Coronavirus Update: Hay Festival Announces a Physical Program in Segovia

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Set for September 17 to 20, the Hay’s Segovia outing in its 15th year is to return to a format ‘in real life,’ not digital, but with venues at one-third of capacity and staggered scheduling.

A Hay Festival Segovia 2015 audience listens to a concert at the Plaza de San Martin. Image: Hay Festival

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Highly Controlled and Careful Form’
Today’s (June 25) announcement from the Hay Festival leadership is that it will hold a physical festival in Segovia, September 17 to 20.

Perhaps anticipating controversy, the news has been announced to the news media by the Hay’s founding director Peter Florence, himself, this morning.

And the Hay’s director of international festivals, Cristina Fuentes La Roche, tells Publishing Perspectives, “In this very difficult year–but also as special thanks to the Premio Princesa de Asturias Prize–we want to celebrate writers and audiences in the best way we can, face to face,  following all the distancing and hygiene protocols. We are thrilled to present this rich and diverse program.”

What makes this especially interesting, of course, is that the Hay has stood as a model for digital alternatives among festivals, having announced on June 2 drawing 490,000 streams to its online evocation in May for which it raised £95,786 (US$118,941) with its GoFundMe campaign and just over £100,000 (US$124,169) offline. The online program replaced the annual flagship festival at Hay-on-Wye in Wales.

Peter Florence

With Florence having spoken at the time of the online results being so gratifying that it seemed “like a moment of adventure and opportunity,” it may not have been foreseen by some that he’d go back to a physical rendition of one of the company’s international network of festivals in September.

In his note to reporters today, Florence says, “We are announcing today the program and protocols for Hay Festival Segovia, which is going ahead as a live event in highly controlled and careful form.”

Media messaging in the announcement of programming itself makes only a couple of oblique references to the pandemic. “Let’s celebrate life in a new light because we know we are vulnerable,” promotional copy reads at one point. And “It is also time to think about what is left of Europe and the sustainability of the dream of Europe in a world as full of uncertainty as [it is] of challenges.”

Sheila Cremaschi, directing the Segovia outing, is quoted, saying, “Because we are conscious that the time has come to square up: the humanity we’ve got left, the planet we’ve got left. The need, more than ever, of working for a sustainable world.”

Climate and Environment

At Hay Festival Segovia in Convento Santa Maria la Real. Image: Hay Festival Segovia, Javier Salcedo

As its marquee statement, the company writes, “This year, Hay Festival Segovia celebrates nature and sustainability through conservationists who champion the health of the planet within their particular field of expertise.”

“Aside from prevention and sanitation measures, this protocol specifies [that] events will be staggered to avoid crowding, and the use of venues will be limited to a third of capacity.”Hay Festival Segovia announcement

In this regard, the Hay names:

  • Landscape designer Fernando Caruncho;
  • Tree expert Joaquín Araujo
  • Horticulture enthusiast Umberto Pasti
  • Garden photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo
  • Underwater wildlife photographer Hussain Aga Khan
  • French architect Stephanie Chaltiel, who is to be interviewed by Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Prize
  • Spanish fashion designer Sybilla, who uses recycled fabrics
  • Colombian artist Alberto Baraya, who cultivates plastic plants
  • Italian Alberto Cavalli, who celebrates craftmanship as a cornerstone of sustainable economy
  • Sergio del Molino, whose work portrays rural life
  • Poets from Castilla y Leon, who recite their work inspired by nature

There are also to be sessions with writers and philosophers, speaking “on the present and future of Europe,” and an exhibition called “The Wall Disappears.”

Women’s leadership in politics and culture is to be recognized by participation of Almudena Grandes, Elvira Lindo, Reyes Monforte, Rosa Montero, Carmen Posadas, Karina Sainz Borgo, Gabriela Ybarra, and filmmaker Isabel Coixet.

Full information is offered on the Hay site here, including information on booking tickets.

The announcement from Florence also includes a reference to the Hay Festival’s recognition, with Spain’s Princess of Asturias Award earlier this month.

Florence’s memo to the news media calls this a “vital boost”–the award carries a purse of €50,000 euros (US$56,000).

“This is a recognition to the effort of all the members of the teams at Hay Festivals worldwide,” the Hay’s announcement reads, “which in Spain has been nurtured by relentless support from the Segovia town hall, the Junta de Castilla y León, the Diputación de Segovia, Acción Cultural Española, Teléfonica Foundation, Banco Sabadell Foundation, the IE Foundation, the British Council, the Goethe Institut, the Institut Français and La Caixa.”

The Coronavirus Context

In Setovia, January 15. Image: iStockphoto – Mofles

Spain, of course, is one of the key battlegrounds of the pandemic in Europe and the world. As Peter Martinez reported for CBS on Monday (June 22), the country just ended its state of emergency on Sunday (June 21). As the Pedro Sánchez government opened the country to British and other-European tourism without quarantine restrictions, news media flashed shots of beaches packed with unmasked revelers practicing no apparent social distancing.

“Above all, Hay Festival Segovia wants to ensure the health and safety of all of the participants in the festival, be they speakers, staff or public.”Hay Festival Segovia announcement

At this writing, the 7:37 a.m. ET update (1137 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees Spain at sixth in the world and third in the European Union for COVID-19 fatalities (28,327). It’s ranked eighth in the world for its caseload (247,086) in a population of 47 million.

In Peter Florence’s announcement to news media today, following the details of the cultural attractions of the festival is a paragraph in smaller print under a subheading “Health and Safety.” It reads:

“Above all, Hay Festival Segovia wants to ensure the health and safety of all of the participants in the festival, be they speakers, staff or public.

“Given the uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict compliance with the recommendations set out by the health authorities, Hay Festival Segovia–with the collaboration of the regional government of Castilla y León, the Segovia town hall and the Diputación de Segovia as well as the IEUniversity—has signed a health and safety protocol, which has been approved by each of the venues in which events will take place.

“Aside from prevention and sanitation measures, this protocol specifies [that] events will be staggered to avoid crowding, and the use of venues will be limited to a third of capacity.

“In September, this protocol will be adapted according to the instruction from the authorities and all audiences and participants will be kept informed.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Hay Festival is here, and more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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