Do we really want a white-breaded, Brexited flatland?
Sir, Further to your report “Festival acts ‘humiliated’ in visa process” (July 26), WOMAD, the World music festival that I founded with some friends in 1980, was established to celebrate the richness and magic of all our cultural differences and to demonstrate the stupidity of racism. However, the right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted, often along racial and religious lines. WOMAD is now having increasing difficulties bringing international artists into the UK. Some of these artists no longer want to come because of the difficulty and cost involved, as well as the delays with visas and the new fear that they will not be welcome in our country.
There have been, and continue to be, good people within the Foreign Office who try to help us each year. But it is clear that if we want a country that is open to those with ideas, traditions, food and culture different from our own, then we need to streamline existing visa processes and costs and find ways to turn back the growing perception that the UK no longer welcomes ‘foreigners'” – Peter Gabriel (Letter to the Editor featured in The Times, 1 Aug, pg22)
Keeping The UK Open To The Worlds Artists
For over 35 years WOMAD has been committed to discovering artists from all over the world and bringing them to new audiences in the UK and beyond. WOMAD festival is a place to explore, discover and learn about the many cultures that animate our world and help us to understand the importance of its diversity. Music is our primary platform but WOMAD celebrates the arts in the most diverse forms including Visual Arts, Dance and Spoken Word.
As we take WOMAD festivals around the world it is clear that bringing the jigsaw pieces of our shared planet together are more important than ever before. The walls of fear that are being placed around our borders by our politicians need to be dismantled by a process of mutual understanding and education. The arts are vital to bringing down these walls and joining communities together.
(The Guardian, Front page, Wed 1 Aug)
The issue that has been raised for WOMAD UK in 2018 is not whether or not the new and automated visa system is fair, fit for purpose, rationale or affordable (It is evident that it is none of these things – but in time it may be) It is the message that the UK is sending out to international artists is that you are not welcome in Britain.
It has been an unexpected development since the introduction of the new visa system and the public exclamation of the prime minister to create a “Hostile Environment” on immigration, that for the first time in our 35+ years of bringing artists into the UK they are choosing to decline the invitations.
Whether their perceptions are real or inflamed, the reality is that artists are deciding that the hassle and cost of entering the UK are neither worth the return or the exposure to rejection that the process might bring. At first, this is a trickle but how do we prevent it being a flood.
Never mind wanting to remain in the UK, artists, and I am sure many in other equally important professions simply do not wish to visit the UK in the first place.
Is this how the British people feel? I strongly believe that it is not, and the 35000 people who attended WOMAD festival last weekend agree. Britain is a country built on a foundation of diverse cultures, it is a country that respects and is excited by diversity and is a country that wants to take its place on the global stage. Tragically, this is not the message that is being projected beyond our borders and the potential damage to our communities, culture and economy is a consequence of that is frankly heart-breaking.
At WOMAD it is our intention to embark on urgent discussions with our contacts at the Home Office and our partners in the cultural sector to find a way to welcome international artists into the UK and ask them to continue to make their contribution to making the UK a tolerant and forward-thinking focal point of the global cultural community.
Chris Smith, Festival Director.
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