Since announcing our first lineup names on March 1 2022, we’ve had some concerns raised by a few Greenbelters in response to some of the names on this year’s bill. We take these concerns seriously and so we invited Paul Northup, Greenbelt’s Creative Director, to explain the careful approach to curating the bill that he and our Head of Programming, Katherine Goodenough, are committed to.
We believe that none of us are simply one thing. Life is messy and complicated. Each and every one of us – artists and speakers included – hold a range of views. We are multi-faceted as humans. So it’s not easy (it’s actually almost impossible) to avoid making a wide-ranging and diverse festival like Greenbelt, without some of that messiness and complication being involved.
Basically, we think each of the speakers and artists on the bill have interesting and pertinent things to say and share in our Greenbelt space (which is not to say that we necessarily agree with or endorse everything they’ve ever said or made).
But what we can say, of course, is that – for four days in August, at least – it’s our field. And as such, we make and maintain the rules for all those invited to play in that field – artists and audience alike.
We can also say that we remain resolutely committed to making Greenbelt a progressively safer space for all who come to the festival. And our experience is that – no matter who is on the bill – increasing numbers of people over the decades have found genuinely safe haven at Greenbelt.
That said, because we are committed to being a safer and ever-more inclusive space, we recognise we need to be more transparent about the things we do already (and will do in the future) in carefully curating the Greenbelt bill.
In inviting our speakers and artists, we do so with very particular reasons in mind. Those reasons then translate into talks titles and descriptions that appear in our festival guide, and so on. But this year we’re going to be clearer earlier about exactly what it is that speakers (especially) are being invited to speak on.
Secondly, ground rules…
As you would expect, we send very clear information out to all our contributors about the space we’re making, outlining our expectations about how they take part in our festival while they’re with us.
This expectation- and scene-setting actually happens from the very first invite we send, and is part of a ‘conversation’ that develops over time with the speaker or artist. We talk about who we are, the space we’re making, and why it is that we’d like them to be part of that.
This year, we’re going to draw that together and publish a statement of our commitment to making Greenbelt a safer space and what that means for us in practice in the field. We’ll make this available on our website. And, importantly, we’ll also send it to all our artists and speakers (to add to that ‘conversation’ we’re already having with them).
In particular, we will be clear about what we will and won’t tolerate. This is because of our commitment to the space we want to create and the people who we want to feel more included and safer within it. We want to welcome an increasingly diverse audience and that means that while we want to invite speakers and artists with a wide range of views, there are some things that – in our space – are outside that range.
Thirdly, at the festival…
Curation isn’t just about inviting and booking; it’s about the way we then stage the programme, too. And this year, there are some things we’re going to do a bit differently at the festival itself. For instance, we’re going to facilitate some of the Q&As differently, so that we can curate them to be more accessible to a wider range of people (other than those confident enough to stand and speak in a crowded tent).
In addition, whereas some speakers want to deliver their own keynote material from the stage, others want to be ‘in conversation’ with a host that we put up. We’re usually pretty relaxed and flexible about that. But the format is our call. And with some of our high profile guests we insist that they are part of a conversation with us rather than ‘doing their own thing’.
We’re also going to deepen our training and briefing for all those we work with onsite (from our volunteers to our contractors and staff team) to deliver inclusive, safer interaction with all our audience members and artists across the weekend.
Paul Northup, Creative Director, Greenbelt Festival