HowTheLightGetsIn: Hay's fringe
Hilary Davies, director of Hay's fringe philosophy and music festival HowTheLightGetsIn, on creating a new space for debate
Ed Wood: How is HowTheLightGetsIn distinct from the Hay Festival and how does it complement it?
Hilary Lawson: The most significant difference is that we are a philosophy, rather than a literary festival. We are interested in interdisciplinary debate, involving scientists, artists, philosophers, writers, broadcasters and politicians in a programme of talks focused on everything from the nature of happiness to the limits of science. We are focused on creating a space where real conversations can take place and people can get to grips with the issues that matter. We want our audience to engage with the talks and to contribute to them. This happens in question and answer sessions after the debates, but also spills out onto the festival site where visitors and speakers mingle freely. Whilst our programme contains many names you will recognise, we are not about celebrity. The Hay Festival is a great event and there is some crossover in terms of audience, but we tend to attract a younger demographic at HowTheLightGetsIn, partly because of our dedicated music programme which runs over the ten days of the festival.
EW: Where does its rather fabulous name came from?
HL: The name of the festival comes from 'Anthem', a Leonard Cohen song. "There is a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in."
EW: What have been your highlights this year?
HL: We've had more than 450 events this year, so it's difficult to choose. I enjoyed filmmaker Mike Figgis, Artistic Director of the Lyric Hammersmith, Sean Holmes, and philosopher Robert Eaglestone debate the nature of evil. James Lovelock made a powerful case for the freedom of scientific speech. Brian Eno and James Thornton discussed how to go about changing the world for the better. Elsewhere, Times columnist David Aaronovitch and former cabinet ministers David Blunkett and Nigel Lawson discussed the role of ideals. On the music side, our Monday Mayhem party featuring Man Like Me and Ana Silvera amongst many others and held in association with i-D Magazine, was fantastic.
EW: How has the festival developed over its four years?
HL: We started small, with only one venue – a converted Methodist chapel in the centre of Hay – and a handful of events. Four years on, we’re the biggest philosophy festival in the world. This year, over 35,000 visitors have come along across ten days, participating in 450 events across six stages. We've had 165 speakers and 150 bands. It's all very exciting.
EW: Given infinite money, time and space, what would you do with it?
HL: In terms of the festival, we want to maintain our high editorial standards, to continue inviting emerging as well as more established names with interesting things to say, and to programme topical talks that help us make sense of the world around us. We are also currently developing iai.tv, an online platform where we post videos of our talks, debates and music performances. Our aim is to make new thinking and big ideas accessible to a global audience.