The city of Coventry claims to be a multicultural and inclusive place. A place where people from all around the world can live, work, or study in peace. The city is sometimes called “The city of peace and reconciliation”.
Now that Coventry has won the bid for UK City of culture, the limelight is all the more on the events that celebrate these qualities. Such as the Positive Images Festival.
The festival spans three weeks in June every year, and consists of a series of artistic events showcasing talents from Coventry. “Our first aim is to celebrate diversity,” said Mehru Fitter, the secretary of the festival after a planning meeting. “Not just people from different cultures, I mean ethnic, lingual, faith diversity or diversity in abilities.”
The meeting was held in the Central Library on Smithford Way on a rainy afternoon. Mehru invited me to it so before I interview her, I can get an idea what have they been working on for almost half a year, since the end of the last Festival.
Several people arrived before me, and after a brief introduction they all turned into hosts and offered refreshments from the counter that was creaking under the weight of soft drinks and sandwiches. Therefore, the first impression I got was that the room is filled with people whose instinct is to give and nourish, whether we are talking about individuals or communities.
Mehru chaired the meeting, and it began with a short introduction from everyone, about who they are and what they do. Most attendees came from cultural backgrounds, for example the Tourist Info from the Herbert Art Gallery and the Belgrade Theatre. There were café owners and people working at charitable organisations and volunteers from the University.
It was interesting to see any kind of planning meeting where there really were no wrong answers or ideas. Not only because every suggestion came from good intentions, but they were all well thought-out, depending on how long-term they were, and presented in a clear and calm way.
There were talks about planning events for this year’s festival, and about events for refugee week and other occasions like that.
It all had an air of cooperation and friendliness. There was a small girl present with her grandmother, and nobody minded her toy car shooting back and forth on the table.
And then, it was over and even though I made no contribution at all, I could feel a sense of accomplishment and an urge to try to be better and more selfless.
But what can all these planning and talking help? “There were many organisations represented in the meeting.” Mehru said. “One organisation may offer a venue, another one may provide the acts there.” They were planning an event that has already happened by now, where different religions were brought together to sing. Both the venue and the equipment came from different organisations that participate in the planning of the festival.
“Our third aim is to provide volunteering experience. Our volunteers come from Coventry University, or from other organisations.”
We are talking about a network of members here. The festival has a database with 250 members, and “We want to make sure that every member benefits from their membership. So, if one is arranging an event we make sure that all the other members get to hear about it.” Mehru told me. “There is a lot of marketing going on, internally.”
The festival is focused on local, Coventry talent. Mehru told me proudly that they don’t import artists from Birmingham and London. “There is enough talent in Coventry.”
She believes that because Coventry has won The Bid, from this year they will have ample opportunity to celebrate and showcase this talent. Also, for the same reason she believes that the city centre, and probably the whole city will transform in the coming years. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to the day when the city has acquired a new look.”
When I asked her about last year’s festival, Mehru talked at length about the Sahyadri Group which consist of people from western India. She said she contacted them, and they introduced a new feature to the festival, which was Indian street food. “There were long queues forming,” she said with a smile, “of people who were just keen to sample that food.” They also told their families about the festival, so they turned out in large numbers to support it. “Earlier around 900 people visited our Multicultural Craft and Food Fair, but because of their involvement, this year we had 1500 visitors.”
Those who plan to visit this year’s festival can look forward to events centred around climate change, for example a panel about how can they, in small ways help the fight against the decline of the environment. Diversity will also pervade the festival, because in Mehru’s view, Coventry’s strength is its inclusion, and emphasis of diversity.
The festival starts on the 16th of June 2018. There may be a couple of pre-festival events as well, and it will end on the 7th of July. You can learn more about it at http://www.postitiveimagesfestival.co.uk, or send them an email with your questions to email@example.com.