Sundance Film Festival
When it started in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival was given an almighty boost by the involvement of inaugural chairman Robert Redford. Not only did the name come from his most famous role as the Sundance Kid, but the Utah resident wanted to encourage U.S.-made independent movies. Now it’s the single most serious film festival in the world.
Who goes: directors, film buffs, the merely curious and the painfully serious.
Stand-out moment: the awards ceremony at the end of each festival – if you’re not there, you haven’t really Sundanced. sundance.org
Your address: The St. Regis Deer Valley
Jaipur Literature Festival
There’s a certain grandeur to Jaipur Literature Festival. It’s been held in the glorious “Pink City” since 2006 at the city’s historic Diggi Palace Hotel, originally steered by writer William Dalrymple, and is now the biggest lit fest on the Asian continent. The five-day festival is a great ticket, partly because of its location in the capital of Rajasthan, and also because for its five days it is free.
Who goes: India’s see-and-be-seen crowd, drawn
from Delhi, Mumbai and Rajasthan, as well as literary greats from J. M. Coetzee and Donna Tartt to Salman Rushdie.
Stand-out moment: the biggest draw in recent years has been Chetan Bhagat, a former investment banker turned bestselling author of six blockbuster novels who is hated by critics, but revered by young India. jaipurliteraturefestival.org
South by Southwest
As Texas’s alternative hub, Austin is special, and one of its biggest calling cards is the South by Southwest festival. With a name inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest, and often known as SXSW, it started in 1987 and has since flourished, held each March as a concatenation of hipster events: films, music, talks and tech startups in several venues. You’ll watch a band one minute – SXSW Music is the largest music festival in the world – and attend a talk on education the next.
Who goes: dressed-down Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and alt-music fans, avant-garde artists, assorted geeks and visionaries.
Stand-out moment: Bruce Springsteen’s keynote
speech to launch 2012’s festival. sxsw.com
It’s Woodstock for Generation X: the biggest arts and music festival in California. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has taken place near the desert city of Indio since 1999, when acts included Beck and Morrissey. Since then it has moved from mosh pit to maturity, with a visual arts and lecture programme alongside the music. Pack sunscreen – and if it’s not quite out-there enough, then head to Burning Man in Nevada, which specializes in “radical self-expression.”
Who goes: music and new-media fans of all ages, plus Generation Ys with young children in tow.
Stand-out moment: in 2011, during their song Wake Up, Arcade Fire let loose thousands of beach balls on to the crowd, each one illuminated and synched with the music. coachella.com
Hay-on-Wye is a market town on the England/Wales border and while quaint, it wouldn’t be famous if not for Hay Festival, held here each summer. Founded in 1987, the festival has grown into what former President Bill Clinton called “the Woodstock of the mind”. It hosts global luminaries ranging from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Sir Paul McCartney and lures more than 200,000 visitors whom director Peter Florence describes as “argumentative, curious, skeptical and free-thinking”. Hay has also spawned numerous festivals worldwide, from Mexico to the Maldives.
Who goes: writers, readers, bohemians of a certain age and intellectual politicians seeking cultural heat.
Stand-out moment: last year’s talk between Carl Bernstein and Peter Florence about the journalist’s role in the downfall of Richard Nixon. hayfestival.com
June - November
In recent years there’s been a surfeit of art festivals all over the world, but one name sticks out: Venice Biennale. Dating back to 1895, it started as an elegant showcase for decorative art, then became the world’s greatest platform for innovative visual arts after WW1, hosting national pavilions, mostly in the gorgeous Giardini park. Since then it has maintained its lead as the world’s premier showcase for artistic talent, helped by its extraordinarily beautiful location.
Who goes: the fashion world always tags along with the art world at Venice; the city is the perfect stage, after all.
Stand-out moment: a model of a museum called The Encyclopedic Palace of the World at last year’s festival, in which visitors could find all the world’s knowledge.
Also key: Riva boat rides. labiennale.org
Edinburgh International Festival
Each summer, the capital city of Scotland welcomes a seething crowd to the biggest arts festival in the world. It has theatre at its core, but you’ll also find everything else, including visual arts, music and comedy. Founded in 1947 to boost postwar morale, the festival expanded so quickly that it began to subdivide, with the main festival spawning the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Edinburgh’s claim to be “one of the most important cultural celebrations in the world” is, if anything, understated.
Who goes: the Festival attracts a seasoned crowd from around the world, but the Fringe has been catnip to generation after generation of fun-seeking students in search of cultural thrills.
Stand-out moment: a haunting performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth on tiny Inchcolm Island, off the Scottish coast, in 2012. edinburghfestivals.co.uk
Frieze Art Fair
Such is Frieze Art Fair’s importance in London that a week in mid-October is now known as “Frieze Week.” When it started in 2003, Frieze was the missing ingredient that propelled the UK’s capital towards becoming a world art centre. So significant has it become that other art fairs have joined the October fray – most notably the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD). Now the fair is in export mode, with Frieze New York, in May, now entering its third year.
Who goes: all the power players from the international art world, hedge-funders and oligarchs wearing dark clothes and dramatic spectacles.
Stand-out moment: in 2007 artists Jake and Dinos Chapman set up a table in front of the White Cube gallery’s stand and offered to draw on visitors’ £20 or £50 notes for no charge.
Your address: The St. Regis New York
Istanbul’s Biennial is one of the most challenging in the world. Since it began in 1987, it has mirrored the city’s development into a world hub. In the meantime the Turkish capital has welcomed the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (2004) and a rash of gallery openings that have brought Istanbul into the big league. As well as a stunning setting, the Biennial also has a sense of political meaning: here, art reflects the transformation of Istanbul itself. Returns in 2015.
Who goes: a heady mix of radical artists, the glamorati, as well as urbanists and policy-makers who wish to see a city in flux.
Stand-out moment: in 2013 the Biennial took down its public artworks because of protests in Gezi Park. This gave the Biennial, already politically inquisitive, a real feeling of lived history. iksv.org
Your address: The St. Regis Istanbul
Everyone wants an excuse to go to the Sunshine State, and Art Miami is a good one. Located in Miami’s gallery-rich Wynwood Arts District, it’s one of the most venerable U.S. art fairs, luring legions of art lovers in early December and kicking off what is now known as Art Week. Alongside Art Miami, you’ll find CONTEXT (up-and-coming artists), Aqua Art Miami (performance, new media, installations) and of course, Art Basel Miami Beach, the U.S. wing of huge-hitting art show Art Basel.
Who goes: the international art crowd and celebrities from the worlds of film and music.
Stand-out moment: last year an unauthenticated piece by street artist Banksy, depicting a heart-shaped balloon, went on sale – complete with the wall it was painted on. art-miami.com
Your address: The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort
Images by: Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Gallery Stock, Getty Images, Dafydd Jones