On March 16th 2015 Belarus Free Theatre organised the first ever debate on artistic freedom of expression at the House of Commons. The debate, chaired by Maria Miller MP, had a very exciting panel that consisted of Shami Chakrabarti (Director of Liberty), Topher Campbell (Chair of the Independent Theatre Council and Artistic Director of The Red Room), Munira Mirza (Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture), Jude Kelly, OBE (Artistic Director Southbank Centre) and Commander Colin Morgan (Head of Public Order for Metropolitan Police).
Ahead of the 2015 elections in the UK and in Belarus, and in light of recent UK incidents of artists’ work being cancelled due to protests, the murder of cartoonists in Paris, attacks in Copenhagen and the proliferation of death threats against artists, this debate was a much needed opportunity to discuss one of the cornerstones of modern democracy: freedom of speech in the arts.
BFT was founded in response to the absolute censorship of freedom of expression in Belarus. Now in exile in London, the company’s founders enjoy far greater freedoms, yet are surprised to discover the extent to which artistic expression is controlled, even if the mechanisms of control are complex and varied. Their unique experience of differing degrees of artistic freedom in these countries underlines for BFT the need to support freedom of expression robustly or risk losing it.
The debate asked: How can we keep the space for freedom of expression as wide open as possible? How can controversial artistic expression and the right to protest against it both be protected?
This event proved to be very successful with 100 people attending from different backgrounds yet all interested in freedom of expression. After a discussion by the panel, questions were opened to audience members to voice their opinions.
You can read further about the event by reading articles by The Independent (click here) and Evening Standard (click here).