The Being Human festival returned this year from 10 to 19 November with over 280 events and activities taking place across 48 towns and cities across the UK. Founded and led by the School of Advanced Study, the festival involved 89 ‘lead event’ organisers, and humanities researchers from 69 universities and research organisations who created events and activities to engage with the public and open up dialogues around humanities research. All was with the aim of sparking curiosity, connecting with places and communities and showcasing new research and its relevance to our everyday lives.
This year’s festival kicked off with the first in-person launch celebration in three years! Researchers, event organisers, festival friends, stakeholders and the public came together for an evening of tasters of the festival’s activities at the Museum of the Home in East London, including a poetry reading from Wolverhampton poet laureate Kuli Kohli, and Bollywood dancing from Bhavini Sheth.
Celebrating our places and spaces
Being Human is a national festival with a local focus, and this year activities took place in all kinds of venues and locations, including parks and gardens, heritage sites, high streets, beaches, pubs, museums, libraries, cafés, theatres, galleries and community centres.
In Newcastle, walkers followed the section of Hadrian’s Wall running through the west end of the city, and in the Scottish Highlands festival-goers headed out to explore the landscape of Glen Banchor, sharing Ossianic poetry and taking part in photography. In Llandudno, visitors took to the beach for walking and creative writing inspired by the nature diaries of Dr Paul Whalley. In Dundee ‘The Being Human Library’ popped up at the city’s Overgate Shopping Centre, complete with a comics corner, mini library and a communal story-wall.
The festival even went underground this year - with over 650 people engaging with events exploring the Nottingham caves, a network of more than 800 man-made caves across the city!
Bringing research to life
Being Human is all about taking research off campus and bringing it to life through handmade, fun and vibrant events. The festival encourages event organisers to step away from lectures and seminars and move towards creative and participatory events that engage the mind and the senses. That was no exception this year, with activities communicating research through food, music, art, crafts and theatre.
Researchers in Sheffield explored the forgotten foods of Rampur in Northern India with an illustrated talk and food tasting of heritage rice varieties. In London, audiences created zines inspired by the evidence of LGBTQ+ lives found in the 1921 census. Hand-bound books were created at workshops at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, led by local bookbinder Alexandra Marsden and Book Historians from Northumbria University. And visitors to The Atkinson in Southport shared their colourful visual interpretations of the Ganzflicker, a centuries-old psychedelic flickering light practice that creates visual illusions.
Connecting with communities
The festival also offers opportunities for people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences, to feed into research and to co-produce activities and events.
This year, in Swansea, women from across industrial South Wales were commemorated and celebrated through ‘Breakthrough Welsh Women’ in a series of workshops culminating in an event at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery - where a celebratory banner, created at the workshops, was unveiled.
In the West Midlands, local stakeholders, the university, and members of the community came together at Wolverhampton Art Gallery to discuss why the arts are needed in Wolverhampton The event also offered hands-on workshops and a community meal.
And in London, care-experienced young people used verbatim theatre, storytelling, beat-boxing and dance to share uplifting and challenging reflections on the care system.
Being Human also saw its first ever car show as part of Bradford’s BBC 100 Festival Hub. The university teamed up with the District Council and Bradford Modified Club to present the show at Bradford’s City Park. Despite the rain, hundreds of people stopped by to look at the cars, share their own car stories, and listen to stories collected as part of Dr Yunis Aslam’s research on ‘Race, Taste, Class and Cars’.
All in all, it was another action-packed and fun year for Being Human! A big thank you to all those who took part in the festival by organising or attending an event. Being Human will be back with more fun and free events in 2023. Keep an eye on the festival’s website for more information coming in the new year.