‘Festival of Brexit’ organisers launch application process

“Critics have dubbed it a “festival of Brexit” and pilloried it as a waste of £120m of public money, but the first plans for the festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – announced by Theresa May in 2018 – will officially launch on Wednesday.”

? – Owl

The festival’s boss, Martin Green, insists it is not about Brexit but about bringing people together

Critics have dubbed it a “festival of Brexit” and pilloried it as a waste of £120m of public money, but the first plans for the festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – announced by Theresa May in 2018 – will officially launch on Wednesday.

Using the working title Festival UK * 2022 organisers have opened applications for teams who wish to be commissioned to come up with ideas for the event.

As the asterisk suggests, the event’s final title is yet to be decided, said the festival’s boss Martin Green, formerly in charge of the Olympic ceremonies and Hull’s year as UK City of Culture. “We don’t want to name and brand the festival until we know its content.”

Green is the chief creative officer for an event which has been widely ridiculed since it was announced by May’s government – who made comparisons to the Festival of Britain in 1951 and the Great Exhibition of 1851 – and given the go-ahead by Boris Johnson last year.

But it is not about Brexit, insisted Green. It is about bringing people together for a national celebration of creativity and innovation and surely that is a good thing, he said.

“A lot of people, and I know some of them very well, were quite alarmed about the project when it was first launched because of what people said it might be. Now people can see what the project actually is, I hope those fears will dissipate.”

The title of the festival is important, with one recent report suggesting that the Scottish National party wanted the word UK dropped from the branding.

“To be honest, we absolutely don’t know where that came from,” said Green. “We have been working with the UK government and the governments of the other three nations really successfully from the outset. They have all signed up to do the project … the same project in the same way.”

The festival will open applications on Wednesday for individuals and organisations to create teams which will then be commissioned to come up with ideas for the event. Thirty teams, each receiving £100,000, will be chosen.

“This is the phase which is usually hidden from view because most of the time people go out and directly commission,” said Green. One reason was to ensure “we are reaching out to new talent and new blood and widen the pool”.

The teams can be between three and eight and could include organisations and individuals, whether artists, scientists, mathematicians or engineers. Green gave the example of “an AI company from Wales working with a biochemist from Cornwall and a visual artist from the Scotland”.

Crucially they are not yet pitching ideas. “We see too much of that happening. I don’t like artists and creatives not to be paid for what they are doing.

“It is possibly the most important work you will ever do on a project, yet sometimes you do see ‘tell us your idea and if we like it we’ll fund it’”.

The eventual plan is for 10 ideas to be chosen which will then become the festival.

“We are trying not to pre-determine things but to absolutely let the experts, the creatives, respond to a challenge and see what happens. Ultimately we are about new, exciting, very different ways of engaging with people creatively”.

Green acknowledged there was still a way to go in convincing people of the festival’s worth.

Before Covid-19, Green said he and his team talked to nearly 300 individuals and organisations across the UK: “Once you get the opportunity to sit down with people and say this is what we are thinking about doing, they engage with it.

“There is always a journey and different people and different sets of people come on board at different times. Why would I expect everybody to come on board just because I say so? This is about us proving that this is going to be a great and valuable world-beating project.”

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