Culture secretary urged to drop Festival of Brexit Britain due to pandemic

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden - Credit: Andrew Marr Show/BBC

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has been urged to drop the government's plan for a Festival of Brexit Britain in 2022.

More than 600 cultural workers have signed a joint letter calling for the money to be better spent following the coronavirus pandemic.

It reads: "Amidst a background of culture devastation, where thousands have lost their jobs, companies and venues across the UK face immediate closure, Festival UK 2022 proposes to divert from the focus on equitable development of our sector and beyond.

"Framed around false-narratives of 'openness' and 'optimism', it is a government-imposed 'celebration' of nationalism and imperialism. It capitalises on the racist and xenophobic movements and discourse that have led to Brexit, the Windrush Scandal, the Home Office's Hostile environment against migrants, the rise of far-right politics as well as Grenfell, and the endemic racism, societal divisions and inequality."

The co-writers of the letter, organised by Migrants in Culture, claim that "in the midst of a global pandemic, with a devastating loss of life, job, earnings, threatening even the ability to remain in the country, the last thing we need is a vacous celebration of so-called 'national unity' when the most at risk are already shouldering the effects of the UK's economic downturn."

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They continue: "We believe the culture workers with lived experience of racialisation, migration, disability, queerness and the working class are most impacted and should be at the forefront of the recovery.

"We do not need a national rebranding exercise brought to us by the creators of the Windrush scandal.

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"We do not need a 'celebration of our creativity and innovation' while our culture infrastructure crumbles and migrant culture workers have to leave the UK.

"We do not need a festival claiming to 'bring people together' while the government's hostile environment forces people apart.

"We do not need a supposedly open call for organisations and freelancers to fight over, while hundreds of thousands lose their jobs across the sector every week."

Instead, they call for the immediate cancellation of the festival - with a working title of Festival UK 2022 - and call for political leaders to relocate the £120 million money across the arts and cultural sector through Arts Council England, Creative Scotland, the Arts Council of Wales and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

But speaking to Vice, festival director Martin Green disagreed with the claims made in the letter.

"I'd say, whatever project they’re talking about, it is not this one. And I think that is absolutely clear from its brief and the people involved – there isn't a single one of them, including myself, who would not be incredibly sympathetic to all of those issues. But the fact of the matter is that nobody involved is seeking to make a project that in any way is aligned with [the Hostile Environment].”

Referencing the City of Culture and Olympic Games, he added: “If the argument is ‘being funded through public money makes you somehow complicit in the government’s actions’, then actually everybody who receives funding from the Arts Council or any other form of public money could be accused of doing that.

“This is not the case. I believe that, with the right vision, and indeed the right ideology, publicly-funded creative programmes can speak incredibly richly about who we are and what binds us together.”

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