Spotlight: Journeys Festival International

Journeys Festival International celebrates the extraordinary journeys and creative talents of refugee and asylum seeker artists, and shares the refugee experience through great art and culture.

The festival began in 2013 in Leicester and has taken place every year in the city since. Last year they secured increased funding to expand their work to Portsmouth and Manchester. Elements of the festival will also travel to Europe this year including Rome, Palermo, Hamburg and Budapest. Jennifer Tipton and Emily Harris from the festival answered our questions.

How did the festival come about? 

Following some successful, one-off platforming events for refugee artists that ArtReach held in collaboration with Counterpoint Arts and Nottingham Contemporary, ArtReach decided to develop Journeys Festival International (JFI) into a bigger and better celebration to really get the message out there. The first festival was held in Leicester in 2013.

The event has since gone from strength to strength, developing a strong portfolio of diverse partners, from frontline charities to cultural organisations. In 2016, JFI recieved the Ambition for Excellence award from Arts Council England. This helped the festival move to the next step and start commissioning the highest quality refugee artists for the programme. In 2017 JFI was one of only 12 successful projects from across Europe, (and one of three UK projects) for the Creative Europe special call out for arts projects that support the integration of refugees. JFI has now developed both a local interest, a national and European portfolio of partners, and garners an international ambition to be the best celebration of refugee and asylum seeker artists. 

The festival takes place in three UK cities this year as well as a number of European cities. Why were these cities chosen, and why work across so many locations?

Within the UK we work in Leicester, Manchester, and Portsmouth which gives JFI a great breadth of activity taking place across the country. These cities happened to be chosen due to their positive response to ArtReach approaching them for partnerships. As well as geographically speaking, all 3 cities offer something very different in terms of their cultural arts scene. It has been really great to develop working relationships with key cultural organisations and capitalise on the specific interests of arts in each city, adapting the festival's programming accordingly to give the city's audiences what they like, as well as giving them something a little bit different to experience too.

Our European work was developed through the Creative Europe funding bid that ArtReach successfully achieved. A special call out took place in 2017 for arts projects that supported the integration of refugees. Elements of JFI have since been taken to the cities of Hamburg (Germany), Palermo, Rome (Italy) and Budapest (Hungary) through our partnerships with STAMP Festival, CESIE, Museo Dei Bambini and Trafo House. It has been incredibly humbling to see each organisation interpret JFI into their own artistic programming and provide such a positive outreach for the localised refugee and asylum seeker communities. As well as this, the whole ArtReach team understand the importance of maintaining strong European contacts and networks as we go through the turbulent European political landscape we find ourselves in at the moment. 

How many refugee and asylum seeker artists do you expect to participate this year? 

Across the seven cities JFI expects almost 200 direct participants and a lot more people as audience members. There are so many incredible projects running through the year for people to get involved in, with showcasing taking place as part of the main festival. These projects include; New Theatre Writing, Visual Arts, ROOTS Refugee and Asylum Seeker Advisory Group, Discussion events, Music Journeys Weekenders and much more. By working with frontline charities such as British Red Cross, City of Sanctuary, After 18 and more, we are able to offer a service that gets overlooked when people first arrive to seek sanctuary.

Our charitable partners and the government do an amazing job of finding accommodation, providing financial support, food and legal advice. However JFI is able to offer a creative outlet that many people need. We wish to look past the identity of 'refugee' and look at the amazing creative skillset that they can offer, whether they're a visual artist, graphic designer, illustrator, musician, performer, spoken word artist, photographer or translator. JFI seeks to help reorientate creatives into the UK cultural industries and offer a platform and creative opportunities that support the individual and maybe changes the perceptions of the UK public. 

What should we expect this year? 

JFI Portsmouth takes place from 19 - 29 October 2017. Visit the festival website for more information. A couple of highlights are:

- Look Up - an outdoor art exhibition by refugee artists and those locally engaging with the refugee community. The work is blown up large scale and will be on the side of iconic buildings throughout the city to provide an art trail - stay tuned for art walks and talks!

- The Container Project - providing the latest digital technologies and an innovative project space. The Container Project will open the festival with a graffiti on the theme of 'Unity' by artist N4T4.

- Coffee Shop Conversation Discussion events - an open space with free coffee and cake to discuss arts in reference to the festivals themes with appointed speakers and artists.

- Aakash Odedra's #JeSuis (In Progress) at New Theatre Royal - a contemporary dance piece by celebrated choreographer on themes of home, displacement and manipulation through media. The dance will be followed by a unique discussion with contributions from European partners. 

- Asylum, in partnership with The People's Lounge and Dash Arts - An evening of extraordinary music with influences from around the globe.


Journeys Festival International takes places in Leicester from 21 August - 3 September 2017, Manchester from 2 - 15 October 2017 and Portsmouth from 19 - 29 October 2017. More information about the festival can be found here.