Organisers of an arts festival intended to champion the benefits of Brexit were today accused of hijacking the event to push ‘woke’ causes such as ‘gender fluidity in childhood’ and ‘how imperialism shaped the British garden’.
The taxpayer-funded £120million ‘Festival of Brexit’ celebrations were announced in 2018 by then-prime minister Theresa May, who promised a ‘year-long festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ – before they were transformed into ‘Unboxed’, an eight-month ‘celebration of creativity’ with a series of events across the UK.
Unboxed has so far seen 238,000 visitors, compared to the organisers’ initial ‘stretch target’ of 66million. Now, a 17-day programme of talks in Birmingham called ‘PoliNations’ will be held in an urban ‘super garden’ and feature discussions on subjects which include the ‘possibilities of decolonial practice within art and horticulture’.
Among those speaking will be drag queen Yshee Black, real name James Bartholomew, who will hold a Saturday morning ‘story time’ on September 17 billed as a ‘family friendly event that celebrates the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood, while giving kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models’.
Those who enjoy the talk from 9.30am to 10.30am are then encouraged on the organisers’ website to attend an event called ‘Yshee’s Drag Party’ if they feel ‘inspired’ at 9pm that night, where Yshee will be ‘joined by a talented group of local creatives from the world of drag, dance and cabaret for a sequin covered night to remember’.
Before then, there is a talk tomorrow by organic food grower Claire Ratinon and artist Sam Ayr on ‘possibilities of decolonial practice within art and horticulture and how this might encourage wider change in society’.
Then this Saturday afternoon, there will be a lecture at 1pm on ‘decolonising the garden’ by Goldsmiths University art and ecology academic Dr Ros Gray who will be joined by Sui Searle, founder of the ‘Decolonise the Garden’ initiative, which aims to brings an ‘anti-racism, equality and justice lens to gardening’.
This talk on ‘how imperialism shaped the British garden’ will see them explore ‘ideas around decolonising the garden, the central role that plants played in the and how imperialism shaped the British garden’.
But Conservative MP and ex-Brexit minister David Jones told MailOnline today: ‘Gardening is arguably the favourite pastime of the people of this country. How fortunate we are to have Ms Searle to explain to us that when we are pruning our roses we are in fact oppressing the masses and need to be decolonised. The gardeners of Britain will be justified in wondering why their taxes are being wasted on this monumental heap of neo-Marxist compost.’
Drag queen Yshee Black, real name James Bartholomew, will hold a Saturday morning ‘story time’ at the PoliNations festival on September 17, billed as a ‘family friendly event that celebrates the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood’
Organic food grower Claire Ratinon (left) and artist Sam Ayr will talk tomorrow at the PoliNations festival in Birmingham about the ‘possibilities of decolonial practice within art and horticulture and how this might encourage wider change in society’
And Professor Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, told MailOnline today: ‘This festival has got nothing to do with Brexit. It is an excuse to put on display the latest wokish fads.
‘When people are asked to decolonise their garden, you know that what’s at issue is the promotion of woke propaganda and not a love of horticulture.’
The following excerpts are taken from the guide to PoliNations – part of the Unboxed series of events:
LUNCHTIME TALK WITH CLAIRE RATINON AND SAM AYRE: ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THE CREATIVE WORLD
Friday, September 2 – 2pm
A conversation between writer and organic food grower Claire Ratinon and artist and educator Sam Ayre about creative responsibilities towards the environment, the possibilities of decolonial practice within art and horticulture and how this might encourage wider change in society.
LUNCHTIME TALK WITH SUI SEARLE AND DR ROS GRAY: DECOLONISING THE GARDEN – HOW IMPERIALISM SHAPED THE BRITISH GARDEN
Saturday, September 3 – 1pm
Part of the series curated by Claire Ratinon and Sam Ayre, Sui Searle, founder of Decolonise the Garden and Dr Ros Gray, Programme Leader MA Art & Ecology at Goldsmiths College will be exploring ideas around decolonising the garden, the central role that plants played in the and how imperialism shaped the British garden.
DRAG QUEEN STORY TIME
Saturday, September 17 – 9.30am
PoliNations Resident Artist and Drag Artist extraordinaire Yshee Black (pronounced ‘Why-she black’) hosts our family friendly event that celebrates the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood, while giving kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. Come on down and join the fun, and if you feel inspired, head to the mainstage in the evening for Yshee’s Drag Party!
Other critics have said that the over-arching Unboxed festival has become a £120million flop, after it emerged some people were refusing to even take part if the UK’s exit from the European Union is mentioned.
Naomi Smith, chief executive of ‘internationalist’ campaign group Best for Britain, told MailOnline today: ‘With a bill of around £500 per attendee, the Festival of Brexit is the perfect metaphor for how Brexit itself has turned out, hugely expensive and deeply unpopular with no one really getting what they wanted.
‘The new Prime Minister must stop squandering cash on these vanity projects and put it where it’s needed, struggling families, businesses and public services.’
It comes after Kew Gardens director of science Professor Alexandre Antonelli, who was born and raised in Brazil, said last June that it was time to decolonise botanical collections by ‘tackling structural racism in plant and fungal science’.
And in October last year, it emerged that a sightseeing guide funded by Transport for London said wisteria had ‘colonial roots’ and classifying plants as ‘exotic’ had ‘colonial connotations’.
The Brixton Botanical Map, which is part of the ‘Art on the Underground’ series, also said ‘exotic’ was an ‘outdated and offensive’ term to classify plants because it describes the ‘mysteriously foreign’. And it suggested the horticultural terms ‘native’ and ‘invasive’ were offensive because they implied ‘histories of conquest’.
Sources at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – which is behind the Unboxed festival which started in March – said some staff there feel it is ‘almost devoid of place’, according to an article in MPs’ and peers’ publication The House. One remarked: ‘It was really contrary to the original vision.’
According to the article, Martin Green – the festival’s chief creative officer – had asked: ‘Can I ascertain it’s not a Brexit festival?… You don’t want some kind of jingoistic jamboree?’
Donald Shaw, a folk musician who was the musical director for Dandelion, an event in Glasgow and Inverness, told the magazine that the festival’s entire top team insisted it would be part of their contracts that Brexit not be mentioned. ‘It was a red-line in our contracts with Unboxed,’ Mr Shaw said.
‘When the festival was announced we said that if literally one MP stood up and said, ‘This is the festival of Brexit’, we were all going to pull out. The Scottish government made that clear to the UK government.’
And a spokesman for Unboxed told the magazine there were no references to the UK’s exit from the bloc in the commissioning agreements.
‘There are absolutely no references to Brexit in our Full Commissioning Agreements with the 10 projects,’ they said.
Mr Shaw told the House the festival was ‘outward-looking’. He said: ‘We were looking to commission European musicians, it was a full European project. We went the other way. Even to the point where some Tory MPs were apparently unhappy with us. They were like, wait a minute, where’s the bunting? That meant we’d succeeded.’
On Saturday afternoon, there will be a lecture at 1pm on ‘decolonising the garden’ by Goldsmiths University art and ecology academic Dr Ros Gray (left) who will be joined by Sui Searle (right), founder of the ‘Decolonise the Garden’ initiative
Earlier this year, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee said the events were ‘an irresponsible use of public money’. Committee chairman Julian Knight (pictured) said the Unboxed festival ‘seems to quickly be disappearing without trace’
One of the festival’s projects invited people to put on a virtual reality headset and watch a story about ‘a a trans parent adopting a gender-questioning toddler’.
Unboxed says on its website that it is funded and supported by the UK Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government.
The arts festival to champion the benefits of Brexit has become a £120million flop, say critics, with some refusing to even take part if the UK’s exit from the EU is mentioned.
The taxpayer-funded celebrations were announced in 2018 by then PM Theresa May, who promised a ‘year-long festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. But they were transformed into Unboxed, an eight-month ‘celebration of creativity’ with ten events across the UK.
Sources at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – behind the festival which started in March – say some staff there feel it is ‘almost devoid of place’. One said: ‘It was really contrary to the original vision.’
According to an article in MPs’ and peers’ publication The House, the festival’s chief creative officer Martin Green had asked officials: ‘Can I ascertain it’s not a Brexit festival?… You don’t want some kind of jingoistic jamboree?’
And folk musician Donald Shaw, who directed an Unboxed event, told the magazine the festival’s entire top team insisted it would be part of their contracts that Brexit not be mentioned. ‘It was a red line in our contracts with Unboxed,’ he said.
The events were chosen following what organisers described as an ‘open call for ideas’ in 2020, which saw them receive 299 submissions involving around 3,000 organisations, freelancers and other creatives to take part in a research and development programme.
In November that year, 30 creative teams were shortlisted by representatives of the festival team and the delivery bodies, with input from a group of creative advisors, to take part in the funded research and development project.
Organisers said a ‘rigorous selection process’ saw ten teams commissioned to work on their project ideas in March 2021 – comprising of six UK-wide teams, plus one each for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
But earlier this year, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee said the festival was ‘an irresponsible use of public money’ and that it is ‘far from clear’ that it will deliver a return on investment.
Committee chairman Julian Knight said: ‘Far from showcasing the UK’s creativity and innovation to the world, the Unboxed festival seems to quickly be disappearing without trace.
‘That the Government is clinging to the idea that it is a success does not inspire confidence that lessons are being learnt about how best to deliver events in the future.
‘Without a commitment to a proper strategy, major events will continue to run the risk of squandering the potential benefits for the country and wasting taxpayers’ money.’
Martin Green, chief creative officer at Unboxed, said: ‘PoliNations will be a joyous celebration of the incredible creativity and cultural diversity across the UK today.
‘We’re thrilled to have commissioned the festival as a part of Unboxed and that it will also provide a spectacular free event for everyone in the final month of the Birmingham 2022 Festival.
‘Audiences from the region and far and wide will be able to experience an event that embraces diverse forms of art, and myriad ways to tell captivating personal and collective stories that reflect the magnificent richness of our society.’
MailOnline has contacted the PoliNations event organisers over claims that they are pursuing a ‘woke’ agenda.
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