Let’s give the ‘Festival of Brexit’ a chance

Remoaners want to strangle the proposed arts and culture festival at birth.

Manick Govinda

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The year 2022 is going to be a significant one for Britain. Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games and the Platinum Jubilee will mark Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign. And there will also be Festival 2022 – an initiative which has been mockingly dubbed the ‘Festival of Brexit’.

By January 2021, Britain is expected to mark the end of the Brexit transition period, provided a trade agreement has been reached and approved by the EU and the UK. Even allowing for delays, by 2022 Britain should have a new relationship with the EU. 2022 should be a year of hope, optimism and renewal – a good year to celebrate an independent, sovereign nation that upholds tolerance, freedom of expression and democracy.

Martin Green – the mastermind behind Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and the head of ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics – has been asked by the government to develop plans to curate the UK-wide festival in 2022. Festival 2022 has been given a whopping £120million budget to ensure its success. According to the government, the festival will ‘bring people together to celebrate our strengths, values and identities, and boost pride throughout communities’.

In an interview with the Observer, Green says ‘there is no doubt that money has been made available because this country is exiting the European Union, there is no getting away from that’. He says he wants to showcase British creativity and use it to rediscover ‘common ground’ after ‘a particularly divisive time in the discourse of our daily lives’. ‘We are probably due a bit of joy and hope and happiness, and art is really good at that’, he adds.

Granted, this is a tall order. The prospect of uniting a fractured nation through arts and culture should expect some sceptical and critical responses. That is fine. Criticism will keep the curators on their toes. A constructive dialogue could help the producers to develop a better festival.

But the outright cynicism and sneering towards the very idea of such a festival has been staggering. Those involved in the creative industries are twisting their knives into the Festival 2022 embryo two years before its birth.

When the plans were first mooted by Theresa May in 2018, Remoaner Bible the New European joked that the festival would feature a competition for ‘Britain’s most red-faced man’ and a Buckingham Palace ‘made out of spam’.

Following Green’s Observer interview, a filmmaker mockingly proclaimed on Twitter that ‘Roy Chubby Brown’ would ‘curate the opening ceremony’. Talentless songstress Madeleina Kay – aka EU Supergirltweeted that Festival 2022 would be ‘a festival to celebrate racism and bigotry of the highest order’. ‘Well done (not so) Great Britain!… Just like pigs rolling in our own shit. A marvellous spectacle for the rest of the world to mock! #FuckBrexit’, she added.

Some have made threats to boycott and blacklist artists who consider getting involved in the festival. A playwright and BBC producer tweeted to say he looked ‘forward to shouting “scab” at anyone’ who takes part. An independent publisher haughtily declared that ‘no respectable artist or art organisation should have anything to do with this degrading and morally reprehensible nonsense’.

Threatening artists to avoid engaging with the festival is authoritarian and will only exacerbate division and cynicism. Artists and curators will need courage and resolve to ward off such an aggressive and censorious mob.

Though there are no concrete plans yet, it looks as though Festival 2022 will have participation at its core, especially given its grand task of healing a divided nation. Such an instrumental use of art and culture may well be the festival’s Achilles heel. Top-down initiatives can backfire, but if Festival 2022 reaches out to working-class talent, offers healthy budgets and celebrates Britain’s rich artistic history – which includes our relationship with Commonwealth, émigré and immigrant artists – then it can succeed.

Inspiration could be drawn from everyone from Morrissey, Gilbert and George, David Hockney, David Bowie and George Orwell to VS Naipaul, Sam Selvon, Zadie Smith, Edward Burra, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach. Artists could also draw on their experiences of the towns and cities where they were born, grew up, moved to or escaped from.

Finally, artists and curators should not be afraid of embracing conflict. Brexit was a great political and social struggle. It was a tough journey, meaning that a happy-clappy arts festival of wellbeing could miss the mark. As the late American sci-fi writer Octavia E Butler reminded herself when writing stories: ‘Conflict is the lifeblood of fiction.’ It is also the lifeblood of art.

Come on artists, rise to the challenge! Stick two fingers up to the cynics and make something thoughtful, beautiful, uplifting, magical and melancholic that represents and expresses the difficulties and complexities of a pluralist nation. Festival 2022 could sow the seeds of a cultural renaissance, if it is not strangled at birth.

Manick Govinda is an independent arts consultant, artists mentor, curator, project manager and writer. He co-founded Brexit Creatives. His writings can be found on Authory.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

nick hunt

15th January 2020 at 5:33 pm

Those who fear and hate our culture and national identity fear, smear and sneer at those who love and want to celebrate its renaissance. Such arrogance and self-righteous disdain prove how hate trumps love and tolerance, and how leftists today are red fascists who are completely betraying the progressive revolution against elitist authority and bigotry.

Forlorn Dream

15th January 2020 at 12:51 pm

Any artist that refuses to take part if invited should be named and shamed. If they’re making money from the British people then we ought to know if they hate us and our country.
Ditto for any public figure who tries to punish artists that do take part.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

15th January 2020 at 12:17 pm

Do we get to burn the Union Jack or England flag when we’re there? After all, freedom of speech and political expression is extremely important, especially today when we have the sorry spectacle of the PM denying the people of Scotland a democratic vote on their future.

SAOR ALBA

nick hunt

15th January 2020 at 6:00 pm

Xenops, you are still free to express your hate without fear of condemnation or reprisal in the homeland of free speech, provided your targets are leftist-approved. I believe your favourite objects of hate include dumb gammons, Trump, white people in general, masculinity, conservatives, Tommy Robinson and William Rees-Mogg, Christians, Britishness, Brexit, independent nations, and so on. People like you still feel free to show us your virtuous disgust for these things, ideally on the biggest media platform as possible. But it’s hard to believe how many things you hate so consistently and predictably! Surely you’ll say I’m wrong, so why not link to any leftist media outlet or blog which discusses anything on my list in any positive way whatsoever?

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

15th January 2020 at 11:45 pm

Nick Hunt — I don’t call people ‘dumb gammons’, Trump is a fool (which you must admit even if you support him), I am white, masculinity is great, I like some conservatives and dislike others, I don’t know enough about Tommy Robinson to have an opinion of him, I think William Rees-Mogg is an affected, childish fool and a hypocrite, I AM A CHRISTIAN, moderate ‘Britishness’ is fine, I think Brexit is a sub-optimal move, I like independent nations (except for N Korea, Saudi and various other rogue states).

Hugh Bryant

24th January 2020 at 7:22 pm

We can smell your fear. Why not just accept it’s over mate, the whole stalinist fantasy is done. Time to rejoin the human race.

L Strange

15th January 2020 at 11:15 am

Some people in this country really despise anything that allows the British to celebrate. It was like this before the 2012 Olympics and the Jubilee. The chattering classes were predicting massive failure and disaster, presumably because they assume everybody’s as incompetent as they are.

When things didn’t go wrong they fell back on sneering, snideness and claiming to find it all unseemly and horribly ’embarrassing’.

Ignore the miserabilists – I look forward to hearing what events and whatnot there’ll be.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

15th January 2020 at 12:18 pm

Who are these ‘chattering classes’? I have never met them. We’re not ‘miserabilists’ because we fail to subscribe to your brand of primitive flag-waving nationalism…

cliff resnick

15th January 2020 at 11:04 am

Festival of Brexit is a terrible idea, it’s so stale that it doesn’t even require a sell by date to put you off. A gathering in Parliament Sq on the 31st, bands, speakers and bongs no not that sort, will do just fine

Ven Oods

15th January 2020 at 10:13 am

If we’ve been (allegedly) at each others’ throats for the last three years, while surrounded on all sides by ‘art’ (you can’t avoid it), then how’s this ‘curated’ (jesus!) malarkey going to cure anything?

Geoff Cox

15th January 2020 at 8:27 am

Forget the cr-ppy arts scene – have a festival of sport (without Gary Lineker obviously).

L Strange

15th January 2020 at 11:06 am

We are – we’re hosting the Commonwealth games in 2022.

Geoff Cox

15th January 2020 at 8:25 am

“By January 2021, Britain is expected to mark the end of the Brexit transition period, provided a trade agreement has been reached and approved by the EU and the UK.”

Noooooooooooooooh! By January 2021, Britain is expected to mark the end of the transition period with or without a trade deal. This is the correct way to put it.

PS It is time more people including columnists made the positive case for a (so-called) no deal Brexit.

Stephen J

15th January 2020 at 7:57 am

Brexit (even if imperfect) is the beginning of the real new world order, the one in which what we call the establishment, will be brought to heel, and it will be the very tool they are using to hunt us down at the moment… the internet….

… it will get away from them in the end.

Mike Stallard

15th January 2020 at 7:27 am

I paint and draw figuratively. I have a garage full of stuff, a lot in our local church store and three in my office! Nobody wants it! Meanwhile people who tear up wallpaper and throw it on the floor (honestly), people who simply have no idea of drawing at all (Trecey Emin) are exalted to the highest ranks and paid off in millions.
I hope that along with the Remoaners, this festival will put an end to Damien Hurst, Tracey Herself (now The Professor of Art in the RA) and that it will reopen the galleries that such stuff has closed.
Meanwhile ordinary people can enjoy – please not another Dome fiasco.

JP Edwards

15th January 2020 at 7:24 am

If the established art community are too petulant and sulky to commit to this in heart and soul then look to the grass roots; this could be a massive breakthrough opportunity for new talent in particular from the parts of the country and communities that have been tarred as low information bigots by the high and mighty for the past 3.5 years.

Philip Humphrey

15th January 2020 at 7:57 am

That would indeed be wonderful. I’m sure there are a lot of very good artists who don’t get the recognition of the sneering and dismissive arts establishment. The same arts establishment that promotes such vacuous pretentiousness as the Turner prize. But don’t expect the sneering to stop even if a festival of Britain were a real success, the mainstream media is just as bad as the arts establishment.

Geoff Cox

15th January 2020 at 8:22 am

The problem is that to succeed in the modern art world you need to suck up to the gatekeepers because anyone can be successful or fail as there are no standards by which modern art can be judged. It is all complete cr-p!

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

15th January 2020 at 12:20 pm

I suppose Brexit Art would consist of oil paintings of Elizabeth Windsor depicting EW surrounded by fawning courtiers and the subservient masses. Smacks of Louis XIV.

nick hunt

15th January 2020 at 6:05 pm

“tarred as low information bigots by the high and mighty for the past 3.5 years”

I bet that was the phrase activating our friend Xenops to respond here, and also the one best describing his approach to debate

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