Reading 2016:
Reading’s Year of Culture

Throughout 2016, Reading celebrated its own
talented arts community as well as bringing
new experiences to Reading audiences

Aims and ambitions

Reading 2016 was devised to shine a light on the town; create a strong identity for Reading through arts, culture and heritage; provide a platform to build and support local arts practitioners and organisations; increase the cultural ambition of the town; bring high quality art and culture to Reading; make Reading a more creative place and a cultural destination.

12 themes

Reading 2016 was organised into 12 monthly themes each with its own pillar event supported and enhanced by a range of related events. From January’s Get Fit for Culture to December’s Light Up Reading, Reading 2016 aimed to provide a cultural experience for everyone’s tastes.

Artists involved

Many of Reading’s best known arts organisations put on special events linking to one or more of the 12 themes of Reading 2016. They were joined by national figures from the worlds of sport, poetry, design, dance, food, music, theatre, politics etc. One of the highlights was Artangel’s Inside in which more than 30 international artists produced work or performed in Reading Prison reflecting on Oscar Wilde’s incarceration in Reading Gaol.

Partners and sponsors

Reading 2016 was organised by Reading UK CIC in partnership with Reading Borough Council and the University of Reading. It was supported with funding from Arts Council England, Reading Cultural Partnership, Reading BID and the private sector. Over 60 organisations and businesses were involved in Reading 2016: Year of Culture.

2016 highlights

Highlights included the three month opening of Reading Prison by Artangel, the ARENA town centre arts programme, new theatrical commissions The Final Whistle, The Great British Bump Off and Henry I, Nesta’s Tomorrow’s Reading future fest, the Audience with series of talks, new literature and dance festivals for Reading and Light Up Reading, 11 illuminations to round off the year.

January – Get Fit for Culture

The year kicked off with the World Premiere of ‘Exercise Book’, a 5k fun run accompanied by specially commissioned live and recorded music from composer Martyn Harry; ‘Pictures at Our Exhibition’, Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra’s world premiere of compositions by four local young composers responding to work by Reading artists (inspired by Mussorgsky’s piano piece); An Audience with athletics legend Sir Roger Bannister attracted 300 people to Reading Concert Hall and Readipop’s Urban Orchestra fused musical genres in a young musicians collaboration.

February – Design Reading

Reading University graduates Coralie Bickford-Smith and Paul Barnes came to talk about their successful careers in design; form children’s books to the Guardian’s redesign. A new gallery for Reading, Art Scope Gallery opened showcasing 40 artists and beautiful calligraphy graced the Chinese New Year celebrations.

March – Reading 2050

The future of Reading and society was the focus. Reading’s first TEDx event took place at Green Park, an on-the-street exhibition of potential futures for Reading engaged over 1000 people; a singing sound sculpture enchanted shoppers in the town centre.

April – New Writing

A feast of new writing including a preview of Reading Between The Lines Henry I play; An Audience with George the Poet; An Evening with writer and broadcaster Janet Ellis; A celebration of beer in Reading as a taster of a new play on Reading’s brewing heritage later in the year.

May – The story of Reading

A new exhibition dedicated to the role of the railways in Reading’s development; walking tours of historic Reading town centre; An Audience with historian and broadcaster Lucy Worsley; the appearance of two giants in Broad Street; Nesta’s Tomorrow’s Reading examining the future of society.

June – Eat Reading

Bompas & Parr paid homage to Reading’s biscuit heritage; baker to the Queen, Nadiya Hussain talked about her life post BBC Bake’s Off; a weekend of street food and chilli festival brought food into the town centre’s streets; Amy Sharrocks brought artistic programming to Waterfest; Canada’s Mammalisan Diving Reflex explored Reading neighbourhoods; Author Mark Haddon talked about ‘A Curious Incident’ and his other work; the Whiteknights Studio Trail showcased Reading’s makers and artists and Reading held its own Green Fest.

Reading 2016

July – Art in Unusual Places

South Street’s site specific theatre festival expanded for Reading 2016 with 8 shows in July, ranging from a hotel to a post office van, a football changing room and hair dresser’s salon; Open for Art brought art into the town centre; the man who sent the first text message came back to Reading to tell all; the Readipop brought music to Christchurch Meadows; Reading Fringe brought music, magic and theatre to the town centre and samba parade warmed Reading up for Rio 2016.

August – Music

Reading Festival dominated the month, but smaller musical events popped up – A Different World Music Festival in Emmer Green; Here Comes the Sun at Rising Sun Arts Centre and a Carnival of the World in Broad Street.

September – Made in RDG

Two brand new commissions kicked off September – Ben Hur and The Great British Bake Off; Artangel opened Reading Prison for Inside; Bugsy Malone returned to Reading for an immersive screening; the BBC recorded a new beer play for Reading; over 30 locations opened their doors for Heritage Open Days and Reading’s young songwriters showcased their talents.

October – Reading in Reading

Reading’s first book festival took over the Olympia Ballroom for a weekend; the Museum of English Rural Life reopened; theatre came to Reading libraries; a new anthology celebrated tales from our town and Oxfam’s Oxjam brought music everywhere for one day and night in Reading.

November – Dance Reading

A celebration of dance created by Junction Dance with a dozen performances, workshops and classes from local and national dance groups, as well as an Audience with Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood. Reading Between The Lines brought the life of Henry I to the stage to critical acclaim and the Reading Literary Festival introduced new audiences to great writers and poets.

December – Light Up Reading

A trail of 11 illuminations around the town lit up Reading from the Abbey Ruins to Thames Tower’s station façade, live on BBC One, as well as other landmark town centre buildings. 26 partners (artists, students, creative businesses and sponsors) collaborated to finish Reading 2016 on a high.