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FutureFest 2018: A platform for alternative stories, visions and tools

As Nesta announces the return of FutureFest on 6 and 7 July 2018 at London’s Tobacco Dock, we take a look at the ideas behind the festival.

In 2013, Nesta launched the very first FutureFest to start an optimistic conversation about possible futures. Fast forward to 2017, and dystopian classics like '1984' and 'It Can’t Happen Here' have surged back up the bestseller lists in the wake of geopolitical shocks, while extreme weather events increasingly seem more reminiscent of science fiction films in their ferocity and scale. Many feel that the forces shaping our world are invisible and unaccountable; from black box algorithms to remote sources of influence over the democratic process.

In short, our relationship with very idea of ‘the future’ is fraught.

What’s the alternative?

Against a backdrop of such turbulence, public debate about the future has taken on a fatalistic feel. After all, aren’t the challenges of our time (inequality, failing democracies, healthcare systems edging towards crisis, cyber-war) simply overwhelming in both scale and complexity?

There is, of course, a different way to interpret this moment - as a time when radical thinking and bold visions are called for. As Rutger Bregman argued in 'Utopia for Realists' earlier this year, expansive and diverging visions of the future have always been central to the history of human progress:

‘What we need are alternative horizons that spark the imagination. And I do mean horizons in the plural; conflicting utopias are the lifeblood of democracy after all.’

Art, comedy, music, games and storytelling have long been used to play out such possibilities - Thomas More’s 'Utopia' was, of course, a work of satire, while some of the most memorable futurescapes have been realised by science fiction writers. In a speech at the National Book Awards, legendary science fiction author Ursula K Le Guin moved that it is during uncertain times that society most needs to hear from those:

‘who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.’

FutureFest 2018

The next edition of FutureFest will be designed to open up many routes into a conversation about other ways of being; to allow the audience to experience - or ‘occupy’ - alternatives. Over the coming months, we will be working with partners to develop a blend of interactive installations, talks, debates and experiences exploring themes such as:

  • Alternative visions: Who is building the successors to the systems, models and institutions of today?

FutureFest will serve as a showcase for the next generation of ‘big ideas’ in democracy and governance, work, health, education and culture. Programming will span everything from new visions for the economy (What might a post-growth society look like? What are the prospects for the circular and sharing economies?) through to exploring society’s future skills needs in the shadow of automation and reimagining the design principles behind the web.

  • Alternate you: How are we reinventing and editing our identities?

As new advances in science and technology enable us to alter our bodies, brains and even our DNA, how will individuals cope with increasingly blurred and unstable boundaries? Where are the emerging, hybrid models of identity to be found? How is our relationship to intelligent machines, nation states and our communities set to morph further in years to come?

  • Making alternates: Where can we find the tools to author different futures?

Times of high-anxiety and uncertainty sharpen the human urge to reach for safe havens and fantasy worlds - but how can we harness this energy in service of making our desired future? What forms will collective belonging and kinship take in a fragmented age? FutureFest 2018 will be a chance to hear directly from those putting untested ideas in practice across cities, democracies, health and education systems, local communities and the digital sphere.

If there is something you think we should be talking about in July 2018, we want to hear from you.

If you want to collaborate with us on a session or installation, please email the team at [email protected]

Tickets for FutureFest 2018 are not yet on sale. Follow FutureFest on Twitter and sign up to our FutureFest newsletter to keep up to date with forthcoming announcements about speakers and tickets.

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Celia Hannon

Celia Hannon

Celia Hannon

Director, Explorations

Celia plays a cross-cutting role at Nesta with responsibility for strategy on futures. She oversees the organisation's experimental work into new fields, which encompasses practical ...

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