Purbeck Art Weeks (PAW) was started in 2001 by a small group of visual artists who wanted to open their Studios to the public. In 2012 a performing arts dimension was added to complement the visual arts, and PAW became a fully rounded festival embracing all the arts. It changed from being a group of artists (an unincorporated association) into a charitable company limited by guarantee. It takes place in the last week of May for a fortnight.
Natalie Clein, PAW’s music director from 2012, started the Purbeck Chamber Music Festival. This developed through PAW until the decision to make it an independent charity/ organisation in November 2016 – at which point it was renamed the Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival (PICMF). This takes place at the end of August each year.
Currently there are around 50 Open Studios during the two week Festival. The Festival’s hub and collective exhibition at Rollington Barn near Corfe Castle has an atmosphere that is distinctly quirky, rural and very Purbeck. Alongside the visual arts, a range of high quality concerts and talks by local experts are offered in different venues around Purbeck in the evenings.
PAW’s aims to encourage the involvement of young people across Purbeck, support new artists and promote more established ones (visual and performing), and engage with the local community. The Purbeck Young Artists programme offers workshops in at least 17 schools across Purbeck – the results are exhibited in Rollington Barn as part of the Festival. A series of community projects have been sponsored including the murals on Swanage sea front which were started in 2013 and are a permanent legacy and year round reminder of the Festival.
Four years ago the PAW Festival (as it is now known) introduced a winter series for its growing body of Festival Friends. Chamber Music in Purbeck Houses is led by local and international violinist Miranda Fulleylove and her colleagues. Additional visual arts activities now take place all the year round, including artists workshops and social events – managed by an active Visual Arts Group.
From small beginnings, the PAW Festival now has around 200 artist members and a body of at least 100 Festival Friends. It attracts world class musicians and gives local people the opportunity to experience artistic excellence that would otherwise not be accessible and at prices that are substantially less than are charged even in nearby Poole. It enables emerging artists to gain experience in putting on exhibitions, and more established artists to access a wider public and to mentor artists who are just starting out. Spin-off activities include Mixed Media – an informal choir of artists, and the New Wave Gallery in Swanage.
The Festival continues to explore new ground with commissions for new music, a Visual Artists Forum to support members, dance and theatre performances, different ways to involve young musicians, a year-round presence at the well visited Arne RSPB nature reserve and bursaries to help artists in all disciplines take their next artistic steps.