As first impressions go, Turl Street Art Fest’s annual street fair didn’t offer up the most promising prospect. It was not much more than few gazebos huddled against the back wall of Exeter College, the bright primary colours of the canvas and the rental company van awkwardly placed among the grey cobbles and austere stone of Brasenose Lane. A small flock of student stall holders sheltered from the cold February drizzle.
Meanwhile on a small stage further along the street, a couple of dancers gave their all to a freestyle routine, with no one but a few dispassionate students and the odd bemused tourist for an audience. Maybe I was just projecting, but the aura of fifth week blues hung over the whole scene: the strange state where the days drag but deadlines seem to approach faster, the feeling that you might stay half-asleep with a nasty cold forever.
I had come with vague expectations of vibrant street art, perhaps some undefinable creative buzz, but by now my mind was already fixed on the uninspiring day ahead of me – that is, on taking a blanket to the library and camping out there with a lengthy reading list and a mug of coffee. On arrival, we were offered a coloured stick of chalk and invited to write a single word over the wall of Brasenose on the other side of the lane. The two friends I had managed to drag along reflected my sentiment and lack of inspiration, quickly sketching out “RAIN” and “COLD”, before we all retreated into the dry under the gazebos.
Waiting for the rain to let up, we got chatting to the folks behind the stall. They were from the editorial teams of a couple of student magazines, The Turl and Anthroposphere. I ended up with a copy of The Turl, and cursory glance attested to the diverse artistic interests of its contributors, with topics ranging from the protest art of the climate activists occupying St Johns’ quad to two Renaissance Madonnas hanging in Christ Church Picture Gallery. Pegged above their stall was a small gallery of their own, ranging from spontaneous sketches to meticulous ink drawings.
Talking to the team from Anthroposphere, dedicated to interdisciplinary approaches to the climate crisis, I received an open invitation to pitch if I ever felt inspired. The magazine itself was clearly designed and printed with care, filled with aerial photographs of river basins and rock formations, creating beautiful abstract patterns.
By now the sky had cleared, and we moved along to the stage, where a crowd was beginning to gather as an improv troupe launched into their first routine. I couldn’t help but smile along with the earnest enthusiasm with which they tackled each increasingly absurd scenario. As we left, we passed a woman writing on the chalk wall – spelling out “RADIANT” in bright, bold letters. Perhaps it was not the most lively of events, but the street fair was still a testament to an irrepressible creative spirit, that even on a grey, rainy Sunday after a long fifth week, students could still turn out to showcase their writing, their drawing and design, their performing. If nothing else, it was a reminder of the wealth of creative talent that could still shine through the pressure of academic study.