Tim Cornwell: Nosing at neighbours all in the name of art

Like scores of other householders across Brighton this month, artist Joy Fox had paid £250 to turn her home into a gallery, which she called "The Artful Fox".

The former art student's work included a lampshade made of delicate antique shell buttons and wreaths of flowers artfully crafted from old blankets, but she was also showing the work of about fellow artists.

From abstract driftwood sailboats to letter carving, it was thoughtfully displayed, surprisingly high quality, and cheap. Keeping her kitchen and living rooms as a gallery for a month, she said, was fulfilling, but exhausting.

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Brighton's Artists Open Houses, from their modest beginnings 30 years ago, when one Brighton artist opened his home for an art show, are a prime home-grown feature of Brighton's festival season. You can take them as you find them - from kitsch to craft to children's art - but they feature well-curated and intelligently-themed houses where artists share the fee and sell below gallery prices.

Galleries from tattoo artists to bodymoulders are part of the event, but part of the fun is nosing around your neighbour's home. They are 250 open houses across the city, visited by an estimated 250,000 people.

The 250 fee, for a place in well-produced guides, maps and websites, is the same basic fee being asked by the Edinburgh Art Festival, as it remoulds itself as a fee-paying event, and perhaps wrestles with the same mix of local artists and galleries showcasing work old and new, and major international names.

IT WAS back-slapping all round in Edinburgh last week after the report by a London consultant that Edinburgh's festivals were worth quarter of a billion pounds to the local economy and 5,000 jobs.

Brighton claims England's biggest annual arts festival, with the 40-year-old official Brighton Festival, and a Fringe claiming third place in size after Edinburgh and Adelaide. Estimated economic impact on the city, in 2004: 20 million.

But the Brighton Festival has made headlines and won local enthusiasm with high-profile guest directors - artist Anish Kapoor, musician Brian Eno, and, this year, the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

They've brought a coherence to programme, says chief executive Andrew Combey, with inspiration and ideas the festival team respond to. The next three names are already in place.

Practically, they also create UK media attention, as well as generating city enthusiasm. Eno was a "constant presence" in Brighton during his tenure - with no Brighton connection, he has now bought a flat there - while tens of thousands of people came to see works curated or created by Kapoor, also an opera lover.

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The partial lifting of Aung San Suu Kyi's isolation by the Burmese regime allowed her a far more hands-on participation than expected.Her own interests ranging from Beethoven to TS Eliot were reflected in the programme, while her inspiring presence has been all over its posters, brochure and in a huge city centre mural.

The Brighton Festival's budget is 1.5m, about one-sixth of Edinburgh's. But the festival team also runs the city's major performance spaces including its 1805 concert hall at the Brighton Dome year round, allowing resident companies to develop work that can show at the festival.

The Brighton Fringe claims about a quarter of Edinburgh's 2,000-plus shows and events. In May, it seems mostly a weekend affair: typically shows only run for three of four days; they avoid the Edinburgh bearpit, but lack the time to build audiences or reviewers.

Edinburgh's multi-arts, multi-festival August jamboree, said Combey in an interview last weekend, is still "the benchmark".

The Manchester International Festival, driving headlines with splashy new commissions, has nothing close to our depth and volume of shows, though some reviewers grumble that the Latitude Festival is now more cutting edge. But at a time of rising competition, it is worth watching how other festival cities do things differently.