‹ Blog / News

IOW Dark Skies Festival

Sep 25th 2023

First IOW Dark Skies Festival a resounding success!

First ever Isle of Wight Dark Skies festival a resounding success. The Dark Skies Festival was funded through the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in partnership with New Carnival, as part of AONB’s work with the European Union Interreg Project, connecting Biosphere Reserves across the continent.

New Carnival organised the new event which took place on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th February at Isle of Wight Pearl. The aim of the festival was to celebrate and raise awareness of the fantastic dark skies of the Isle of Wight. Over 1000 people attended, an eclectic audience of young and old from far and wide. Talks, presentations, workshops, art, film, and performance were on offer all for free.

The festival was put on to support the Island’s application to become an international officially recognised ‘Dark Skies Park’. It was a wonderful example of local organisations and individuals working together to champion the Islands unique dark skies. IOW Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Vectis Astrological Society, The Island Planetarium, the Robert Hook Society, IW Hampshire Wildlife Trust, Brading Roman Villa, The IW Butterfly Conservation Society, IW Ghost experience, Barnados, Wight Aviation Museum, UK Star wars Garrison, IW Music Hub, Viva Carnival Club, Astro photographers Chad Powell and Jamie Russell, Film curator Paul Windridge, as well celestial navigator Stokey Woodall all contributed their expertise and experience.

Director of New Carnival Hannah Ray stated: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the popularity of this event and the appetite of the public to find out more about the Island’s unique dark skies. Support from so many local organisations and individuals helped to make the event a tremendous success.’ Richard Grogan of the Isle of Wight AONB said: The Isle of Wight AONB was very pleased to support this event through the UNESCO Site Across the Channel Project and we hope that everyone enjoyed themselves over this fantastic weekend. Many thanks to the New Carnival Company and all performers and volunteers and we wish the Isle of Wight Council luck with their bid to the International Dark Skies Association to designate this part of the IW as a Dark Skies area.’

New Carnival prioritise working with children and young people. For this festival they worked with the IW College’s Art and Design students who created large willow nocturnal animals and also created individual fine art pieces as part of their coursework on the theme of ‘Dark Skies’. Broadlea School children, years 5&6, worked with the Wight Aviation Museum finding out about the Black Arrow project where rockets were designed, built and tested on the Isle of Wight in the 1960s and 70s. They created junk model rockets with New Carnival artist Gemma Mallinson. Pupils from Fiveways, Ryde School Pre-Prep created neon artworks representing spacecraft using glow in the dark tape as well as a series of photo booth props representing the solar system. Young emerging artists showcased their talents, Alicia French ran workshops making clay asteroids, ‘Stixguy’ Kai Davis performed a light show with his circus skills, Storyteller Corey Gibbs told stories of the stars, Eloise Preston ran a creative writing session.

Alicia stated: ‘I’m so grateful that New Carnival invited me to lead these workshops as an early career artist. Helping me to show people how to explore the sensory and spontaneous nature of making with clay.’

New Carnival commissioned work from local artists; Losten showed off his interactive painting illustrating the effect we can have on light pollution. Tide Nor Time Players performed their play entitled ‘The Tale of the Three Sisters’. Jon Jewitt led a popular workshop making celestial willow wreaths, Huxley demonstrated his ‘Scrap bots’ to the delight of all the children, Andrew Butcher poet and performer, and Steph Brittain storyteller delighted audiences with celestial tales. Wild Wight podcast creators Stuart and Rufus Ballingall were interviewing and will be featuring the event in their March episode. Accomplished face painters, Soulface and Georgia Upson, made everyone sparkle with their beautiful designs. Audiences found a variety of activities to enjoy, some people came on both days.

Kathryn Arnold who brought her family to the event said: ‘What an amazing event with so much to do! We tried willow weaving, learned about the nocturnal life of beavers, and even explored soundscapes on IPads! From 7 year old Toby to his slightly older grandparents, everyone had a great time! Many councillors attended including Claire Critchison, Johnathan Bacon, and Nick Stuart, Green party representative Vix Lowithan came, and local MP Bob Seeley. They all supported the importance of getting our dark skies recognised. Claire Critchison wrote: ‘I had a fantastic time at the Dark Skies event at IW Pearl. Thank you AONB and New Carnival Company for organising an informative and fun family event. The artwork inside and outside was amazing. It was a real treat to experience the displays and activities.’