Vicki Arogundade is a member of the ArtReach board of directors and contributes her first blog examining the key role of festivals, like ArtReach’s festivals, for social change and unity.
As a young girl, my mother took me to every carnival, light show and community celebration in the vicinity. Although I generally enjoyed these types of shows, there were occasionally times I adamantly refused to attend. These were the days before person-centered parenting had a trending hashtag on Twitter, so my opinion was overruled and I found myself in the crowds regardless. Turns out this was an instance in which mother knew best, as seconds after the show had started my grumpy mood was transformed by the electric buzz in the air and in no time I was mesmerized by the show.
It didn’t take long for me to get the bug and I continued to attend creative productions in my locality as well as coordinating my holiday schedule to follow the international festival circuit around the UK. I never fail to be impressed by seeing these events animate outdoor spaces and offer a rare opportunity for the whole community to socialize together. It was like a huge street party in which everyone’s invited – regardless of affluence, age, ethnicity or disability.
“A truly fantastic, thought-provoking and inspiring exhibition, filled with sublime and beautiful artworks that make one’s heart sing”
Audience Member, Journeys Festival International
Years later, my career as a marketing specialist within arts and disability charities led me to cross paths with ArtReach and eventually join the Board of Trustees. It was from this position I was able to see how the role of local arts festivals had evolved into something bigger. Now, it offers more than a brief interlude from the daily routine, more than just escapism. It has become a tool to enable us to better understanding ourselves, comprehend our place in the world, as well as a method of reflecting on injustice, inequalities and challenging the biases we didn’t know we had.
There have been numerous courageous practitioners and organisations that have played a part in pioneering the use of the arts for social change, in different cities and across the world countries (personal favourites include the Theatre of the Oppressed, Welfare State, Jessica Rost and Fela Kuti). I was lucky enough to have ArtReach in my vicinity, actively programming events throughout my region.
It was here that I saw high-quality creative pieces being used to tackle politically-sensitive topics and ponder what it means to be human, at a time when few (individuals or organisations) dared to broach potentially contentious subjects for fear of negative repercussions or reputational damage.
Now the precedence has been set, it is now clear to see how well-placed creative mediums are positioned to harness the transformative power of the arts, not just entertain, but to educate and elevate.
“… have been very impressed and moved by the subject matter and quality of the artwork”
For 22 years, ArtReach was brave enough to put its head above the parapet and programme thought-provoking live events, designed to remind us of our shared humanity. The festivals bring together people of different cultures, encourage us to re-examine our stereotypes and challenge the validity of our underlying assumptions.