Refugee arts festival set to come to Portsmouth

AN ARTS festival looking at the experience of refugees and refugee artists is coming to Portsmouth.

Kinde perform at the Journeys Festival Leicester last year
Kinde perform at the Journeys Festival Leicester last year

Journeys Festival International will take place across the city from October 10 to 22, thanks to a share of a £655,000 injection from Arts Council England.

The cash is going to organisers ArtReach, who have been running Journeys Festival annually in Leicester since 2013, attracting thousands of people to their events.

The money is to help it expand to Portsmouth and Manchester for the next three years.

The festival aims to work with refugees from the local area as well as engage with the wider community.

Organisers will work with Portsmouth Cultural Trust, New Theatre Royal, Aspex, Portsmouth Festivities, British Red Cross and Artswork

Director of ArtReach, David Hill said: ‘At such a profound moment, when thousands flee places of strife, conflict and persecution, and when the European project is under such scrutiny, we hope the development of our refugee arts festival will be opening eyes, challenging perceptions and raising questions through great art.

‘We are trying to celebrate the exceptional work we have found refugee artists offering and bringing by showcasing their work and sharing their experiences.’

He added: ‘The money does sound a lot and we’re thrilled to get it, but is split across three cities over three years, and it’s not actually covering the whole budget – we are having to find partnership funding.’

Portsmouth was chosen to take part after showing interest in ArtReach’s approach.

Andy Grays, chief executive of the PCT said: ‘Artistically they’re really interesting partnerships – Leicester is very diverse, and Manchester has a great artistic community.

‘I think it’s a really good association for Portsmouth to have and it’s asking us to step up our game a bit to match them.’

He added: ‘The arts is about challenge and being open and pushing boundaries. There’s an opportunity to learn a lot from this.’

The festival will include newly commissioned works, including: Look-Up, a visual arts exhibition in iconic cityscape locations; the Container Project, presenting installations, visual arts and pop-up performances based in and around a shipping container; and Coffee Shop Conversations, an opportunity for the public to talk to refugees and refugee artists.

News of festival comes despite council scepticism

NEWS of a festival promoting refugee wellbeing comes after several months in which Portsmouth’s attitude to refugees has made national headlines.

The city council’s Tory administration put forward a proposal last year urging all councillors to agree that the city should have its cluster status – a designation meaning it takes in a set number of migrant families – dropped.

The council argued that keeping the status would increase pressure on local services.

The plan – which in the end was voted through by the Tories and Ukip and opposed by the Lib Dems and Labour – sparked protests from pro-asylum campaigners.

It led to a letter being sent to Home Secretary Theresa May requesting that she remove Portsmouth’s cluster responsibility – but she refused to agree to the council’s request.

It came despite Tory council leader Donna Jones saying that Portsmouth should not have been expected to take more refugees after 15 years as a cluster area.

Cllr Jones said at time: ‘We have people on seven-year waiting lists just to get a one-bedroom flat.

‘We have a shortage of over 1,000 primary school places.’