Billingham International Festival has 10,000 reasons to be cheerful

Ensemble Bagratti

In celebration of cultural traditions from all round the world, Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance (BIFF) has been awarded a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund totalling £10,000.  Undaunted by the vicissitudes of Covid-19, for the next six months the Festival organisers will bring their project ‘The Canvas of Billingham Town’ into our virtual lives.

This week, the North East joined the rest of the nation in marking the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown in response to the coronavirus.  The pandemic has devastated people’s lives, dreams and professions…and one of the sectors to suffer has been The Arts.  Concert halls, venues and stages have been numbly silenced with audiences being told to stay away, and resort instead to a whole new world of watching their favourite performers online.

‘The Canvas of Billingham Town’ will salute traditions from a variety of different counties, whose dancers would usually be exponents of energetic dance techniques to be seen and heard on local stages in Billingham Town Centre and surrounding locations.     

Olga Maloney, Artistic Director of the Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance, said:

 “The people of Billingham have come to love, respect and value the visiting cultural ambassadors who have graced our Festival for well over five decades.  These same people have seen this firm family favourite being snatched away from them by the pandemic, as international travel restrictions and performance constraints have meant community festival events have been forced to cancel.

 “This red tape hasn’t stopped us from delivering our annual serving of global culture to the people of Tees Valley, as ‘The Canvas of Billingham Town’ will be a beautiful virtual celebration that will bring a big smile back to the face of the Region. We have entertainment, education and a universal helping of art, dance and worldwide customs that will be embraced by community participation.

 “This project will help to stimulate people’s minds at a time when the pandemic has greatly affected their wellbeing and mental health, and will be a welcome main course to appease their cultural appetite.” 

Photo by Danielle Cutler Photography

Over the next 6-months ‘The Canvas of Billingham Town’ will delight us with:

• Professional multi-cultural craft workshops featuring traditional crafts from all over the world.

• Bringing to life the history of famous dance styles including Flamenco, Kathak and Maori by showcasing traditional dance costumes and musical instrument presentations for children and adult audiences.

• Folk Tales from around the world delivered for our young festival goers.

• Engaging online audiences by getting them to create their own interpretations of world arts and crafts, then sending photographs and videos of their creations.  BIFF will then display the artworks in shop windows around Billingham Town Centre Shop for the community to celebrate and admire.

This year we cannot partake of live swirling sights and sounds of festivals gone by, but just as the years since its inception in 1965, BIFF offers joie-de-vivre for all. This year the community artworks will be posted online as part of a specially commissioned film that will be premiered at the end of the project.

Photo by Danielle Cutler Photography

Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North and a former Festival Committee member, said: 

“Whilst Billingham may have been in the country’s spotlight as a manufacturing site for Coronavirus vaccine, it has always been a world focus for our amazing International Folklore Festival playing host to dancers from every continent on earth showcasing the best.  

 “It is fantastic news that the Festival has been awarded this grant from the National Lottery Community Fund to share what it has excelled at for more than 50 years.  I am sure the Canvas of Billingham Town will be one of the most colourful possible and I am sure people across the country and the world will enjoy it very much.” 

BIFF is seen as a role model by the International Council of Folklore Festival organisers ‘standing out as an exemplary festival [in the way] it engages with other art forms and sport disciplines, unlike any other festival’.  Billingham can be justly proud of the international reach and relationships it has forged over more than half a century.

For further information about Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance please visit

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