BLOG: Liverpool European Festival keeps Eurovision party alive
The Eurovision Song Contest may have left town but the party is far from over. Gosia McKane, Director of Merseyside Polonia, spills the beans on the inaugural Liverpool European Festival coming to Liverpool next month.
Commissioned as part of EuroStreet – Culture Liverpool’s community programme supported with funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, Spirit of 2012 and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – Liverpool European Festival will see the Eurovision 2023 legacy live on long after the glitter and sequins have been packed away.
Building on Liverpool’s already established multi-cultural festivals such as Africa Oyé and Arab Arts Festival, as well as the many successful exhibitions and events Merseyside Polonia has delivered, the festival aims to keep the joyous spirit of Eurovision alive.
While Eurovision united us through music, Liverpool European Festival will continue to connect us through dance, film and history.
I love that Liverpool is a melting pot of cultures. Not only does it welcome newcomers with open arms but the people of the city fully embrace and immerse themselves in the different cultures each community brings. You don’t have to be Chinese to attend Chinese New Year or African to come to Africa Oyé. Rather, they are wider community celebrations that bring the whole city together to share, experience and enjoy particular culture.
For me, migration is a natural process that brings balance, but the media created a hatred campaign against the new migrants, sadly resulting in an increase of hate crime. People were uncomfortable with the unknown. I thought that if local and new communities had a chance to meet, they would realise they have a lot in common. We all want to live in peace and for our family to be healthy, safe and happy. It is our differences, such as our food, traditions and cultures, that make us interesting. That’s the reason we travel and explore the world.
And so Merseyside Polonia was born. I established it to create a space where people can meet and get to know and inspire each other with the aim of developing positive relations between the Polish and local community.
Over the last 14 years, we’ve delivered numerous successful projects and events inspired by Polish and other international cultures, such as the Liverpool Midsummer Festival. It began as a one-day event with Polish folk dancing and singing, information stalls and art activities at St Luke’s Bombed out Church. The following year, it developed into 16 different events including classical and folk music concerts, literature events, film screenings, an exhibition, a symposium and performances, as well as theatre and craft workshops.
We wanted to grow bigger still and involve even more communities so when Liverpool won the bid to host Eurovision 2023 on behalf of Ukraine, it was the perfect opportunity to recognise and represent the rich European culture in the city.
Famously a city of immigrants, Liverpool has always considered itself to be European rather than English. While the UK voted to leave the European Union, Liverpool emphatically voted to remain, but there was still a lot of hurt in the aftermath of Brexit.
One positive of the EU Settlement Scheme was the opportunity to establish the number of Europeans in the UK holding national passports. Based on those registrations, Liverpool has 40,000 Europeans. That doesn’t even include those who were already granted British citizenship. But how much does the general population really know of the Liverpool European communities?
There is such richness in European culture. When you move to another country you bring your culture with you. Many migrant communities in the city continue to celebrate their national culture and the festival is a way to ensure people from outside of those communities get to experience this culture.
While we hope the festival will become an annual celebration, we’re also creating an online resource presenting Liverpool European Communities, including a database of local organisations and the cultural activities they offer.
I want us all to be more aware of our European neighbours, their history in the city and the traditions they celebrate. The festival is not only an opportunity to make the local European communities more visible and offer them voice but also inspire new artists and creators.
By investing in this project, Culture Liverpool is capacity building for the future. Eurovision may be held elsewhere next year but we will continue the legacy through the annual Liverpool European Festival.
Our culture defines who we are. We are proud of our heritage and we are here to stay.