Sunday, 25 October 2009

White Nights v Black History Month - is arts festival an event for all?

Last night I enjoyed one of the most surreal nights of free entertainment Brighton has to offer as part of Brighton City Council-supported 'White Nights' festival.

Highlights included a midnight session at the swimming pool, watching a montage of film clips set in - wait for it - swimming pools, while eating popcorn and ignoring the swimmers below.

There were two giant plastic cats dispensing wisdom in Jubilee Square, a virtual cycle race through the streets of Brighton, animated space invaders projected onto the walls of the Unitarian Church in New Road, and a late night of apocalyptic poetry and 'live art' installations at the Phenix Art Gallery.

The streets were pretty full late into the evening, and everyone was really friendly. Somehow there seemed to be relatively-few tourists, so while the busy streets gave Brighton a cosmopolitan feel for the night people didn't seem to have the self-centred attitude so often displayed by tourists.

So all good, really: I look forward to next year, and hope the local Arts Commission and City Council are inspired to support more art-based, free, night-time activities throughout the year too.

But not everyone has been as enthusiastic as me about it. Last week all councillors received an email suggesting that it was ironic that 'White' Nights was taking place during 'Black' History Month - a celebration which, he implies, has received less council support.

The sender suggested the festival should be renamed 'light night' (as in many other towns and cities holding similar events), saying:

" an ethnic minority resident of the city I don’t feel that the name of the festival celebrates the diversity of the city or indeed of an arts festival."

Furthermore, he suggested the event could incorporate a celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of lights marked around the world with processions and street parties last week.

Well I think he might have a point: White Lights was fantastic. Although there were events specifically focused on ethnic minority arts, it still felt mono-cultural. According to the 2001 census (now hopelessly out of date, of course) the city's Black and Minority Ethnic Population is about 15,000 people. Not many of them were out and about last night.

But racism doesn't have to be deliberate, or obvious: I really believe if someone reports that they have been the victim of racism then they probably have - and we at least have a duty to look more closely at their claims. So let's see if we can make the festival a little more inclusive next year.


  1. The name 'White Nights' originates in the annual, month-long White Nights festival in St Petersburg. The name refers to the sun never setting, hence the white sky. It does not refer to the colour of anyone's skin. Maybe you'd like to look into Brighton's existing racism issues without creating more.

    And tourists are self-centred? What a brilliant MP for this town you'd make. No thanks.

  2. Katherine

    Thanks for your comments.

    Of course the name doesn't refer to the colour of anyone's skin!

    This was all just a case of starting a debate on issues raised by a resident.

    Judging from the high level of responses I've received, one that has sparked a lot of interest. I am satisfied with the Chief Executive's response to the resident concerned though.

    And, just for the record, I have a long history or working, in the council and out of it, to improve the experience of tourists in our city, and encourage more of them to come!


  3. "You're satisfied" - How noble of you. Why not just put your hand up and acknowledge you've cocked up on this one with your over-zealous rush to prove your PC credentials.

    It's stupidly ignorant complaints such as the one you raised that gives succour to bigots to rail against liberal society. It also jeopardises future arts events in Brighton with ridiculous quotas and inclusion surveys et al.

    Just how is sitting in a swimming pool eating popcorn either exclusive to white people or non-inclusive?

    I really hate the phrase "PC gone mad" but it really is apt in this case.

  4. @BrightonFan Completely agree, this is absolutley ridiculous. Ben Duncan is an idiot.

  5. Hi Ben,

    I am an ethnic minority resident in Brighton and Hove and whilst I enjoyed White nights, I recognise what you are saying about the mono cultural nature of many mainstream arts events that take place in our city. I think your point is an important issue to raise though I wouldn't limit it wholly to white nights .

    Also, i think the issue of class is equally as important (as the white nights audience was unremittingly middle class) , but I don't think this is particular this particular event; it's an issue which affects most arts activities in the city. I wonder how arts activities can be made more accessible to a wider group of people?

  6. Of course the event was middle class. Arts funding is always a way of making working people pay for middle class entertainment.

  7. he was simply commenting on a comment someone made, this all reeks of a political stitch up by the media as usual, at least he isn't frittering away tax payers money and involved with russian oligarchs and media moguls, why are these people so energetically opposed to some bad reporting ? closet racists coming out, or does this smell of political motives ... hmmmmm tory, tory, tory, labour ....