Martin Green, Chief Creative Officer Festival UK*2022
Martin Green, Chief Creative Officer of Festival UK*2022.

October 2020

Meeting Martin Green

Kathy McArdle, Director England and Global Cities caught up with Martin Green, Chief Creative Officer Festival UK* 2022 to find out more the festival...

Nothing quite prepares you for meeting Martin Green for the first time. I’ll never forget the first time I met him in Hull soon after I started working with the British Council when we met with some of his colleagues for a coffee and toasted ham and cheese sandwich in the Fruit Market, one of the loveliest creative districts part of the city. What struck me then was not just his energy, but his sharp intellect, his ability to get to the nub of an issue and to see beyond small politics to bring people together working towards a shared vision usually on a super-large scale. 

Not content with masterminding the hugely successful Hull UK City of Culture 2017, and creating extraordinary global moments as the Head of Ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Martin has taken on the challenge of curating, managing and promoting what is called Festival UK* 2022 (* working title), taking place across the 2022 year. I caught up with Martin, now ensconced as Chief Creative Officer for the Festival to find out more about what it might look like and what we can expect.

Kathy McArdle

So, Martin, what is Festival UK 2022 ?

MG: It’s really a UK-wide celebration of our creativity and innovation. It has been designed in collaboration with all four nations of the UK to showcase the best of our art, culture, heritage, design and technology sectors. We want it to bring people together through memorable experiences, engage communities across the United Kingdom to celebrate our strengths, values and identities, and deliver a world class festival of creativity that looks beyond our borders to engage people from all over the globe.

Why 2022?

MG: 2022 is a phenomenal year for the UK – we host the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in the summer, it’s the Queen’s  Platinum Jubilee, the BBC marks 100 years of broadcasting, and the Edinburgh International Festival will have  been going for 75 years. This already offers lots of live large-scale events happening in different places so we didn’t want to do that. So the Festival will weave its way in and around these major events and moments, producing 10 large-scale UK-wide public engagement commissions to complement these other milestones. These commissions will exist in places and spaces across the UK (real, virtual or both); seeking to reach millions of people globally.

Tell us more about these commissions

MG:We are looking for original projects that are open, bold and optimistic. Expect the unexpected! Creativity sits at the heart of the Festival. I come from a cultural background but all my work and life so far has shown me that creativity is not just the preserve of cultural institutions. It is at the heart of all STEAM sectors. So Festival 22 is resolutely about STEAM. The hypothesis is that, by combining creative minds and practitioners from across STEAM, we will reach new heights of ambition and possibility. Each commission will start with the goal of reaching millions of people in ways that are surprising, joyful, playful and social. We think technology will likely play a significant part in realising ideas at this scale, with our creative industries, our arts, sciences and humanities playing a key role too.  We are describing the 10 or so commissions as ‘experiments in creativity’ that will result in jaw-dropping, world-beating, popular and breath-taking creative projects for everyone to enjoy in 2022.

That sounds like it could be incredible or an absolute disaster. Where do you start?

MG:We thought the only place to start is with teams of creative people and some Research and development. Projects at this scale need time and investment to nurture the seeds of an idea into something real and tangible. So we have put out a call to the greatest minds and brightest talents drawn from the worlds of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to form Creative Teams who will bid for R and D funds. There’s a total of £3 million available for investing in ideas and in their creation. It’s an invitation really to potential collaborators to ‘dream big and innovate’ – challenging them to look beyond their own field or sector and connect with colleagues from different industries to discover new possibilities, to include and platform under-represented voices and to recognise, nurture and be inspired by emerging talents.

We will invest £100,000 in each of thirty  R and D projects, to give them time to work up their ideas together. We will also put them through their creative paces through a F22 ‘creative studio’ approach where they will also be encouraged to think differently about some of their ideas too. Their brief – to originate compelling, ambitious and extraordinary ideas for projects that have the potential to reach millions of people. Ultimately, we will commission up to 10 major projects in the final public programme for 2022, with four originating with teams in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, likely bearing the distinctive characteristics of the four nations of the UK but still looking to engage people in every corner of the Uk and internationally. If the conditions are right, these ‘experiments’ will result In a cluster of inspirational projects that have mass appeal.

Will this not just end up benefitting those practitioners who are already established? What about new voices and innovators?

MG:One of the criteria for the creative teams is that they showcase/platform new voices and approaches, drawn from across the UK and across STEAM sectors. This clear and demonstrable focus on platforming under-represented, new and emerging organisations / artists / practitioners / thinkers is really important. While there may be very experienced and established individuals in a team, it is important to bring in these voices from contemporary Britain, to reflect our diverse identities.The festival will also create a raft of opportunities for freelancers and individuals within sectors significantly impacted by COVID-19 – this workforce are at the heart of our creative nation and will underpin delivery of all the commissions.

Coming from the perspective of the British Council, where is the international dimension in all of this? Surely, this won’t be just about ‘exporting UK creativity to the world’?

MG:This has come up a lot during the webinars we’ve held for people interested in forming creative teams. We’ve said that initially the act of forming a team needs to focus on people who live in the Uk or ‘call this place home’. But that once teams enter the R and D stage, they can collaborate with whoever they like – a VR technologist in Nairobi, a biodiversity expert in Nepal, a social media guru in Beirut – it’s up to them to find the people and organisations that will help shape their ideas and bring them to fruition.

We would encourage teams to work with the British Council to help source their collaborators – with your ‘boots on the ground’ in over 100 countries around the world, teams will want to benefit from your local insight and knowledge of the creative sectors in those countries. And because you already work in arts, creative economy, social innovation, social enterprise, HE, science and sport, you can introduce people to each other. That’s where the magic happens! And your global communications channels mean that we can work with you to use your digital and marketing platforms to showcase all of these unique projects as they develop and meet the publics. It's going to be an interesting journey.

It's been a strange couple of years for the UK, with Brexit, Covid-19 and most likely an economic recession. What can Festival 22 do to help us feel optimistic about the future?

MG:I know this is a not a conventional way to programme a multi-million-pound festival, but we want the process to reflect our ambition, and the outcome to showcase the UK’s creativity and innovation to the world. The goal is that everyone in the UK, no matter where they are or what access they have, will be able to find at least one project that is meaningful, exciting and entertaining, to them. As we look towards a near-future that will mark the UK’s transition into recovery, we look forward to a time when people will feel able to celebrate and take pride in themselves and the places they call home.This is a future-facing project and therefore we need brilliant creative minds to contribute, to rise to the challenge.

Let’s face it, people need something to look forward to, something open original and optimistic, something that gives them a sense of pride and community, something that brings us together. These are things that are arguably absent right now, the purpose of the final 10 projects in the programme, will be to bring them back.