Festival UK* 2022 is not a ‘celebration of Brexit’ but a celebration of the place we call home, argues Sam Hunt.
In my career I have been lucky enough to work on a number of year-long cultural programmes that both celebrate and explore particular places and the people who choose to call those places home.
Whether helping amplify the glorious cacophony of voices in East London through London’s first Borough of Culture in Waltham Forest, or working to place Hull at the centre of the national cultural conversation without ever losing its distinct accent, these projects proved that there is a transformative effect that happens when you experience the familiar surrounds of your home in a different way, through the eyes of others. They do this by supporting a place and its people to tell their own stories, by asking artists and creatives to respond to places in unexpected and surprising ways, by exploring a particular place’s past and, far more importantly, by looking to its future.
These projects are able to interpret a place in order to find a commonality between its residents, tap into the shared celebratory interests of different communities, foster understanding and often help to reposition a particular place and the perception of a wider public. I believe this shows there is no question creativity helps to bolster a sense of collective pride and belonging.
Open, original, optimistic
Festival UK* 2022 is no different. But instead of a city, town or borough, the place is the four nations of the UK and the audience is literally everyone. The clear ambition is to highlight the role of the creative in life, the importance of creativity in everyday life, and the simple fact that creativity can make life better.
The Festival is planning for ten large-scale and extraordinary acts of public engagement to take place in 2022, which showcase the UK's creativity and innovation to the world. It’s an opportunity to bring people together in astounding ways, drawing on the full range of our creative imaginations by combining science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Four commissions will each be led by Creative Teams from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and six will be driven by Creative Teams from across the UK. All ten will be global in reach. It is nothing if not ambitious - and given the existential crisis the entire world has found itself in, nothing if not needed.
Fatalism is a totally understandable worldview right now. But I believe we must be confident that things must, and will, change for the better and support creatives to be catalysts for that change. Festival UK* 2022 is an audaciously open, vehemently original and unapologetically optimistic experiment in creativity, on a scale not seen anywhere before and will place creativity at the heart of positive change.
No one sector has a monopoly on creative thinking and when the brightest creative minds drawn from different areas collaborate literally anything is possible; it’s this desire to imagine and design futures which drives this project.
As a government-funded project, we feel a clear responsibility to use this investment for demonstrable good. We aim to reflect how the world is now and discover what it may become, working across science, technology, engineering and maths, as well as the arts, to help to define those possible futures. The R&D is an investment in ideas and sectors when they need it, which with the festival’s development over the next two years will contribute to a long-term recovery process.
The open call for creative teams to join our R&D programme was exactly that - a very public call that, given the complexity of the project, is as simple as we could make it. We didn’t ask for ideas, but for names of people wanting to form creative teams. We believe that creative work should be paid for and will support the creative process through what will be an enriching, challenging and perspective-changing R&D project. The fact that the process will be captured as a resource for future generations, and as a snapshot of the UK’s cross-sector creativity, is also exciting.
The response from the sectors the project has been designed to support has been positive, but always underpinned with a healthy scepticism. That hasn’t prevented individuals from wanting to join the process but leads to many asking important questions, and this dialogue is vital.
We closed the open call for our R&D phase last week and we’re thrilled by the number and variety of the responses that have come in. There are a lot of adventurers out there! We’re now working across the four nations to select 30 creative teams to join the programme. These will be assessed on their creative potential not career status.
Festival UK* 2022 is a major opportunity for creatives from across the regions, cities, towns, villages and nations of these islands to come together, collaborate and be supported to take the time to think big. Its success is predicated on their diversity, creativity and ambition as they look to the future.
Sam Hunt is Programme Director, Festival UK* 2022