UK’s first social justice festival

Caspar Walsh visits Interrogate! festival in Devon

As I walk into the main courtyard of Dartington Hall in the heart of south Devon, I’m met with a sight I haven’t seen since 1973, walking with my dad wide eyed, through Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. I’m watching my first fully fired up soapbox rant in nearly 30 years.

It’s September 2011 and a member of the public is standing defiant, raising her fist, telling the world what she thinks about the underhand tactics of the world’s media. This is my introduction to Interrogate!, billed as the UK’s first festival dedicated to social justice. Its theme? Income equality.

I move on through the stunning grounds of the Dartington Hall estate, wondering how a festival on income inequality in such rich and beautiful surroundings will go down with those on lower incomes living on local housing estates. But the ticket prices are reasonable; when scanning the list of high calibre events and individuals taking part, it’s clear that Dartington’s long standing reputation for putting sustainability, the arts and social justice on the political and social map is still going strong.

Throughout the weekend, there was an ingenious and inspiring mix of film, music, discussion, debate, cabaret and workshops. On the final day of the festival, pretty much all events were free.

Aligning the arts to socio political issues in this way puts a very positive and engaging spin on a difficult and troubling area of today’s economic climate. It is said that the beauty of the arts in getting difficult, hard to digest messages across is that they invite their audience to engage in a way they feel willing to engage. In other words, take what works for you and leave the rest. This philosophy lies at the heart of the success of the first Interrogate! festival.

By using arts to address challenging issues of income inequality it invites the audience to look at the subject from a different, positive and highly engaging angle. It softens the blow; I don’t believe anyone responds positively to being hit over the head with urgent issues.

Interrogate! encouraged us to take away hard to navigate key questions and work with them at our own pace; to ask ourselves and society what action we can take to bring about change, however small our actions may seem.

I can see the festival going from strength to strength, providing an ongoing platform for ideas, social justice and thought provoking entertainment with a message at its centre. It promises to offer new approaches to age-old problems and new solutions to global issues that, at some level, affect us all.