares of this year’s festival, to talk a bit more about John Hughes, inclusive art, and being creative whilst studying in Cambridge.

In its third year now, the John Hughes Art Festival has grown from strength to strength. Amelia tells me of how it came about as a “labour of passion” following the death of the Revd. Dr John Hughes, Dean of Chapel at Jesus College in 2014. The way she talks about it suggests something organic and emotive; the way art often is in a way lots of other things aren’t. The festival “started off as a way to commemorate John Hughes” and has evolved from there to what it is now, a far more structured, formalised weekend of events, something Amelia hopes can keep on moving forward.

Although no one on this year’s committee knew the Reverend, and most undergraduates at Jesus that did have since graduated, Amelia is striving to make sure that “the essence of what was there in first year” remains, that the festival is still a “a memorial, borne out of John’s relationship with the College and with art”. The legacy of Hughes is evident in the way she speaks; he fostered “a sense of inclusivity and openness” and the various members of the JHAF team are seeking to get “as many people involved [with the artwork] as possible”. This is reflected in the way the Open Hang gallery takes as many submissions as it can from across the University and beyond, and in the fact that almost all the events across the three days are free to attend.

In Cambridge, platforms for artwork are less cohesive than perhaps they could be. Often, “it’s not easy to access from the outside unless you know somebody who knows somebody” and JHAF strives to change that with its ethos of openness. There are a few art festivals at other colleges, but there isn’t really an established platform or starting point. The way JHAF is expanding though suggests that perhaps it is the start of something big within the creative community of Cambridge. When there is so much creativity here, “even in places you didn’t think there were” it’s vital to foster it.

On trying to navigate fitting in creativity around also doing a Cambridge degree, Amelia says it’s important to put yourself out there, to practise, to talk to other creative people, to experiment, and to mostly have confidence in your own work and abilities. In a place so saturated with deadlines and obligations, the space to create is a wonderful thing: “the pleasure of creativity and art is that you don’t have to do it”. Perhaps that is something to remember, you don’t have to create, and that may be exactly why you might want to.

John Hughes Arts Festival ‘Illuminate’ is happening from the 10-12 February at Jesus College, a program of events is available on the website

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