DIRECTOR Janet Farmer hosts her leaving party at Pocklington Arts Centre tonight as she ends her 25-year association with the East Yorkshire venue.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, she oversaw her last concert: a strikingly strong double bill of Devonian folk musician John Smith and Eastern Pennsylvanian husband-and-wife duo Native Harrow, who reviewer Paul Rhodes observed “would have been worthy headliners in their own right”.
Janet will retire in mid-April after 22 years in post, preceded by three years of fundraising to transform the market town’s former cinema into a theatre, concert venue, cinema and studio gallery. The recruitment process to appoint her successor is under way.
From a standing start in 2000, Janet has led Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) into becoming a leading small-scale arts venue, recognised nationally as a beacon of good practice with a significant cultural reputation.
Janet has drawn more than £1million in public funding to support the venue’s presentation of 3,500 film screenings and staging of 900 live events, numerous festivals, from Pocktoberfest to the Platform Festival at the Old Station, plus hundreds of community events, workshops, exhibitions and private hires.
“When I started here, we borrowed an artists’ contact file; there were no agents online!” recalls Janet. “You had to buy a book with agents’ contact details and then contact them by fax.
“All the deals were down over the phone or by fax, whereas now it’s mostly by email, which can be seen as sad progress as you don’t always have that verbal contact any more.”
Over the past 22 years, Janet has programmed a diverse range of acts, naming her personal favourites as Joan Armatrading and Shed Seven, who both rehearsed at PAC for upcoming tours, Lesley Garrett, John Bishop, The Shires, Rhod Gilbert, Sarah Millican, Lucinda Williams, Baroness Shirley Williams, KT Tunstall, The Unthanks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, David Ford and Josh Ritter.
When informing PAC staff and volunteers of her decision in January, Janet said: “I am sure this will be said on many occasions over the next few months, but I want to thank all of the staff and volunteers for their tireless support, hard work, dedication and friendship. This has been vital to making PAC the success it is today.
“It has been an absolute pleasure and honour to lead PAC over two decades and it fills me with immense pride knowing what has been achieved during this time. I look forward to returning as a customer and perhaps a volunteer in years to come.”
Twenty-five years, Janet, can you believe it? “People keep saying they’re surprised, but, yes, it really has been that long. I did think I would finish in 2020, and but for the pandemic, I would have done, but I felt I had to see out the time when we were closed,” she says.
“A big part of that was to apply for the Government’s Culture Recovery Funding, and only one application was necessary, what with the support we received from East Riding of Yorkshire Council, and the furlough scheme, which meant we could continue to pay even part-time staff.”
Amid the ebb and flow of three pandemic lockdowns from March 2020, PAC continued to function by mounting 50-plus online events and workshops, staging a series of outdoor exhibitions by Sue Clayton and Karen Winship and launching Primrose Wood Acoustics concerts in June 2021 before reopening with two socially distanced performances by comedian Sarah Millican last July.
“We took Sue and Karen’s exhibitions into Askham Bar Vaccination Centre’s Tent of Hope in York and we took part in the online Your Place Comedy double bills, streamed from comedians’ living rooms and organised by Chris Jones of Selby Town Hall, with a host of independent Yorkshire venues involved,” says Janet.
“We did online shows with our beloved Lip Service too, and online has proved a really good way for people to discover acts like [York singer-songwriter] Rachel Croft and (Leeds band] The Dunwells, who were doing nightly streams at one point in lockdown.”
Janet wanted PAC to regain momentum before leaving this spring. “We’re doing all we can to make people feel safe as they return to coming here, such as having medical-grade air purifiers,” she says.
“I wanted us to get back into the swing of what we do, so we could show we could still do concerts, films, theatre, comedy and exhibitions well with good attendances again, and we have.”
She will continue to live in Pocklington while undertaking plenty of travel too. “This summer I can start the gap year I never had, going round the festivals, such as Cambridge Folk Festival; Kilkenny Arts Festival in August; Telluride Bluegrass Festival, in the Colorado mountains, where it’s a ski resort in the winter. Sitting in the mountains, watching a bluegrass festival, I’ll be in my element.”
Born and bred in York, trained in theatre, film and social sciences at York St John and later in theatre programming and policy through Leeds Playhouse, Janet first became the focal point of fundraising to establish Pocklington Arts Centre.
She then took on the role of running PAC once it opened. “I had to learn very quickly on the job, but I always had a handle on what people liked, like booking Johnny Vegas before he was well known,” recalls Janet.
“There were financial constraints, so I couldn’t be too adventurous at the start, and then there was always a bit of a problem of people not knowing where Pocklington was. But once we started getting bigger names, we could quote that to agents, and we became the little place that big acts wanted to play.”
That will be Janet’s legacy. “I’ve done my bit and it’s time to retire from here, though no doubt I’ll do some volunteering,” she says.
Janet Farmer’s Pocklington Arts Centre timeline
2000: First live event, French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan, February 2.
2000: First film, The Last September, directed by Deborah Warner, February 24.
2000: First outdoor festival, staged in April.
2001: First arts festival to be staged across the market town by PAC, continuing for four more years.
2001: James Duffy employed as box office assistant in October. Now general manager.
2002: Janet directs Fiddler On The Roof for Pocklington Dramatic Society.
2003: First film festival, including An Audience With Barry Norman.
2004: Second film festival, including Q&A with BAFTA chair Duncan Kenworthy and film journalist Quentin Falk.
2010: Forgotten Voices Community Choir launched.
2011: First full-colour A5 live events brochure launched.
2011: PAC cinema projection converted from 35mm to digital.
2011: PAC joins forces with Pocklington’s Roundtable to launch large-scale festival of beer and music
2016: Platform Festival of music and comedy launched.
2016: £600,000 refurbishment.
2018: Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation status awarded with annual funding.
2018: Sara Morton appointed as PAC’s first marketing and administrative officer.
2019: Dementia Choir launched.
2020: PAC closes under Covid pandemic restrictions in March.
2020/2021: PAC stages 50-plus online events and workshops during lockdown.
2021: PAC stages series of outdoor exhibitions by Sue Clayton and Karen Winship during lockdown.
2021: Primrose Wood Acoustics launched in June.
2021: PAC reopens in July with two socially distanced performances by comedian Sarah Millican after 17 months of closure.
2022: Director Janet Farmer to leave in April after 25 years’ involvement.
Pocklington Arts Centre’s statistics under Janet Farmer
£1 million raised in public funding for PAC.
3,500 film screenings programmed since 2000.
900 live events programmed.
100s of community events, workshops, exhibitions and private hires staged.
20-plus arts, music and film festivals mounted.
Music acts brought to Pocklington by Janet Farmer since 2000:
Joan Armatrading; Richard Hawley; Lucinda Williams; Mary Chapin Carpenter; Rosanne Cash; The Unthanks; Edwyn Collins; The Staves; Josh Ritter; Hothouse Flowers; Kate Rusby; The Shires; Adam Cohen; Amy Macdonald; KT Tunstall; Lesley Garrett.
The Searchers; Barbara Dickson; Beth Orton; Eric Bibb; Nick Mulvey; Roger McGuinn; Elkie Brooks; Eddi Reader; The Magic Numbers; Gretchen Peters; Levellers; Ron Sexsmith; Ruby Turner; Kathryn Williams; Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Echo & The Bunnymen; Fairport Convention; Teddy Thompson; Mary Coughlan; David Ford; Clare Teal; Ward Thomas; The Blockheads; Raul Malo; Lissie; Dr Feelgood; Newton Faulkner; Georgie Fame; Lau; Fishermen’s Friends; Seth Lakeman; Alvin Stardust.
Ralph McTell; Bellowhead; Benjamin Francis Leftwich; The Coal Porters; Martyn Joseph; Irish Mythen; Courtney Marie Andrews; The Manfreds; Otis Gibbs; London Community Gospel Choir; Hugh Cornwell; Thea Gilmore.
Shed Seven; Benjamin Francis Leftwich; Curtis Stigers; Graham Coxon; Greg Lake; Glenn Tilbrook; Badly Drawn Boy; Courtney Pine; Joe Brown; Grace Petrie; Martin Simpson; Marty Wilde; Vonda Shepherd; Martha Wainwright and The Young’Uns.
The Howl & The Hum; Beth McCarthy; Dan Webster; Gina Dootson; Boss Caine; Amy May Ellis; Joshua Bunell; Edwina Hayes; The Dunwells; Rachel Croft; Charlie Daykin; Katie Spencer; Jessica Simpson; Gary Stewart; Josh Savage; The Grand Old Uke Of York; Mambo Jambo; Miles Salter; Nick Hall.
Kae Tempest; Simon Armitage; Bob Harris; Pam Ayres; John Cooper Clarke; Sandi Toksvig; Keith Floyd; Jay Rayner; Baroness Shirley Williams; Michael Portillo; John Hegley; Tony Benn; Simon Callow; Jeremy Vine.
Robert Powell; Michael Dobbs; Andrew Motion; Paddy Ashdown; Ian McMillan; Barry Norman; Chris Packham; Amanda Owen; Clive James; Matt Abbott; George Melly; John Sergeant; Martin Bell; Gyles Brandreth and Julian Norton.
Trestle Theatre; Opera North; Northern Broadsides; Red Ladder Theatre Company; Reduced Shakespeare Company; Idle Motion; Reform Theatre; Talegate Theatre; Magic Carpet Theatre; North Country Theatre; Hull Truck Theatre; BlackEyed Theatre; Lempen Puppet Theatre; MultiStory Theatre; NTC; Vamos Theatre; ShowStoppers! and Badapple Theatre Company.
John Bishop; Sarah Millican; Dylan Moran; Jenny Éclair; Al Murray; Ross Noble; Fascinating Aida; Andrew Maxwell; Chris Ramsey; Jason Manford; Omid Djalili; Sue Perkins; Rob Beckett; Lucy Beaumont; Jon Richardson; Stewart Lee; John Shuttleworth; Rhod Gilbert.
Arthur Smith; Luisa Omielan; Phill Jupitus; David Baddiel; Greg Davies; Paul Merton’s Impro Chums; Henning Wehn; Stephen K Amos; Patrick Monahan; Dave Gorman; Russell Kane; Jeremy Hardy; Mark Steel; Rich Hall; Gary Delaney and Barry Cryer.