Is Greenbelt a TAZ?

Interesting group of posts on TractrorGirl’s site, relating to Other, and the nature of TAZ, which Jonny has critiqued too, and I’ve responded to here.

One thing in particular from TG’s site: the question about whether Greenbelt is a TAZ or not. In the book I use it as an example of one, based on the Hakim Bey’s definition of it as:

an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerrilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen. […] It envisions an intensification of everyday life, or as the Surrealists might have said, life’s penetration by the Marvellous.

TG and others have questioned whether Greenbelt can be a TAZ because it has some background organisational structure, and is sponsored. I can see potential issues here with the purest idea of TAZ – which is based in anarchist thought – but I don’t have a problem with calling Greenbelt a TAZ. Having worked closely with the festival for a number of years I’m aware that what the organisational/institutional element does is to create spaces within which people can make carnival in the ways that they see fit – within reason of course. So the TAZ element of Greenbelt is not so much located in the formal programming, but in the sub-festivals that go on under the radar of this programming.

There’s a paradox here: you don’t get the sub-festivals without some formal programme structure to bring people to the event; but nor is the formal programme irrelevant once there – it feeds the sub-festivals that are going on. It’s the classic problem of large-scale meetings: the ‘good stuff’ happens outside and beyond the programme – but it cannot itself be programmed so that it’s all ‘good stuff.’

One area I do strongly disagree with TG though, and that’s the extent of Greenbelt’s independence from those who sponsor it. She says:

Another issue Brewin does not address is that Greenbelt is institutional and has always been so, because of its funding. […] The funding for such projects means that Greenbelt is not/ cannot be a space for resistance in the way that TAZ’s are. The funding mechansims involved mean that Greenbelt is different on a structural level to TAZ spaces. There are much stronger and more obvious power relations involved and at play. Ultimately Greenbelt is working within the confines of what the institution will allow. I think the fact it is the Methodist Church which has become arecent major sponsor is significant. The Methodist Church through various conference resolutions includes within its policies affirming and supporting members of the LGBT community. Therefore, the debates around the alleged  ”gayification” of GB are not problematic for this sponsor in the way they could have been for other potential sponsors. If no LGBT friendly sponsor could have been found I doubt that the festival would be taking the approach it has been to the issue.

I’m afraid that this is totally untrue. I’ve been a part of the (voluntary) talks team for some years now and there has never been any interference from sponsors about what they would find acceptable, nor have we ever felt pressure to only focus on certain areas because of funding issues. Never. Not once. The institutions that sponsor Greenbelt tend to be allowed a venue in which to programme their own talks etc., and some advertising space in the Festival Guide. But any suggestion that they influence what speakers can come or how Greenbelt deals with certain issues is totally unfounded.


7 responses to “Is Greenbelt a TAZ?”

  1. Simon3W

    Did you never think there was a phase of Christian Aid overkill?

    The relationship between the two involved a genuine values overlap as well as a financial relationship, but this could be true of a large number of organizations that couldn’t afford the same presence.

  2. Sorry – been out all day.

    Yes, I would agree there was a phase of that. But I don’t think that that changes the argument much. Why? Because CA did a lot of programming, put on a lot of stuff, got themselves into the sunday service too much, but I don’t think that too badly affected the sub-programme of unquantifiable interactions that makes the TAZ element of a festival.

    They also saved the festival from oblivion too.

  3. Simon3W

    Oh, sure. But I think that would probably be TG’s point — that without having to express certain sponsor viewpoints, the festival wouldn’t now exist (at least not in the same form).

    That doesn’t bother me greatly, since getting things done usually involves compromise. And as compromises go, that was a pretty good one. But I can see why it would offend someone’s ideological purity. It’s just that (much as it might pain me to say it) I don’t think ideological purity ever built anything as much fun as GB.

  4. Thanks for the engagement with my post. I am quite aware, through my own involvement with the talks teams, that sponsors don’t influence the contect directly. However, my point was that for the festival to exist it needs sponsors. If all the sponsors were to decide they didn’t like the direction was going in, (which is unlikely but theoretically possible), that could influence the content. Additionally like Simon says parts of the content are influenced by the sponsors. This is particularly the case beyond the main talks. CMS had some great stuff on in their tent which reflected the CMS ethos of engaging in mission in the contemporary environment. The Outerspace talks are seperate to the main talks programme, and Outerspace aren’t a sponsor, (but their talks reflect their place as part of the festival).
    If there is a TAZ space in GB I would say it is sometimes the campsite where “happenings” seem to occur and then disipate.
    One area I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on is the impact of TAZ spaces on people afterwards who temporarily find freedom but then find it difficult going back to the “everyday” experience of church.

  5. Sorry, should have said involvement with talks teams is second hand via something else, I am involved with another team. Sorry

  6. If there is a TAZ space in GB I would say it is sometimes the campsite where “happenings” seem to occur and then disipate.

    Precisely the point I was trying to make above: it’s in the spaces in between the programmed stuff that TAZ spaces can flourish for a while, which I think fits in quite nicely with the original stuff on piracy in Bey’s essay.

    The issue of lasting impact is something I’ve been mulling on since reading your post, and will perhaps try to post on at more length soon. In brief: just been to another festival, which highlighted the total lack of depth/learning that can occur in carnival spaces. And I think GB does better than that. But in terms of how to make that impact last better… I do think that over time the effects are significant, and that the difficulty of going back to the everyday is precisely the ‘potential difference’ (to use an electrical analogy) that can create the energy for change.

  7. Francis Barton

    Interview with Hakim Bey: