Thursday 7 August 2014

Thoughts on ​Art, Funding and Conflict

Storm clouds gathering
Apparently some small world events have broken out whilst I've been studying. Thankfully my work enables me retain some semblance of a connection with the news, through reading the papers and having vaguely intelligent conversations with colleagues.

One of these colleagues is an interesting outspoken individual with some strong views. A lawyer, with strong views? Yes I know, most strive to be beyond bland but there are some out there willing to stick their neck out.

We disagree on many things. Our most recent putting the world to wrongs is the Palestine/Israel conflict, about which we profoundly clash. He has familial, emotional, and I guess, client ties to Israel; whereas I am merely a relatively well informed onlooker with horrified and baffled sense of unease about the whole bloody conflict. In my view, the forces on neither side are particularly pleasant, and I feel that there are powers working behind the scenes to prolong the agony of the average person on the war torn streets.

Still, we bond over the arts and oddly, we were both shocked to hear that the Tricycle theatre  has cancelled its UK Jewish Film Festival. I'm discovering that a lot has been written about this, but, what the heck, this is the internet, my blog, and I can publish what I like. He wrote a short piece in response:

Most people must wonder why all the fuss. A small theatre in Kilburn, London bans the UK Jewish Film Festival after a long collaboration and so many of us are both angry and sad about it.

I suggest people should indeed be very worried about what has taken place. A decision of the Tricycle board was made to discriminate against UKJFF. Why? Purely because of its connection with and support from the Israeli Embassy. That leads me is to ask "does the performance of a work at the Tricycle depends on who funds it?". Art as determined by funders has a dictatorial ring to it. Many might argue taking money from the British government, as has this theatre, is equally unacceptable; as in so many cases, it all depends who you are and how you look at it.

I don't accept the comment from the theatre's director " I absolutely want the Festival here." Somehow she missed out the words " provided I can choose who funds it" .

The UKJFF has always presented films representing numerous points of view; often its films criticised the Israeli government; try doing that in seventy-five percent of the world and see where you end up. This decision will, I believe, encourage anti-semitism and polarisation in our community.
How pathetic too that those encouraging these views ( despite no doubt their claims to the contrary) are themselves led by a Jewish Chairman.

Long may the UKJFF flourish, anywhere than at the Tricycle.

My response is probably quite naïve and is certainly less assured than his - perhaps that reflects my inherent suspicion at any obvious side-taking.

Firstly I was shocked that they would not run the film festival because we are in London. London celebrates its cultural diversity so whatever your background, religion or whatever, you are pretty much free to celebrate what you want. So it's shocking that certain groups are being prevented from doing something on the basis of their religion when that venue has never minded about the funding in the past.

Secondly this film festival has previously not pulled any punches in terms of criticism of Israel/Palestine. It is an excellent opportunity to get people talking. The only way to resolve this situation is knowledge, understanding, finding a common ground, using neutral locations, and asking lots and lots of difficult questions. Films presented at the event, and debates around the issues that they have raised, would ensure that people are informed, questioning and talking.

Thirdly, politically neutral venues taking a stand on non conflict related matter is extremely distasteful. It should be up to the attendees to make that decision about whether to go. If you're an ethical sort, you might look at some of the sponsorship for some of the national museums' exhibitions and decide that you can't bear certain commercial banks funding your cultural excursion. So if you see that something has been sponsored by a government you disapprove of, go along and make your point. OR don't go along, and welcome that freedom of choice.

Then you start thinking about other Jewish cultural events. My immediate response was what next? Will next year's Jewish Book Week be cancelled if the venue dislikes the source of funding? Or one of the speakers, or indeed, one of the books? I can't help thinking there is more to this than meets the eye. If intellectual festivals are cancelled, what message does this send out to those who already hold polarised views? Political and religious polarisation is not the way to conflict resolution and only restates differences and inequality.

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