If not the Brexit Festival, then what? Gary Raymond offers some suggestions for names for the as-yet-unnamed Festival of the UK 2022.
The official name is still yet to be announced, which makes me wonder if any other announcement is premature. I’m no marketing expert, but I’ve sat in a few meetings. The name of the thing is usually top of the agenda, if it hasn’t indeed already been settled on. Can something be defined by what it isn’t, when it simultaneously most certainly is that thing? This is definitely not The Brexit Festival, although it most definitely is. But they don’t want you to call it that. Definitely don’t call it that. It is, at the moment, the UK-wide festival of creativity 2022, and the lower-case announcement of it participants this week states very clearly an actual name is still to come. But it won’t be the Brexit Festival. Definitely not. Why not? Difficult to say. After all, Brexit has happened, and those wanting it got their way. So why the reluctance to slap a union flag on the tin?
Union, togetherness, linking arms, that’s what the currently-lower-case festival is all about. Bringing the country back together. The United Kingdom. I should be happy about this. In the National Census I filled out online this week, I marked myself as British-Welsh. So, I guess that makes me a Unionist, anti-Welsh independence, pro-Brexit, pro-Westminster, pro-Johnson, pro-Gammon, pro-white man in a grey suit. In truth, I was adhering to the consistent instructions in the census guidelines that this survey was very much about the state of things on the 21st of March 2021, and on that day, I felt very British. And the reason I felt particularly British on that day? That weekend, a family member delivered findings from an Ancestry.co.uk project revealing that just a few generations past gave me roots in Carmarthenshire, Newport, Buckinghamshire, Worcester, Liverpool, and Dublin. I’d been thinking about it a great deal on March 21st, and yes, I felt pretty British. In fact, it felt like an insult to my own ancestors to feel anything else. It hasn’t changed my attitudes to Brexit, or to those who fought to have it, but the census didn’t ask me about that. Perhaps because we just don’t have a name for it anymore?
The very idea of “bringing people together” is a cute one. We must assume the Welsh creatives involved (amongst whose number are people I greatly admire), known as Collective Cymru (best not to give them the task of naming the entire festival, eh?), and who have risen from the “intensive research and development” phase, already know how their iteration of this as-yet-unnamed festival will work to bring people together? And it will be interesting to see just how divided the country is by the time festivities kick off in 2022. As Brexit begins to bite, I struggle to see the I-Told-You-So crowd scootching around a campfire and singing “Kumbaya” with the EU-Didn’t-Play-Fair brigade. Perhaps that’s it; we could call it the Brexit Bites Festival?
But what of Welsh independence? The arts in Wales is packed full of Yes Cymru members, a chapel whose congregation spans a dynamic range, from the Anything-is-Better-than-Westminster-ist to the rabid nationalist. The arts in Wales – sorry to break this to you – is heavy with anti-Unionists. Who will they be working to bring together? This nameless festival doesn’t sound like the sort of carnival where wry-smile subversiveness has much of a place. The argument that the Tories have given in to an arms-length rebranding of the project and that Martin Green is ensuring a celebration of liberal ebullience leaves me unconvinced. If they’re thinking of a Danny Boyle-esque paean to all the things Tories despise (NHS, cultural diversity, poor people etc)… well, that doesn’t sound like much of an olive branch to me. This nameless festival cannot escape the Tory idea of Britain, sailing away from the EU with hand tucked triumphantly into tunic as we gaze proudly to the horizon. But I doubt Brexit Propaganda Festival is much of a title, either.
Perhaps Collective Cymru intend to espouse all that is glorious about Wales, such as the fact we had to invent our own Erasmus programme to continue the connections between our aspiring academics and researchers and those of Europe after Johnson’s Brexit lost the benefits on one Brexit bonfire or other. But that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing this festival is keen to focus on. That sounds a bit divisive. Nobody wants to go to the Paper Over the Cracks Festival.
Of course, there are good things here. Money will be going to people who need it, be it freelancers or communities or struggling arts organisations. (And let’s be honest, it’s nice to see National Theatre Wales out there doing something; I was beginning to wonder if the whole organisation was a dream I once had). But I’ve thought about it hard in the time since this festival-without-a-name was announced. How could a liberal artist engage with the idea of the “bringing the country together” on the terms of the shivs in Westminster who lied and cheated their way to their Brexit? I imagine (and I know) many artists and writers and makers of things have asked themselves this same questions. After all, nobody wants to see their name in lights at the Festival of Shills, do they?
Perhaps there will be subversive wry smiles. Perhaps the Welsh projects will be defiant and stick two fingers to the brief. I’d imagine there’s a few people out there who could get behind the Take the Money and Run Festival.
Truth is, we know very little. Details, like the name, are being kept “under wraps”. What we do know is that the Wales iteration, lead by National Theatre Wales but also including a raft of well-meaning flag-flyers, will centre Welsh Government’s Well-Being of Future Generations Act. Presumably, it’s going to be difficult to address the wellbeing of future generations without explaining to future generations how Brexit will affect their wellbeing. But I guess, The Clusterfuck Festival wouldn’t look great on an artist’s CV either, would it?
It’s difficult to see how this festival goes ahead without artists addressing Brexit, the most divisive issue this country has seen probably since the Civil War. Although, The Elephant in the Room Festival has a kind of cool hipster vibe to it. Sort of like End of the Road-meets-Green Man.
The thing that keeps sticking for me is just how positive this is all going to have to be. Nobody wants to go to the Depressing Reality Festival. The one we’re going to get sounds such a happy-clappy, bunting-loving, wibble-wobble-piffle-dePfeffel load of Brexit bollocks. This is the Bo-Jo Swinging from the Zipwire Waving his Union Flags Festival. The Prince of Wales Bridge Festival. The Alun Cairns Smirk Festival. The Doff Your Cap to the Westminster Tories Festival. Not for me. Not for my Britishness. Not for my Welshness. How about we call it the Stick It Up Yer Arse Festival?!
Gary Raymond is a novelist, broadcaster, and editor of Wales Arts Review.