As artists, activists and audiences recalibrate to a world of Brexit, President Trump and post-truth, Liverpool based Writing on the Wall’s festival, WoWFest, is a moment to take stock. Foregrounding the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the 18th iteration of the yearly festival-cum-call-to-arms will run throughout May. This year’s visual theme sees two revolutionary characters staring boldly into the future. WoWFest puts to its guests the question: what does the future we are confronting hold? Is the curve of revolution taking us up, or down?
Grappling with these issues are an assortment of guests – from writers to politicians – in a varied programme of events. The longest standing writing festival in Liverpool, local talent is joined by literary world heavyweights, such as French fantasy fiction author China Miéville and London’s rapper and poet Akala. The Guardian’s Gary Younge and the Green Party’s Natalie Bennett diversify the festival beyond its concern with the literary arts. The line-up is not just predicated on bringing these great voices to Liverpool, but also on political activism. It lauds those organising against a system in which the richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined.
The festival is kicked off with a May Day Parade on International Workers Day. WoWFest’s parade will also be the launch of the autobiography of Liverpool writer and activist George Garrett (1896-1936), ‘Ten Years on the Parish’. Its publication, Co-Director of Writing on the Wall Mike Morris says, is cause for celebration: ‘Garrett represents the essence of the city of Liverpool’s creative, maverick and socially committed character’. On a day when labour groups up and down the country will be taking to the street, this is event is an invitations to those on low-pay, suffering the fallout of callous benefit cuts, facing homelessness and discrimination to make their voice heard.
With a wealth of events across the month and across the city, WoWFest ranges from discussions on taxing robots, to round tables on a theme of ‘Revolution!’, to a day-long exploration of the self-publishing terrain. Up and coming voices can be heard at the Pulp Idol Grand Finale, while ‘Time for Action!’ will attempt to answer: ‘Brexit Britain – Bright or Broken?’.
In these turbulent political times, Madeline Heneghan (Co-Director, Writing on the Wall), believes that “artistic production and creativity has a vital role to play: it can bring people together, really get them thinking critically and motivated for change”. WoWFest offers a platform to map out an alternative future, to meaningfully use the arts and culture as a site to support those who struggle. By asking difficult questions, and hopefully soliciting radical answers, it is a bold programme that demands actions, rather than playing lip-service to radical politics as is so common in the arts. In a week where a supposed bastion of the political arts, Documenta, has come under fire for passivity in the face of injustice, perhaps it is time to look to local festivals to foster solidarity and advocate for change.