Counter-cultural art to change the world

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Counter-cultural art to change the world

Chris Jury explains why he's inspired by a new generation of artists taking on the artistic and political establishments.

I’ve been working at the intersection between politics and popular culture since the mid-1970s and, for all those four decades, people have been saying to me things like: “Relax, Chris, it’s only television... only a film... only a song... only a play... it’s only entertainment... the arts never changed anything... art for arts sake, money for God’s sake...”

But, as Bob Dylan once said in one of those supposedly pointless political songs, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

I am a co-founder of the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival, Creative Director of Public Domain Arts & Media and Producer of the GFTU’s Liberating Arts festival. For the last couple of decades raising money and generating enthusiasm for counter-cultural initiatives like these have been a pretty hard slog. But, in the last two years, the mood has noticeably become much more positive. It appears that, at least temporarily, the ruling elite have lost control of the cultural narrative. Not entirely, of course — the mainstream media still plays a huge part especially among those over 65.

But for anyone under 60 the political plurality of social media and the sheer number of online sources of news, books, plays, films, television and music has broken the hegemonic monopoly of both the commercial corporations and their collaborators in the “liberal” capitalist state. In terms of rhetoric and propaganda, the neoliberal era is over. The “common sense” assumptions of the last three decades that government is bad and private industry good, that markets are efficient and that governments have to balance the books by cutting public services are no longer sustainable.

This isn’t to say that neoliberal capitalism itself is over, it’s definitely not. That’s going to take one hell of a fight. But the terms of the debate have undoubtedly shifted to the left. Nearly 20 years of static income, rampant stress and bullying in the work place, the brazen refusal of the City to change its rhetoric let alone its implementation of policies after the economic crash of 2008, the reaction of the mainstream media to the election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader and the appalling level of debate around the EU referendum have allowed many more people to recognise that our mainstream media and cultural institutions are entirely failing as instruments of our democracy.

The counter-cultural power unleashed by cheap production technology and social media has played a huge part in this shift to the left and encouraged perhaps the most healthy counter-cultural arts scene we’ve seen in the UK in the last 20 years. At the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival this year all the feature films are homegrown and we had over 2,000 entries to our Small Axe activist film competition. When we started only four years ago, we had half a dozen.

Similarly, the line-up of Liberating Arts demonstrates the sheer depth and vitality of the UK’s counter-culture. Performers include some of the stalwarts of the last 30 years like Banner Theatre, Red Ladder and Attila The Stockbroker but we also have the next generation of counter-cultural artists such as Captain Ska, Itch from The King Blues, Kate Evans (pictured), Anthony Anaxagarou and Francesca Martinez. 

This new generation of activists have lived their entire lives surrounded by relentless neoliberal propaganda and yet they have seen through it and embraced the ideas of equality and social justice that just two years ago seemed to be consigned to a different era. These talented young men and women have also understood that cultural expressions of their core beliefs and values are not merely “entertainment for the troops” but are crucial to inspiring hearts and minds and thus to changing the world.

This article is also published in the Morning Star. For more details on the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival visit and for Liberating Arts,

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Chris Jury

Chris Jury is an award winning actor, writer and director. A regular contributor to the Morning Star,  he is also the cofounder of the Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival and a member of the TV Committee of the Writers Guild Of Great Britain.