SALISBURY International Arts Festival returns with a “big” 16-day celebration.

The event returns after a year hiatus with a programme featuring a mix of music, spoken word, film, dance, circus, theatre, comedy and family events.

A launch event was held yesterday evening (February 26) at Salisbury Arts Centre to outline the festival programme.

Wiltshire Creative artistic director Gareth Machin said: “We are really excited [to be bringing the festival back]. The festival has a long history in Salisbury, it blazed into life in 1973 and there is a huge affection for everything the festival stands for.

“I think the city feels ready for a big pan arts celebration this year.”

“We have tried to strike a balance bringing a lot of events that feel very familiar and much-loved events from previous festivals alongside new ideas and new energy. I hope it will be a real contrast,” he added.

The arts festival runs from May 24 to June 9 and marks the anniversaries of the 1969 moon landings and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which guest festival director Jonathan Dove says have “inspired programming in all disciplines”.

Central to the festival will be an installation by Luke Jerram called Gaia - a seven metre wide sculpture featuring detailed NASA imagery of the earth’s surface.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra play Holst’s The Planets as well as performances of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

Included in the programming is the Festival of Ideas, which has been curated by Rebecca Johnson and centres on the theme of “Our Fragile Home” with a series of discussions, debates and films.

Rebecca, who is a founding co-chairman of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, said: “You can interpret that [the theme] how you wish. It also comes from this idea of being able to see our planet from outside and see this blue green jewel and recognising it is fragile and then linking that with things that we have been doing in the last century to threaten it and destroy it - especially focusing on climate and nuclear.”

Speakers will include leading climatologist Chris Rapley and best-selling author Tim Marshall. The full programme will be announced in April.

Gareth added: “As well as all the work connected with the themes, it is also a joyful celebration of the arts and there are a whole range of diverse activities across the different art forms that were programming because it’s good , its fun and it will be very enjoyable to watch.”

The festival features more than 120 events across the 16 days.

The popular City Encounters returns which will see free, outdoor dance, circus and music fill the city centre over the opening weekend. And a family fiesta is also being held in Bemerton Heath.