There are several renowned centres of art in Reading that depict its vibrant arts scene, such as concert halls, fine art galleries and spaces for general use.
One of the area’s premier art events was launched in 2006, the Reading Fringe Festival, which brought together local art groups, organizations and individuals in an effort to promote Reading as a seat of the arts and worthy of city status. For weeks leading up to the Reading Fringe Festival, participants toured the various venues in the vicinity to drum up interest in the event. Organizers envision a regular staging of the event every year.
Reading also hosts the Remix Reading project, which draws attention to copyright and the local arts scene. It is free of charge to interested parties.
In addition, Reading is also the venue of the Gen Con UK, a regular Games Convention.
Since 1971, Reading has staged the Reading Festival, a very popular local event. In 1990, the town also started hosting another prestigious festival, known as WOMAD or World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD). More than any other undertaking, these are the two major events that have put Reading on the international arts map.
In terms of developing local musical artists, observers opine that Reading has had some mixed fortunes. One of the more popular home-grown artists is Mike Oldfield of the Tubular Bells. He has been joined recently by the likes of Slowdive, The Cooper Temple Clause, Stuart Price, Three Litre and Morning Runner. Other groups such as My Luminaires and Six Nation State have also tasted some measure of success. In addition, there are also the new prog band Pure Reason and rising hardcore trance sensations Enter Shikari.
Meanwhile, on the national scene, Reading has produced acclaimed acts such as the heavy metal rock group, Exit Ten, and the indie-synth-pop artist Mr Fogg. Reading has also gained some prominence for the fact that David Byron, first and the most famous singer of heavy metal band Uriah Heep, spent the last years of his life in Reading until he died in 1985.
In addition, a great many amateur and semi-professional choirs and choral societies have found a home in Reading. For instance, the Reading Festival Chorus, a semi-professional group that delivers musical programme, recently celebrated their 60th anniversary. They are known for their renditions of Mozart’s Requiem, Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and host of other songs. During summer, the chorus traditionally performs English and American folk songs by the likes of Tippett and Aaron Copland.
Meanwhile, Reading also hosts several orchestras, including long-running groups like the Reading Symphony Orchestra and the Reading Youth Orchestra as well as fairly recent groups like the Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, which was formed in 2002 and named in honour of Richard Aldworth, the founder of Reading Blue Coat School where the group rehearses and conducts many performances. The Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the most innovative orchestras around, which accounts for its relatively large audiences. They usually play the music of talented young composers and stage a regular Concert Virgin Scheme.
Reading theatre scene is alive and well, with several professional venues such as The Hexagon and 21 South Street, both supported by the Reading Borough Council. Located at the heart of town, The Hexagon is actually a multi-purpose venue whose regular programme of events includes theatre as well as rock, pop, comedy, classical music and dance. South Street features a wide array of performing arts, including fringe theatre, comedy, music, dance and live literature. Professional and community groups are regularly featured here.
The Progress Theatre leads the way as far as amateur theatre venues are concerned. Founded in 1947, the Progress Theatre is a self-governing and self-funding group that is also a registered charity. The group operates and maintains its own theatre and also stages annual Shakespeare productions in the open air Reading Abbey Ruins. These performances are regarded as the highlight of Reading’s annual cultural calendar.
Reading is a frequent footnote in the annals of English literature. For one thing, Oscar Wilde was a prisoner in Reading’s HM Prison from 1895 to 1897 and, while there, wrote De Profundis. A few years after his release, Wilde also authored The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was published in 1908.
Jane Austen was a student at Reading Ladies Boarding School from 1784 to 1786.
The town was disparaged by Thomas Hardy in the novel Jude the Obscure, where Reading was thinly disguised as Aldbrickham.
Reading also played a part in T. E. Lawrence’s literary history as he misplaced the initial draft of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom at the Reading railway station.
Mary Russell Mitford was a resident of Reading for several years before she moved to Three Mile Cross and Swallowfield.
Charles Dickens was once asked to represent Reading as MP but declined. He would later become president of the Reading Athenaeum.