In Brief

‘Festival of Brexit’ to cost £120m - but will justify bill, claims director

Critics question whether event is ‘best use’ of public money as nation faces economic downturn

The brains behind a £120m national festival to be staged in 2022 have put out a call for “daring, new and popular” ideas to unite the UK following Brexit.

Modelled on the 1951 Festival of Britain, the project was announced by Theresa May in 2018 and was immediately dubbed the “Festival of Brexit”. The organisers are now using the working title “Festival UK * 2022”, although “as the asterisk suggests, the event’s final title is yet to be decided”, says The Guardian.

Regardless of the branding, confirmation from Downing Street that the government is “intent on ploughing £120m into the event” has triggered an angry response, The Times reports.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, “arts leaders questioned whether it was the best use” of the public money, says the newspaper. And the criticisms “have grown given the dire financial straits Britain’s cultural institutions now find themselves in”.

But the festival’s director, Martin Green, insists the event “is absolutely blended into the Covid recovery narrative”.

The festival’s research and development stage, in which 30 creative teams will be given £100,000 grants to develop “big ideas”, would allow Britain’s “creatives to make work”, said Green, who was head of ceremonies at the London 2012 Olympic Games and director of Hull’s year as UK City of Culture in 2017.

He told the BBC that the “project was conceived to happen after our exit from the EU and acknowledges that we have been going through, and are going through, a divisive time”.

“Coming together and bringing people together isn't about asking people all to think and believe the same thing,” he added. “It’s about understanding each other and appreciating each other's differences and commonalities.”

Individuals and organisations are being invited to put together teams that will pitch to be commissioned to come up with ideas for the festival. The deadline for submissions is 16 October. 

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