Eight hundred people attended 3FF’s Interfaith Arts Festival, the 2010 culmination of the Urban Dialogues and Women ARTogether programmes.

Mention “interfaith dialogue” and most people will think only of religious leaders getting together over tea to discuss the finer points of theology. Ask anyone who attended 3FF’s recent Interfaith Arts Festival and you will get a very different picture of what interfaith engagement can be all about.

sidebar_178Over a week people from all of London’s diverse faith and ethnic communities were invited to enjoy art, music and theatre together at Candid Arts Gallery, with a number of interfaith and single faith organisations running workshops. 800 people attended the festival, held during National Interfaith Week (23-27 November), where 3FF and friends offered opportunities for dialogue and co-operation on topics both local and global, from social action to climate change.

The centrepiece of the festival was the Barriers & Bridges art exhibition featuring paintings, photos, sculptures and installations addressing the opportunities and challenges of building intercultural relationships.

Stephen Shashoua, director of the Three Faiths Forum, said: “London is an incredibly diverse city, but there are very few opportunities for people to really engage at this level with anyone outside their own religious or cultural group. People working together across community boundaries can achieve much more together than they can on their own, and that’s what the Interfaith Arts Festival is all about.

“We’re very fortunate to have so many different inspiring organisations and talented individuals together under one roof.”

sidebar_179The festival was the 2010 culmination of the Urban Dialogues programme, which brings together artists to use their art to inspire positive social change. There were a number of artistic interfaith collaborations, three of which were funded and developed to be displayed at the festival. The programme is run in close co-operation with three single faith organisations: The Radical Middle Way, Art and Christianity Enquiry and the Jewish Community Centre for London.

The week started with a grand opening night on Tuesday 23 November. The night drew a crowd of over 250 people – reaching venue capacity – and featured performances by intercultural reggae band Dubvocaliza, the Muslim-Jewish theatre group MUJU and the all-female interfaith band Yalla. The art exhibition featured special displays by Mica Gallery, Wallspace and the Anne Frank Trust.

Wednesday’s Women ARTogether day provided opportunities for women from a wide range of religious and cultural backgrounds to network and get to know each other. The initiative was set up to encourage women to use their talents to promote social change and break down barriers between communities. Culture organisation Ulfah Arts, among others, ran workshops for the women during the day.

Over the next two days 3FF’s friends hosted events in the festival space, with Interfaith Action organising an Eco-Faith Festival on Thursday morning and the Coexistence Trust launching their Campus FaithHub tour in the evening. On Friday Tolerance International ran workshops for pupils from different schools.

The festival received some great press attention. A piece on Times Online really captured the excitement of the opening night. The event was featured on the JC website, as well as in the Muslim Weekly. French Radio London did a radio piece as well as an article on their website. The festival was also mentioned as an example of good interfaith practice 3FF Director Stephen Shashoua’s piece on Guardian’s Comment is Free.

Many thanks to the funders of the 2010 festival: The Sternberg Foundation, The Interfaith Youth Trust, the Reuben Foundation and JHub (a project of Pears Foundation).

3FF is hoping to build on the success of the 2010 Interfaith Arts Festival to expand the Urban Dialogues and Women ARTogether programmes and deliver bigger and even more exciting events in 2011. We’re currently raising funds and recruiting artists to make this happen.