Where Culture Flows Along London’s River Thames

The Southbank Center, the host of this year’s British Academy Film Awards, has become a focal point of the city’s arts and culture scene.

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By Ginanne Brownell

LONDON — As Lisa Vine looked out over the River Thames from the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Southbank Center’s Royal Festival Hall main foyer, she recalled first coming here as an 11-year-old girl in 1957 to attend a concert.

Over the decades, Ms. Vine, a retired teacher and native Londoner, who had stopped in for coffee on the way back from a nearby errand, has seen a lot of change here. She has not only watched the Southbank Center develop — with the Queen Elizabeth Hall opening in 1967 and the Hayward Gallery the next year — she has also seen the area around it grow and change, with the addition of artistic and performance spaces including the National Theater, the British Film Institute, the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe.

“I remember when the river was dull,” she said, looking out at a panorama that includes the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Now, she noted, “there is so much going in terms of concerts and events, but I don’t get out here as often as I should.”

That’s the sentiment of Londoners and visitors alike. With so much going on at the Southbank Center, from classical music concerts, dance premieres and D.J. sets to poetry, film and literature festivals, it would be impossible to attend every event. And all of those happenings — at a venue that’s open five nights a week, where about 3,500 annual events take place — have made the Southbank Center one of the focal points of London’s arts and culture scene.

Hosting the British Academy Film Awards, commonly known as the BAFTAs, for the first time on Sunday is yet another big moment in the storied history of the space, which has had everyone from Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Jacqueline du Pré to David Bowie, Michelle Obama and Greta Thunberg grace its stages.

“We’re so thrilled about the central location of the Royal Festival Hall and accessibility of the space, enabling us to program our most ambitious and inclusive night for attendees yet,” Emma Baehr, the BAFTAs’ executive director of awards and content, wrote in an email. (The awards have previously been hosted in various locations, most recently the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington.) “Southbank is the largest arts center in the U.K., home to the London Film Festival and in the heart of London on the River Thames — having staged our television awards there for several years, it felt a natural move for us.”

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