WATCH out Edinburgh, York is on the march. Starting from next Thursday, the city will be treated to a feast of great art, literature and true-life stories in the first York Festival of Ideas.

There will be no fewer than 24 events at various locations during the three-week festival – including book readings by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist JM Coetzee and Booker Prize-winner John Banville, a stunning exhibition of work by renowned photographer John Minihan, and, at the Theatre Royal, a staging of Oscar-winning film director Anthony Minghella’s comedy Two Planks And A Passion. The play is described as a “wonderfully funny and tender” account of the staging of the York Mystery Plays.

There will be some huge names in the worlds of literature, photography and art putting in an appearance in the city over the next few weeks. But this will be no elitist arts festival. The organisers promise something for everyone, from the very young to the very old.

The life stories of some of the residents of Hartrigg Oaks will be brought to life in song and dance; there will be a display of artwork by York primary school children, who were asked to create modern ‘parables’ for our own times; and a chance to take your family bible along to Spelman’s bookshop, where experts will be able to tell you about its history.

You’ll be able to enjoy a series of new York trails, starting in the Museum Gardens and covering everything from how the Vikings got about when York was flooded to how to measure the height of a 300-year-old tree. And there will be music, creative writing workshops, and a new production, at the University of York’s new Department of Theatre, Film and TV, of a bawdy Jacobean comedy by Thomas Middleton, the man often described as ‘the other Shakespeare”.

It will all begin in spectacular style with a grand opening at the University of York’s Sir Ron Cooke Hub next Thursday.

Turf will be laid over the floor of the building to create an indoor lawn – “bringing the outside in”, as festival co-organiser Joan Concannon, the university’s Director of External Relations, puts it. John Minihan, whose portrait of Samuel Beckett in a Paris café “looking into the abyss of the world’s woes” has been described by some as the best photograph of the 20th century, will give a talk about his life, the influences on his work, and his relationship with Beckett.

Some of the photographer’s most iconic work, including that Beckett portrait, will feature in a still photography exhibition. And in a special display area, more of his images will be used in a moving montage set to original music composed by the University’s own Catherine Laws. Back in the atrium, meanwhile, you’ll be able to relax on the indoor lawn, listen to live jazz, and enjoy a special Bettys cake.

A festival featuring 24 events cannot yet compare to the Edinburgh Festival, which is the world’s largest cultural event. But in 1947, when it was launched after the war to provide a “platform for the flowering of the human spirit”, Edinburgh was pretty small too.

There is absolutely no reason why York, with its amazing heritage, and its great schools, universities, and art institutions, shouldn’t be able to put on a festival that will one day rival Edinburgh, said Jane Moody, the York festival’s other co-organiser.

“Why shouldn’t York have a festival as big as Edinburgh?” said Prof Moody, who is director of the University of York’s Humanities Research Centre. “That’s what we’re aiming for.”

The university may be the main driving force behind the festival, but Prof Moody stressed that organisations across the city were involved – from the National Centre for Early Music to the Minster, York Art Gallery to the Yorkshire Museum and York Theatre Royal.

Many, though not all, of the events are free: and while many will be at the university, others will be taking place around the city.

Wherever events are held, this really is intended to be a festival for everybody, Prof Moody stressed. The university is a part of York, she said, and it’s just a short hop away on the No 4 bus.

“And there will be something for everybody to enjoy, from the ages of four to 94!”

• To find out more about the York Festival of Ideas, or to book tickets, visit, or pick up one of the festival leaflets at the tourist information centre or local libraries. If you’re not on the internet, you can call the University of York Events Office on 01904 322064 to book tickets.

Festival highlights

• Grand Opening, including talk by photographer John Minihan and live jazz: 6pm, Thursday June 16, Sir Ron Cooke Hub. Tickets free, but must be booked in advance.

• John Minihan Photographic Exhibition, Sir Ron Cooke Hub, June 16 – 26. Admission free.

• Sensory Stories Café: a selection of performances and activities using sight, sound, taste, touch and smell which have taken place in local schools, community centres, museums and art galleries over the last year – including the life stories of some of the residents of Hartrigg Oaks in York, brought to life through music and dance. Admission free, but book in advance.

• Two Planks And A Passion: Anthony Minghella’s wonderfully funny play about the staging of the York Mystery Plays. Theatre Royal, July 1 – 16.

• A Mad World, My Masters. Jacobean comedy by the playwright Thomas Middleton, recently hailed as ‘the other Shakespeare’.

The Bible
• Bring Your Family Bible evening: 6pm to 8pm, June 21, Ken Spelman Books, Micklegate. Has your family bible been passed down through generations. How old is it, and what can it tell you about your family history? Bring your Bible along, and experts will help you understand the history it contains. Free.

• A Book Fit For A King: Celebrating the English Bible of 1611: Old Palace, York Minster, July 7-9, then August 15 to November 30. Exhibition celebrating the important and influence of the King James Bible. Admission £3.

Meet the artist
• Cornelia Parker: Thirty Pieces Of Silver. June 30, 1-2pm, King’s Manor. Artist Cornelia Parker discusses her Thirty Pieces of Silver exhibition at York St Mary’s, which consists of more than 1,000 silver objects, including plates, spoons and candlesticks, which have been flattened by a steamroller and arranged into groups. Admission free.

• Beckett in Music: June 25, 1pm, Sir Jack Lyons Concert hall, university of York. Concert to celebrate Samuel Beckett’s influence of contemporary music.

Trails and activities
• University of York Sunday @ the Yorkshire Museum: June 26, 11am-4pm, Yorkshire Museum and Museum Gardens. York students introduce new trails and activities, covering everything from how the Vikings got about when York flooded, to how to measure the height of trees. Free with a York Card.

William Etty: Art and Controversy: June 24 – January 22, 2012, York Art Gallery. Exhibition of work by York’s most famous artist. Free.

• Exhibiting Etty: June 25, 6.30pm, York ArtGallery. Talk by Mark Hallett, one of the curators of the Etty exhibition, about the challenges of exhibiting Etty’s work. Admission free, but book in advance.

Meet the author
• Reading by JM Coetzee: June 24, 6pm, Central Hall, University of York. The Nobel Prize-winner for Literature reads from his latest work. Admission free, but book in advance.

• Reading by John Banville: June 23, 6pm, Room P/X001, Physics Building, University of York. The Booker Prize-winning novelist reads from his latest work. Admission free, but book in advance.