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FestivalUK 2020 Faces Backlash From The Arts Community

What is Festival UK 2022?

Festival UK 2022 launched in September of this year. It is a “celebration of the UK’s creativity and innovation, backed by £120million of new investment.” Jacob Rees-Mog, back in 2019, named this celebration a Festival of Brexit after Theresa May had put a substantial amount of money aside to celebrate the UK in the wake of Brexit. The name, Brexit Festival has since stuck.

The backlash towards this festival stems not only from its association with Brexit but reminds many of the similar backlash the London Olympic Games 2012 Opening Ceremony faced. It should be noted that Martin Green, who delivered the London Olympics Opening Ceremony is also heading up work on Festival UK 2022.

The £120Million that has been put aside for this festival will only really reach the thirty projects in the Research and Development phase (R&D) and ten of those will see some further funding to help them bring their projects to fruition.

The Festival leaves a sour taste in our mouths. The continuous cuts to the arts over the past decade, the current government’s lack of support for arts freelancers during the Covid emergency as well as the recent call to artists to ‘retrain’ (Fatima’s next job should be cyber advert) all points to how little the current government cares about arts and culture. For them to then invest £120Million into a festival celebrating just that, is a slap in the face.

Since its announcement, a lot of people have taken to social media to voice their concern and annoyance at the festival. Some of the artists and advisors involved with the festival responded. One such organisation was The White Pube, a reviewing duo who were bought on to be advisors for the festival.

A Statement From The White Pube

Underneath one of their Instagram posts on the 9th of September, arts reviewer The White Pube responded to criticism from the public about their invitation to become advisors for the Festival UK 2022:

“… We’re not like, pure staff, we’re about for 12 days during the beginning of all this to help select and also develop the ideas with whoever gets picked – but again, please apply. We can be your cheerleaders on the inside. We are gonna rally to make sure money goes to the right people especially given the origins of the cursed tory money AND the current circumstances between the economy, the sh*tty behaviour of this government, and the old guard society that simps for it. For us as well, it’s a good chance to be critical while things can still be moulded instead of shouting from the sidelines or after the fact which is all we ever get to do – so if you’ve got grievances, let us know so we can let the producers know…”

The Artists Facing Backlash

I caught up with artist Keisha Thompson, who is part of one of the thirty R&D teams.

Artist Keisha Thompson, part of one of the thirty R&D teams

Keisha Thompson is a Manchester based writer, performance artist and producer who was approached to be part of a team who applied for the £100,000 R&D fund. “I think divisiveness doesn’t aid divisiveness.” Thompson said, “I was uncomfortable upon being approached to be in a cohort but I want to embrace the discomfort and interrogate the process as best as possible.”

“I’m happy with the team I am working with and I am under no illusion about how the project is being funded and what that means during this time.”

Thompson is currently working with commissioners Eclipse Theatre, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre to stage new play, The Bell Curves; a performance piece featuring an all-female cast which will explore the human implications of CRISPR-Cas 9 gene-hacking technology. She is no stranger to working on the intersections of arts and science, something this festival aims to celebrate.

Another artist that has faced some backlash online was comedian Josie Long. Upon realising what the festival was (rebranded Brexit Festival), she decided to pull out from Festival UK 2022.

after an online interaction, Josie Long decided to pull out of the festival

Some have also pointed out the hypocrisy of arts organisations such as Manchester International Festival receiving funding from the former Brexit Festival while simultaneously “…ALSO hosting the grand finale of a project where a 3.5 meter puppet of a refugee child literally WALKS 8,000km from Turkey to the UK. The teams behind these two projects should maybe… talk… to each other.” (@PennyBabakhani on Twitter)

A Lack of Arts Funding

It could be said that it is artists who have been hit the hardest with the restrictions and lockdowns. Employees and self-employed people are able to claim some money back through the government furlough schemes and have been able to survive whereas artists have been persuaded to retrain. With freedom of movement to other European countries being restricted, it leaves many artists trying to find work in the UK alone.

Earlier this year Arts Council England came into some criticism as it announced that all of the Arts Project Grants Fund – the fund available for artists to apply to for any arts project – was being redistributed into the Arts Emergency Fund. The impact this has had on the arts industry will be seen for years to come. Will it recover in time forthe Festival UK 2022?

While criticising the artists involved in Festival UK 2022 is a little harsh, perhaps we should turn our attention towards the government and campaign for more money for arts projects.

Afshan D'souza-Lodhi
Afshan D'souza-Lodhi is a poet and playwright based in Manchester. As well as her own writing Afshan is keen to develop other younger and emerging artists. You can find her fighting against police brutality and injustice alongside the Northern Police Monitoring Project.

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