Festival UK* 2022 is branded as a government R&D initiative which involves the whole of the UK and culminates in a showcasing festival throughout 2022. The government is committing £120 million of new investment into the programme. So, what actually is it?

What are the details of FestivalUK*2022?

The aim is to have “a collection of ten large-scale, public engagement projects that will showcase the UKs creativity and innovation to the world” in 2022. This is done under the banner of ‘Open, optimistic, original’. It is to involve people from all four UK nations and across the five STEAM sectors: science, technology, engineering, arts and maths.

Teams of freelancers, creatives and organisations, comprising all these areas of expertise, have submitted their ideas. Of the initial 299 groups, these have now been whittled down to a long list of 30.

The final 30 list has just been published this week. Incredible groups of diverse talent that really does span all the various industry sectors.

And now? Now they enter the R&D project phase.

R&D project phase

Each of the 30 teams receive £100,000 to research and develop their projects into “mass public engagement” events. They have between November and February 2021 to complete this R&D phase. At the end of February a panel will decide which 10 groups make it through to the shortlist that will participate in Festival UK* 2022.

BBC support

According to the press release, the BBC “is the lead broadcast partner for FestivalUK* 2022. The events will benefit from the BBC’s enormous global reach of half a billion people and 90% of adults in the UK every week.

They will also provide support to the 30 teams in the R&D stage, while they are honing their innovations. The BBC celebrates its centenary in 2022 and shares a “common goal” with the philosophy driving FestivalUK*2022: “to be forward-facing and optimistic as we come out of the COVID pandemic and to demonstrate what British innovation and creativity will look like for the next 100 years.”

How has this idea been received?

There have been very mixed responses to this whole idea. In the GOV.UK press release, obviously there is strong support from government members and others, including:

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Frank McCoubrey, said:“ We feel excited and privileged to be part of Festival UK* 2022 and be in a position to showcase Northern Ireland’s creativity and innovation on a worldwide stage. We’re known for being a nation full of talent, creativity, ability and optimism; and this is a fantastic opportunity to bring creatives together with our illustrious scientific, technological, engineering, arts and mathematical minds to come up with truly unique and innovative ideas.”

“This has been a challenging year for the arts and it’s been encouraging to see how cultural programmes and activities have been adapted for the changing social landscape. This project is an opportunity to use local talent to build on this energy and to create ambitious and ground-breaking projects, and pioneer new ways in which culture can thrive.”

Lord Elis-Thomas, Welsh Government Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “It’s excellent news that we had a number of high quality entries come from Wales and I’d like to thank everyone for the time and effort in coming together and forming teams representing STEAM. We’re now really excited about the two approved teams and looking forward to more detail on the creative ideas they propose to deliver for Wales. It is excellent that we can help these sectors during a difficult time and look forward to 2022. It’s also great news that a number of Welsh partners will also represent Wales in the UK teams selected to undertake R&D.”

But there is also a backlash…

This idea was originally suggested by Jacob Rees-Mogg and agreed by Theresa May in 2018. It was then called the Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and was intended as a celebration of leaving the EU. It’s derogatorily dubbed the ‘Brexit Festival’ in some quarters and the backlash against it is growing.

The organisers of Festival UK* 2022 have received an open letter from Migrants in Culture and, currently, 594 signatories. This calls for the government ministers to immediately cancel the festival and reallocate the £120million “towards and equitable recovery for the arts and cultural sector”. It contains strongly worded, clear reasoning and lays out details of how this support can best be given.

These connotations have led comedian Josie Long to publicly pull out of her place in one of the 30 selected teams. After a good-natured twitter exchange she eventually concluded that she wasn’t going to be involved any more saying: “I’m sorry because I obviously haven’t examined this properly. I like the people in my team who invited me and wasn’t aware of any of this.”

What do you think?

Interestingly, the FestivalUK*2022 website says that this is just an interim name and the actual festival name will be announced at the end of 2021.

After COVID-19, perhaps the use of dwindling national funds needs to be questioned and re-thought. Maybe it’s a positive thing that gives people something to look forward to and work towards.

I’m sure lots of us are curious to see the innovations generated by the investment and opportunity. Like many things at the moment, we’ll have to wait and see what it’s final incarnation will be.

Jamie Smith