Sunday May 24 - Hallelujah for Freedom
Vocalist/pianist Allison Crowe and her Canadian band-mates, guitarist Billie Woods and percussionist Laurent Boucher, have been welcomed into Germany - their reception by Frankfurt's Federal Border Police being night-and-day to what was experienced at London's Gatwick airport just days earlier. (A fourth member of the quartet, bassist Dave Baird, is visiting family in Scotland.)
Crowe has performed in the UK each year since 2005, including heralded concerts and benefits from Brighton, England to Durness, Scotland and numerous communities between them. She performed famously at the John Lennon Northern Lights Festival in 2007 - on stage between the UK's Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and the Queen's Master of Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Just weeks after her last visit, unbeknownst to Crowe and her UK concert presenters, the government brought in new anti-terrorist and anti-illegal immigrant legislation. These new rules target artists and academics.
In what can seem a world gone mad with paranoia and xenophobia, when fear and anger are too present in our lives, let it be noted that people can and do still treat one other with respect and not just suspicion. Hallelujah.
|Visiting Artists and Academics|
To: UK Parliament
The UK Home Office has introduced new bureaucratic procedures for organisations that wish to invite non-EU artists and academics to the UK. As professionals committed to the principles of internationalism and cultural exchange, we are dismayed by these new regulations - which will curb our invitations to non-EU artists and academics to visit the UK for talks, artist residencies, conferences and temporary exhibitions.
The system is costly to both the host organisation and to the visitor, and has already meant a number of cancelled exhibitions and concerts. All non-EU visitors now must apply for a visa in person, and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph. The Home Office’s 158-page guideline document also outlines new controls over visitors’ day-to-day activity: visitors must show that they have at least £800 pounds of personal savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application; the host organisation must keep copies of the visitor’s passport and their UK Biometric Card, and a history of their contact details; and if the visitor does not turn up to their studio or place of work, or their whereabouts is unknown, the organisation is legally obliged to inform the UK Border Agency.
We, the undersigned, believe that these Home Office restrictions discriminate against our overseas colleagues on the grounds of their nationality and financial resources, and will be particularly detrimental to artists from developing countries, and those with low income. Such restrictions will damage the vital contribution made by global artists and scholars to cultural, intellectual and civic life in the UK.
The above petition is one of the cornerstones of a movement growing from within and without the UK. (Click on the links to view the petition and read the many comments which explain the real issues. For an overview, you can download and read the report: "UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled by Order of the Home Office". )
In sharp contrast to the UK government's extremism is the approach seen in other parts of Europe.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, for example, spells out its policy this way:
"A work permit is not required of a foreign national whose execution of office does not exceed seven consecutive calendar days or a total of 30 days in a calendar year, and if he/she is: a performing artist, an educator, member of a university academic staff, a scientist or member of a research and development staff taking part in a scientific conference or meeting, a pupil or student under 26 years of age, a sportsman/sportswoman, a person procuring the supplies of goods or services in the Czech Republic or a person supplying such services or goods, or a person carrying out assembly works under a commercial agreement, or carrying out warranty and repair works."
In the UK, many are protesting. Many more people, however, have yet to even hear of the new rules that discriminate against artists and academics among others.
Not a single person working in association with either of the music venues where Allison Crowe's band was scheduled to perform this week - in Scotland and England (places Crowe loves and where she has performed numerous times since 2005) - had knowledge of the UK's Home Office's new process. Nor could they imagine that for non-EU acts (outside of those classified as "non-Visa naitonals" - Canadians and Australians), a Sponsor must be party to a process that involves collecting fingerprints and "biometric (retinal+) scans" (a controversial practice itself) etc. of musicians, scholars, tango-dancers, magicians and other similarly threatening visitors.
Instead, the awareness campaign happens when a Russian pianist cancels a visit after 18 years of performing in the UK - as was the case for Grigory Sokolov, described as the greatest classical pianist alive today - Top artists battle visa clampdown. It happens when a Canadian journalist is detained, interrogated and deported as happened recently to Leah McLaren - and was reported in national Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail: CRUEL BRITANNIA: God may save the Queen, but what about the rest of us? It happens when a nation's artists and educators team up to declare we need to End pernicious controls on artistic freedom.
And whatever rules a government - in Canada, America, the UK or elsewhere - chooses to put in place, whether they're right or wrong, it's due time to return reason and humanity to the process.
We look to our artists to reflect on life's truths and show them to us in unique light. Allison Crowe is a musician - here is how she says it: