A POPULAR arts festival has been cancelled for the first time since it was founded.

Brighton Festival was due to take place in May but has now been called off amid coronavirus concerns.

This will be the only time the annual event has not gone ahead since it began 53 years ago.

The Children's Parade, part of the festival which brings thousands of schoolchildren onto the streets in a colourful procession, has also been cancelled and organisers say "rescheduling the festival as a whole would not be feasible".

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Chief executive of Brighton Festival Andrew Comben expressed concerns that the pandemic would have a devastating impact on the city’s vibrant cultural sector, in which the festival played a large part.

He said: “The festival team is devastated that this incredible programme, led by guest director Lemn Sissay, won’t happen this year and that audiences won’t experience the diversity of artists coming from across the world to our city.

“Lemn’s vision was to build an ‘Imagine Nation’ at Brighton Festival. It seems to us that we need imagination, creativity and the strength of our community now more than ever.

“We are exploring what might be the most creative contribution the festival and its artists can make at this time and we will share more on this when we can.

“We are aware that the whole of society is being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but also realise the profound affect it will have on the cultural sector and on the economy of our city, to which the festival is such an important contributor.

“It is vital we work together to support our staff, artists and partners and that Brighton and Hove’s rich cultural life can survive and emerge from this challenge, so we all continue our contribution to the life and wealth of the whole region.”

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Brighton Festival was due to take place from May 2-24 and is the largest annual, curated multi-arts festival in England.

More than 120 cultural events were scheduled across the region, including 17 premieres, commissions, co-productions and many festival debuts from international artists.

Brighton Festival 2020 guest director, poet and author Lemn Sissay said: “The cancellation of Brighton Festival is a huge blow for us all but it’s also inevitable given the severity of what we all face.

“I believe artists have a role to play and a gift to offer and the creativity that is in us all reminds us of the preciousness and beauty of life. Let’s cherish that now and emerge from this with renewed humanity and strength.”

Brighton Festival is a registered charity and almost two thirds of the festival costs would have been covered by ticket sales.

Ticket holders are being offered the option to donate some or all of their ticket purchase in order to help support the festival’s future and its work with artists and community partner organisations.

Organisers are currently contacting those who have bought tickets to provide refund information.