Arts & Culture in Guildford
Guildford offers vibrant thriving arts scene for visitors to enjoy.
The visual arts are well represented across the borough.
Guildford House Gallery occupies an impressive timber-framed building in the High Street dating from around 1665. Owned and managed by the Council, the gallery stages a constantly changing programme of arts exhibitions.
Founded in 1904 as the UK’s first single artist museum, The Watts Gallery and Artists’ Village is devoted to displaying the life and work of George Frederic Watts – widely considered to be England’s Michelangelo – and his wife Mary Watts, a Scottish potter, designer and architect. The gallery is an arts and craft gem and the Watts Chapel is considered one of Britain’s most beautiful and exceptional buildings. In keeping with the ethos of its founders that art should be accessible to all, the Watts Gallery works extensively with the community to provide artist-led workshops to young people and adults.
Pay a visit to The Sidney Sime Gallery which is home to the work of the artist, illustrators and caricaturist bearing the gallery's name, though born in poverty, Sime became famous for drawings and illustrations with fantastic themes.
Theatre, Music and Performance
High quality theatrical productions, all genres of live music, a wide range of performing arts, literary festivals and visual arts can all be enjoyed in a variety of locations. The town centre has been awarded the Purple Flag every year since 2014; this is given to places with a diverse mix of dining, entertainment and culture that provide a safe, vibrant and varied night out.
The town’s principal commercial theatre is the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, named after the well-known French-born and Guildford-resident actress, singer and concert pianist. It provides a mixture of professional theatre both directly produced and received in its main house and hosts many pre and post London runs. An annual programme of small-scale touring companies, local amateur and semi-professional companies is hosted in its Mill Studio together with a term-time education programme for young people. Deemed as the ‘theatre at the heart of the community’, the building work was only made possible by public donations, allowing the Theatre to eventually draw its curtains up for audiences in June 1965. The Grade II listed building has a beautiful setting on the banks of the River Wey and is loved not only by audiences, but also by the many actors who have performed there.
The Electric Theatre opened in 1997 and today operates as ‘a not-for-profit’ and is financed and managed by the Academy of Contemporary Music. It continues to provide a wonderful venue for local music and drama performances
G Live opened as the town’s main arts and entertainment venue in 2011. With a capacity of 1,700 and offering some of the best acoustics in the UK, the venue quickly established itself as a place for high quality entertainmentwith a focus on live music concerts,comedy,classical music, family shows and dance, ensuring there is something for all tastes. Its Bellerby Studio offers an intimate space for children’s shows, emerging comedy and community activities.The venue also serves as a community resource,withits main theatre playinghost to major corporate events and charity fundraising dinners.
In addition to its theatres and entertainment venues, Guildford Cathedral’s nave is a vast, atmospheric space for large concerts, dinners and art exhibitions while other churches in the town frequently host cultural events. The Boileroom is a community arts hub showcasing up-and-coming musicians and has hosted the likes of Ed Sheeran, Foals, Bastille and the Sugarhill Gang to name a few. Pub venues are also popular for bands with The Star Inn, The Britannia and The Keep all having particularly busy programmes.
The multi-award-winning Guildford Shakespeare Company regularly performs, using the bandstand in the Castle Grounds as the stage in the summer as well as the grounds of Guildford Law College, while in the winter, several churches close to the High Street play host. The Company is now one of the largest producers of home-made, professional theatre in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire with famous actors such as Brian Blessed lending their skills and adding gravitas. The GSC prides itself on its outreach and educational programmes and its support of young carers, excluded teenagers, the homeless and less advantaged communities.
Offering an alternative to traditional theatre, Guildford Fringe was founded in 2012 and takes place annually in July, comprising theatre, comedy clubs and burlesque cabarets, while the Guildford Fringe Theatre Company performs throughout the year and also runs children’s workshops.
The Surrey Hill International Music Festival brings the very best of classical music to Guildford and the Surrey Hills. With another notable festival being the annual Guildford Book Festival which takes place in October.
This project is part-funded by the UK government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a central pillar of the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda and provides £2.6 billion of funding for local investment by March 2025. The Fund aims to improve pride in place and increase life chances across the UK investing in communities and place, supporting local business, and people and skills. For more information, visit UK Shared Prosperity Fund Prospectus.