The Canterbury Festival is Kent's international festival of the arts. It takes place in Canterbury (England) and surrounding towns and villages (including Faversham, Whitstable and Margate) each October/November and includes performances of a variety of types of music, art, comedy, circus, theatre, walks, talks and a Science strand. It has featured performances by Sir Willard White, Michael Nyman, Hugh Masekela, Rebecca Stephens, Texas and Ned Sherrin and by ensembles such as the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, the Endellion and Brodsky Quartets, the Ensemble Cordial, Brass 10 and the Soweto Gospel Choir. Venues include Canterbury Cathedral, the Gulbenkian Theatre at the University of Kent and the Marlowe Theatre as well as the artists' homes and studios where work is displayed.
It was initiated in the 1920s by George Bell during his time as Dean of Canterbury. Guest artists during his time included John Mansfield, Gustav Holst, Dorothy L. Sayers, and T. S. Eliot (whose 1935 drama Murder in the Cathedral was commissioned by Bell for the festival). That was within the first ten years of the festival in which it had flourished, with its plays. The festival was established closely with the friends of Canterbury organization. In 1970 the Dean at the time and city council got together and joined forces, to work on the festival together for the first time. Then in 1984 the festival got a revamping. A new theatre had been built in Canterbury, and the festival started to include almost every art form. That year the festival included music, visual arts, cinema, theatre, literature and more. International events helped the festival gain the name of Kent’s international arts festival in 2004. That year the festival had lasted three weeks. Now the festival is two weeks but holds over 200 events in those two weeks with 65,000 festival goers. The festival also includes things like classical music, contemporary music and dance, international music, comedy, talks and even walks.
The festival is a National Portfolio Organization, receiving national arts funding from the Arts Council. The festival also has local support and funding. The festival began to gain a relationship with other European natures such as Hungary and Poland. The festival had one year included a celebration of Hungarian culture in the presence of Hungary’s president. Then a year later the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra had played at the festival. These events are some that helped the festival gain the name, Kent’s International Arts Festival. 2009 the festival was asked by Canterbury City Council to "take responsibility for the continuing development of creative writing and live literature events in the district." Because of that a year-round program was set up to meet the challenge of developing local creative talent in the district. This program goes by the name of Made in Kent. This is a year-round program which culminates during the Festival each Autumn. In 2014 the festival signed a five-year sponsorship with Canterbury Christ Church University.