Pat Kane: How I was convinced to help at the “Brexit Festival”


‘Brexit FESTIVAL? Certainly not. Festival of creativity and innovation? Tell me more… “Everything about the start of my engagement as an R&D consultant for Unboxed2022, formerly Festival UK * 2022, and vernacularly Festival of Brexit, was of maximum creative class.

The first meeting, in February 2020, took place at a bakery in Soho called Princi, all of marble walls, common table slabs and Milanese flakes. My companion was cultural producer Sam Hunt, who a year ago asked me to host sessions on possible futures at the Bluedot Festival in Cheshire.

Bluedot mixes anthemic groups and hardcore science tents, under the immense and rusty shadow of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope. What a geektastic day it was: I thought I was dead and about to empirically prove the afterlife. Sam, his bearded composure equally verifiable, wanted to explore something with me.

Yes, that was the festival proposed by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Theresa May, intended to be a post-Brexit booster for British minds, with £ 120million set aside for the celebrations. But what Sam gave me was the opportunity for something quite different: a “festival of creativity and innovation”.

As Sam wrote to me, “Politics is continually being reduced to binary. We want to try to celebrate the complexity of the places and the people who have chosen to call them home. ”

Does this remind you of the spirit of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics? No surprise – a large part of this team (including producer Martin Green) is also in charge of this project. The flurry of outraged Tory MPs this week complaining that Unboxed2022 is ‘trendy’ and ‘politically correct’, displaying no Spitfire or Proms-type fliers (or even a mention of the word ‘Brexit’), was always doomed to be disappointed.

Still, I had a real struggle before I said yes. The 2022 team couldn’t have made it clearer that this was going to be the opposite of garish patriotism. But a longtime (and irreversible) Scottish independence supporter must ask himself how and why he gets involved in a cultural project explicitly defined by the UK.

READ MORE: ‘Brexit festival’ and Queen’s Jubilee handed in millions by Conservative government

I think I have a good working theory of Britishness. It is that this is a Scandinavian / Nordic identity on hold, where separate states with entangled histories can resonate both along and beyond their borders, cooperating in a relaxed and authentic way when needed. . Britain’s political break-up could be a path to such a broad and subtle British sentiment.

But what else could prepare the way? What would create a popular well of dynamic, transformation-friendly friendliness across these islands? Capable of all forms of change, constitutional or otherwise?

Part of my mind was pondering that a “Festival of Creativity” could be that kind of preparation. From the outset, a “four nations” framework was assumed and put in place (and despite resistance to such a framework by some British ministers recently, “four nations” persisted in the launch).

But the other part of my mind was also captivated by the idea of ​​a massive collective celebration of human creativity, per se. It has been the theme of my adult life, through music, media, technology and activism.

I wrote a tome on these topics in 2004 called The Play Ethic. The book left me with a multidisciplinary interest in how human nature keeps our options open, through joyful experimentation and exploration (in other words, “playing”).

READ MORE: Horrific Festival of Brexit rebranding at least has Brexiteers tweeting

From this interest, the decisive factor for me was that the Festival took a STEAM approach – for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. And that all of these creative commissions had to cover most or all of these areas. (We also took the A from STEAM and inserted SHAPE vertically into it – meaning social sciences, humanities, arts, philosophy, and environment).

My curation of FutureFest since 2012 (a London-based festival of the future, powered by the Nesta Innovation Foundation) had been devoted to the collision and fusion of artists, transformers and radicals – from Edward Snowden to Deep Mind, from Brian Eno to (indeed) Nicola Sturgeon. All based on Alan Kay’s old slogan, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

So I was impatient to go, thinking furiously about the conditions, structures, practices and concepts that would be needed to make this R&D process buzz. What sociable configurations might allow coders to talk to dancers, activists from the territory to work with mobile engineers, dance musicians to co-create with neuroscientists? When would they move together, where would they hang out, how would they play?

And then, with everyone from March 2020, everything stopped. Ask the question: how do you prepare for an island-wide festival of creativity, behind screens, in domestic back rooms, playing with untested shareware and virtual whiteboards? Well how?

I am extremely proud to have played my small role, integrated into the brilliant 2022 team, by answering this question. During the breakthrough online creation sessions we designed in November 2021, I got to interview Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova and mathematician Malcolm Gladwell (below), and had the privilege of summarizing ideas from every day, with a young poet who had hung around throughout the ideation.

The National: Malcolm Gladwell

ALL very utopian, you say? Well how else are you supposed to be as Gaia gives humanity a needed lesson, chasing you off the streets?

When I look at the final ten commissions, down from a shortlist of 30, drawn from over 300 submissions, I can’t help but relate the nature of their visions to the context in which they were born.

“From a small room, everywhere”, as the Elizabethan poet John Donne once wrote (of “no man is an island” fame). And from the forums and online platforms that we have designed, the projects have literally gone everywhere.

Green Place, Dark Skies uses GPS and lighting technology to reclaim community authority over the earth. Our Place In Space deploys the same island landscape to look at our current divisions from a cosmic perspective.

Dreamachine will ask communities to engage in a whole new drug-free psychedelic experience, crossing new inner worlds. As See Monster sets up an entire North Sea oil rig in the middle of a fairground in Weston Super-Mare, urging us to think about what to do with the relics of an era. of the fossil fuels that we must leave behind.

And a special mention for Scotland’s main gateway, Dandelion, which is reinventing the Harvest Festival as a platform for food growth across the country. It is led by one of our great Scottish imaginaries, Angus Farquhar, who is recovering from his unsuccessful attempt to turn St. Peter’s Seminary into a requiem for modernist ambitions.

So, yes, I would say that Covid (and other planetary disruptions) hovered over the coruscant creativity of everyone involved, in the process that culminated in Unboxed.

But it is creativity, initiative and adaptability – drawing on all resources, deploying all knowledge and practices, artistic, scientific and participatory – that is the most valuable human response to these systemic challenges. Unboxed2022, probably due to a fault, aims to prove the veracity of this answer.

As an independent-minded Scotsman interested in meaning, mastery and self-reliance – whatever that may be for a human community – I am proud to have played my small part in getting started. those sparks. It is not a question of sprinkling everything with water, but of stoking these flames, in whatever locality or political regime they ignite. I wish them all good luck; May they avoid all the boxes.

More information about Unboxed2022 at

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