About £120m has been set aside for arts commissions. It may as well be used wisely
When, at the 2018 Tory party conference, Theresa May announced a “nationwide festival in celebration of the creativity and innovation of the United Kingdom” to take place in 2022, it was immediately dubbed a “festival of Brexit” and written off by the UK’s overwhelmingly Europhile arts world. This week, as the first open call for creative teams has been announced, the hostility to the £120m event – which as yet lacks a name – has again intensified. What is the point of a festival whose very conception seems designed to antagonise half the population? Shouldn’t the money be used now, to try to help an arts world that is staggering under the appalling pressures inflicted by Covid-19? Why would any self-respecting artist agree to put their name to such a vainglorious event – one that was certainly conceived to showcase the supposed virtues of “Global Britain” and an increasingly ragged union?
It is a tempting impulse to obliterate the very thought of such a festival. But there are also good reasons not to. Martin Green is in charge: he is the man who oversaw Danny Boyle’s memorable, uplifting 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, and was the mastermind behind Hull’s successful year as the UK city of culture for 2016. He has a track record of converting ideas riven with difficult politics into events that transcend divisions of opinion to become meaningful and joyous. He appears determined to run the festival at face value, as an event showcasing the UK’s creativity, rather than one celebrating some hollow, bogus “independence” from the European Union.