Post-Brexit relationships aren’t all about trade. York has long-standing twinning arrangements with two European cities: Muenster in Germany and Dijon in France. On 25 September 2022, these relationships see another step in developing that relationship when the cities come together in a musical collaboration as part of the UK’s Festival of Europe 2022.
The idea behind the Festival of Europe
The Festival of Europe is:
“a cultural celebration spanning the diversity of the European continent … The festival maintains and develops invaluable cultural partnerships and networks by organising culturally-diverse events connecting people of different backgrounds and their European story”.Festival of Europe website
It is a project which it was open to anyone in the UK to put together an event in celebration of our creative links with Europe. The Festival of Europe is not tied to a time or a place but has been happening spontaneously across the country. It started in May 2022 and is due to finish at the end of this month.
York’s twin cities were invited to ask groups in their communities to record a piece of music of their choice and gift it to the other cities as a video present. Five York groups have also contributed.
The musical gifts have been brought together as a video compilation. The project has attracted ensembles large and small that include choral groups, a big band, a jazz quartet, a ukulele band and music school productions.
The video will be played in St Helen’s Square on 25 Sep with some York groups performing live.
The Brexit fallout for musicians and other creative performance artists
Europe has long been where UK performers go to develop their talents and become known. Record labels put much store on the performance history of musicians, much of which relies on playing in the European summer festivals and venues. It is vital to our musicians’ career prospects in the period before they become successful.
Europe is an integral part of the market for UK musicians who have been extremely successful in tapping into the European market beyond our own shores. We are the second-largest generator of income in the world from our creative industries and Europe is a significant part of the market we operate in.
It is regrettable that the ability of musicians and other performing artists to take their work to EU countries has been severely restricted by limitations on freedom of movement to and between EU countries. It is not only the problems faced by would-be travelling musicians themselves, but all the support staff and equipment logistics are now subject to a nightmare of bureaucracy and logistical complications that add costs to every step of a tour.
This summer, the number of British acts appearing in music festivals around Europe has declined by 45% of its pre-Covid levels, according to a study by Best for Britain.
UK Music, the umbrella body representing the industry from artists and record labels to live performance, is calling for a package of support including tax relief, a VAT cut for struggling venues and a streamlining of restrictions affecting workers and touring between Europe and the UK.
The resurgence of twinning post Brexit and the link to the Festival of Europe
City twinning was a common post-war response to the upheaval that had seen Europe tear itself apart in two world wars. It was part of a multi-faceted strategy to bring nations and communities across Europe together in recognition that hostility and division between us led to the recurring horror of war, with its massive cost in human life, the upheaval in the lives of all European citizens, and the constant threat to our collective peace and prosperity.
The aspiration of twinning was that by experiencing each other’s lives and understanding each other’s hopes for the future we would all start to see our neighbours as fellow human beings rather than as stereotypical national blocks who were both hostile towards us and of suspect character. The realisation would then follow that we had more in common with each other than we had differences. In turn that would foster a shared commitment to living together peacefully to secure our collective wellbeing on the continent of Europe.
Within two decades of the Second World War as human memory started to fade, as it so often does, the short period of relative peace in Europe came to be seen as the established new order. By the time the UK joined the EU in 1974, twinning had something of a reputation as a quaint, old-fashioned activity.
Joining the EU itself could explain a continuing decline in the perceived need for formal links between individual cities because the entire EU was a vast network of links and connections with minimal bureaucracy in working across EU countries and freedom of moment between them part of everyday life.
However, since Brexit, many cities and communities across the UK have re-energised their twinning links with EU cities as a way of making sure that social, cultural and entertainment connections do not wither away because the UK has left the EU. York itself has two twinning associations that work closely with community groups in their respective twin cities.
They have organised some interesting initiatives between the cities including book reading groups, arts groups, sports groups, a cycle rides to Muenster, and a visit by a choir from Dijon planned for 2023. Certainly, in York, twinning is alive and well.