Guest blog: Ali Robertson, Producer of SIAF 2019, talks about bringing the festival back…

Salisbury International Arts Festival (SIAF), founded in 1974, has been a major event in the arts calendar for nearly half a century bringing artists and audiences from all over the world to Salisbury and its surrounds, using the wealth of incredible locations that there are in this part of the world. Over this time the festival has led a fire procession through Market Square, drummed in Stonehenge, made a record-breaking mandala in Cathedral close and brought joy to hundreds of thousands.

In 2018 three major Salisbury arts organisations, the Playhouse, the Arts Centre and the Festival amalgamated to form Wiltshire Creative. This merger was sufficiently complicated that it was decided not to run a festival in 2018. It’s fair to say that the city missed it and a laser-like focus was trained on the programme announcement for 2019.

Gareth Machin, artistic director of Wiltshire Creative, invited brilliant composer Jonathan Dove to be guest director for the relaunched festival and the two of them agreed that the programme would be inspired by and themed around the joint anniversaries of the moon landings and the demolishing of the Berlin wall.

Jonathan brought astonishing artists from across the world to create a wonderful music strand for the festival and alongside this the programme team, working across spaces and across disciplines, put together a massively ambitious programme of theatre, dance, spoken word, family work and so much more. The reaction to the new programme was excellent when it came out and has only grown since. Both city and county feel very excited for the festival.

Photo Credit: © Frekerik Buyckx

I was invited to join the team as Festival Producer after the programming was completed and shortly before it was announced. I was asked to co-ordinate the delivery of a programme that included both works invited from around the world, such as the incredible Zvizdal, which was created in Belgium and Russia, and works to be created here in Salisbury specially for the festival, such as the extraordinary Earthrise, which features a cast of 130 singers and musicians in the cathedral. The brochure was going to print the day after I arrived with details of over 120 events and I had had no contact with any of the artists and companies who would be showing work in the festival. I knew that I would have to hit the ground running.

Imber: You Walk Through

At the outset I was, to be honest, worried. The programme was huge and wonderful, but there were few of the systems and processes for delivery in place that one would normally expect as this is the first time that Wiltshire Creative has delivered a festival. Furthermore, we knew that Sam Mendes was shooting a film at the time of the festival and that hotels were getting booked up: we were terrified of inviting hundreds of artists to Salisbury and having nowhere for them to stay!

Gaia at Natural History Museum, 2018

Fortunately, I have found that I have landed among a brilliant team at Wiltshire Creative, and a brilliantly receptive and enabling city. Our development team are working with hotels, restaurants and cafes to ensure a great welcome for visiting artists. The producers and technical staff at Wiltshire Creative are dealing smoothly with a range of complex logistical demands, ranging from creating a never-heard-before soundscape inspired by the deserted village of Imber, to ensuring that a 23 ft perfect scale model of the Earth rotates smoothly for 17 days in the cathedral for Gaia. The sales and marketing team are consistently ramping up excitement in the city and all the rest of the Wiltshire Creative staff are working smoothly and with focus toward delivering a brilliant festival. It’s good to be back again and we hope that this year’s festival is better than ever.

Salisbury International Arts Festival runs from 24 May to 9 June 2019. For more information, visit

Ali Robertson, Producer of SIAF 2019

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