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Occupy the future at FutureFest 2018

Lead curator Pat Kane announces the fourth edition of FutureFest: two days of challenging, inspiring and multi-sensory experiences designed to ask the big questions that will face future generations and stimulate meaningful conversations about how we can shape the future now.

A festival of the future? In these crazy, crisis-ridden times? If we want to ride that particular narrative, there’s no shortage of contemporary events that seem to stretch out into dark and ominous futures. 

Our democracies seem to be running on faulty programmes: a free vote produces demagogues and authoritarian populists on both sides of the Atlantic, or proposes dramatic questions (eg, Leave/Remain) that polarize citizens against each other. Our everyday lives are undermined by the fissures of terrorism - we never know when they will widen beneath our feet. 

Our public services and welfare states aren’t buffering us against the shocks and upheavals of the age, but buckling badly under the strain. Our increasingly poor mental health contributes to that, and in itself indicates a much deeper crisis in our systems - a hyper-flexible society that exhausts and distresses us. 

Even our distinctly human creative energy - our ingenuity and innovation - looks like it might turn against us. The march of automation, AI and gene editing either challenges the cognitive arrogance of humanity, or opens up our very biological natures to control - or some unpredictable combination of both. 

Our control - or someone/something else’s? In many ways, and at many levels, “who controls?” is the core question of our moment. 

Various projects of fear - and hope - are contending for our loyalty, in the spheres of politics and business. But I suggest the underlying popular suspicion is that our institutions, technologies, markets and democracies have been steadily slipping from the grasp of citizens - and that something has to change (or even, in the case of Trump and Brexit, just be halted for a while). 

If this is our sense of crisis, then (as Rahm Emmanuel once said) we shouldn’t let it go to waste. The very act of people coming together, and allowing themselves the play-space to imagine different pathways into our future, is itself an act of self-empowerment.

FutureFest began in 2013 with an explicit intent to dispel the post-Crash blues, countering the reality of recession with a spirit of progression. Faced with the current overlap of crises, this year’s event will crank up the feeling that many possible worlds lie before us - and that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. 

Our topics and speakers will go straight to the most anxious spots in our contemporary consciousness, and enthusiastically spin out “alternatives” of every kind - both at the big-picture level, and in terms of practical action and methods.

If the return of “nationalism” and “populism” is intrinsically linked to a crisis of democracy, how can we re-imagine democracy itself, exploring all possible options? If technology seems like a dehumanizing threat, how can we reassert our human distinctiveness - or perhaps expand our humanity to embrace the machines that we have, after all, invented? 

If our cultural lives seem like vast exercises in escapism from our problems, how could we use those simulations to re-engage with our challenges - and also rehearse new forms of identity and being, that might cope better with an accelerating world? 

There’s even more on that menu, which we are currently preparing. Come together with us at FutureFest on 6-7 July, at the Tobacco Dock, London. And let’s occupy our future again. 

Pat Kane is the lead curator of FutureFest.

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Pat Kane

Pat Kane is a writer, musician, consultant and activist.