On the anniversary of the horrific and cowardly murder of George Floyd Writing on the Wall affirms our commitment to the fight for racial justice, here in the UK and globally.
In our 21 years, we have witnessed the highs and lows of race relations, the activities of the far-right and the challenges to and victories of the anti-racist movement, of which we are a part. We have championed the findings of the MacPherson Report into the systematic failings that followed the brutal murder of Stephen Laurence by right-wing thugs. We have been proud to work in partnership with The Anthony Walker Foundation, a charity set up to educate young people and give meaning to the tragically short life of Anthony which, like Stephen’s, was ended by racist violence and hate. Through our annual month-long festival, now in its 21st year, we have given a platform to Grenfell survivors, those seeking justice for the death of their loved ones in custody, campaigners against the inhuman treatment of those legally seeking refuge and those highlighting the treatment of the children of Windrush, whose citizenship, and all that goes with it, illegally denied.
WoW celebrates the multiculturalism and the rich heritage of our city and our nation. We have recently worked with Pagoda Arts to create a beautiful mural in China town which speaks of the historic presence of our Chinese community and its huge contribution to the city. We built a Wall of Freedom in Church Street to trump Donald Trump. Our message was clear – we are a city built by successive waves of immigration, our strength lies in our unity and our culture is a vibrant fusion that has produced artistic and social scenes that are hard to rival. Our annual Black History Month festival shines a light on black artistic excellence and is a platform for debate and for strategizing.
Through our Creative Heritage work with communities, we have highlighted the plight of black workers and servicemen in Liverpool following WW1 and raised national and international awareness of the 1919 race riots through film, performance, walking tours, the publication (Great War to Race Riots) and a plaque, erected in partnership with the BBC and David Olusoga, to the memory of Charles Wotton (see more). We have unearthed the city’s anti-racist heritage in the work of George Garret and we have celebrated the defining contribution of black musicians to the UK music scene with Music of the People: From SS Orbita to Orbital. We continue to explore the impact of the Uprisings of 1981 and the critical role of black activists in Liverpool, particularly those involved with the Liverpool 8 Law Centre, to national and international struggles for racial justice. In the 40th anniversary year of the ’81 Uprisings, we will consider what lessons from those events contain for a new generation of black and anti-racist activism and for the nation today with Legacies of ‘81 at WoWFEST21.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, WoW worked with writer Cheryl Martin to provide a safe space for black and Asian people to come together and to share and write their experiences in a writing project called Time to Breathe. An anthology of the incredible writing from this project is forthcoming, and we plan able to launch More Time to Breathe later in the year.
Writing on the Wall and our community of writers, like many, are dismayed by the findings of the Government’s Commission into Racial and Ethnic Disparity; it flies in the face of the lived experience of black and racial minority communities in a period when COVID-19 has highlighted the stark reality of racial disparity. The Commission’s rejection of the MacPherson definition of institutional racism and its blatant attempt to put a new coat of whitewash over British history is a clear signal that change will not be led by the government. Still, the anti-racist tide will not be turned. Liverpool has made history in the election of the UK’s first black female mayor and at WoW we are confident that positive change will come under her leadership. Debate continues and voices that demand action will not be silenced as our WoWFEST programme clearly indicates.
Writing on the Wall, through our projects and festivals, ensures diversity and inclusion is at the heart of our programming. We are consistently rated ‘Outstanding’ by Arts Council England for our commitment to The Creative Case for Diversity. WoWFest21 continues to demonstrate this ethos, featuring an array of phenomenal black and Asian artists, commentators and activists; Maxine Hong Kingston (Warrior Woman). Nikesh Shukla (Brown Baby) Lady Phyll (UK Black Pride), Walter Mosley (of Easy Rawlins fame), Ben Okri (Booker Prize Winner author & poet) Alex Wheatle & Courttia Newland (Small Axe), Salena Gooden (celebrated poet), Gary Younge (Award winning journalist) Maria O’Reilly & Wally Brown (Liverpool 8 activists) and Linton Kwesi Johnson (Legendary Dub poet). We are immensely proud of 21st anniversary festival in all its wonderful diversity, which we hope will inspire change. See the festivals full programme here.
We believe the arts has a responsibility to engage with issues of social justice and we urge artists and organisations to take up the challenge posed by the Black Lives Matter movement, to honour the memory of George Floyd, and redouble our efforts to promote equality and combat racism in all its forms.
Madeline Heneghan & Mike Morris (Co-Directors)