Greenbelt 2024 – Dream On

Greenbelt 2024 – Dream On

Our Creative Director, Paul Northup, blogs about our festival theme for this year – Dream On.

In those two long years of the pandemic, when we were unable to host a full-blown festival, it was as if we slipped into some form of collective slumber. A hibernation of sorts. Surfacing again, coming up for air, was partly why we coined ‘Wake Up’ as the theme for the 2022 festival – our first full expression of who we were since 2019. A little bleary-eyed, we met each other in the fields at Boughton House that summer. There was a palpable sense of relief and joy in the air. It was good to wake up in such good company.

At the time of coming up with the idea of ‘Wake Up’ we also coined a follow-on theme which we thought would work really well in tandem with it. We were also excited at the way this second theme would fit with being fifty years old as a festival. But then, as we got into the detailed planning for our 50th festival (in 2023) we realised that we needed to focus on being 50 – purely and simply. Greenbelt Festival + a theme + being 50 just felt too complex to visually communicate. So we put our idea for the follow-on theme to Wake Up on hold for 2024.

So, at last, for Greenbelt 2024, it’s time for us to invite you to Dream On.

It’s a throwaway phrase, used to play down hope and possibility. But we want to rehabilitate and reimagine it. Instead of the “yeah, right…dream on” like that’s-never-going-to-happen way in which the phrase is most often used today, we want to own it as an imperative, an instruction, an order, a call to action, a life-giving, sacramental duty.

Because, no matter how bad things seem right now (and they are bad, no question), change is still possible. And, more often than not, change is driven by the dreams that people hold onto – in the face of everything – of a better world. Dreams, that when acted on, make a real difference in the real world.

As Margaret Mead famously wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” That is the Greenbelt dream. It’s the Greenbelt gospel. In fact, as far as we read it, it’s the gospel.

It’s a gospel that believes, proclaims and behaves in the light of the fact that art, love, imagination, compassion, service, sacrifice, generosity, activism – all these human instincts, these seemingly delicate, fragile and insubstantial things, bound up in our hopes and dreams – can and do change the world.  

And it’s not just a young person’s prerogative. As the Good Book says, in Acts, chapter two:

“’In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”

As it says at the entrance to the Tent of Nations just outside Bethlehem, on a hilltop farm owned by the Palestinian Nassar family, “we refuse to be enemies.” And we also refuse to be trapped in fear and despair. Yes, we’ve woken up. Yes, we’re eyes wide open. But we’re going to keep dreaming. Because to dream is to imagine that another world might still be possible. 

Dreaming on is what Greenbelt has been doing for 50 years. And now, facing ever more complex and overwhelming challenges, it’s time to remind ourselves to keep dreaming for the next 50 years. Just as artists, activists and prophets and believers have done for centuries – in the face of all the odds. Because the work of dreaming is never done. 

This is our Greenbelt rallying call. To dream, to act, to make, to imagine, to give, to love, to be. Who knows what dreams will come? Let’s find out together at Greenbelt this summer, as we dream on. Together.

For our Dream On artwork this year we’ve worked with two brothers who grew up coming to Greenbelt and their Two Suns agency, drawing inspiration from the work of Sister Corita Kent

We have fallen in love with Sister Corita’s work over the last few years and have wanted to somehow use its energy and vision in our own expression. In many ways, Sister Corita perfectly embodies the three-stranded DNA we attempt to weave at Greenbelt – of artistry, activism and belief. So we’re thrilled that Two Sons have been able to lean into her spirit so fully – using the arrow motif she so often deployed as a sign of hope in the face of an unknown, daunting future. 

The wonderfully retro poster-print overlay, pop-art feel of what they’ve created is both curiously contemporary and yet classically timeless – its directness and simplicity gives it an energy and hopefulness that feels incredibly necessary right now. It resonates perfectly with our desire to reaffirm our commitment to Dream On.

When the festival was barely 10 years old, and facing a bleak political landscape, mass unemployment, and the all-pervasive, existential Cold War threat, The Specials still urged us to join them in enjoying ourselves, because, as they sang, “it’s later than you think.” Much earlier, in Sister Corita’s 10 Rules for Life (popularised by John Cage), her ninth rule insisted we should: “Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself.” Because, “It’s lighter than you think.” 

Our Dream On theme for 2024 and the artwork that supports it underlines this sense; the persistent hopefulness that still emanates from the heart of God and throughout all creation; a gift we must work to remember, and a calling we must try to live out.