HOME in a will-we, won't-we, will-we farce in 6 Acts

‘HOME is a creative hub for the region, committed to supporting the professional and creative development of artists from all backgrounds.’


After this week’s debacle HOME probably feels HOME Alone.

An event was promoted, cancelled last Wednesday, all sorts of hair tearing and gnashing of teeth followed and, hey presto, now it's back on. 

Will this solve anything? Has it made it worse? 

‘Home is a politically neutral space’, that’s news to most people.

First things first as the curtain rises.

HOME must have known hosting ‘Voices of Resilience…celebrating Palestinian voices’ on April 22 was not going to go unnoticed in today’s febrile atmosphere over Gaza. It didn't. That was Act One.

But once HOME had promoted the event they should have stood their ground. Their now famous backtracking on 27 March after pressure from the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester (JRCGM) resulted in cries of 'censorship' and 'cowardice'. That was Act Two.

Then the arts centre made it worse. They wrote: 'HOME is a politically neutral space, committed to welcoming the full range of artist expression. Our concern for the team at HOME, our audiences and artists, and their safety is paramount. In the face of recent publicity around Voices of Resilience, we have cancelled this event.

'HOME must always be mindful of our responsibility to those who visit and work here, and our purpose of supporting a wide variety of artists and the audiences who want to experience them remains unchanged.'

Brilliant. Drag that barrel of oil over here and tip it on the fire, that should put it out. What's this? ‘Home is a politically neutral space’, that's news to most people. Thus ended Act Three.

2024 04 04 Abu Saif
Atef Abu Saif was due to appear at the Voices of Resilience event Image: Wikimedia

Back to Act Two and the initial cancellation.

As the BBC reported: ‘(HOME) said the cancellation followed "recent publicity" after a letter from the JRCGM.’

And that…

‘The JRCGM later tweeted that it had written to the venue, saying "this event must be cancelled". It criticised previous comments reportedly made by Atef Abu Saif, one of the featured writers, including in 2014 when he was alleged to have said "Israel surpassed Hitler's massacres". The JRCGM claimed he had defended Holocaust denial.’

Rubbish, said the Manchester-Palestinian academic and translator Mohammed Ghalayini, who was also due to appear at the event to read his poetry. He called on the organisation to "produce the full text rather than selectively quote without context to misrepresent".’

Comma Press, the Manchester-based publisher and the organiser of the event, thought the JRCGM comments were ‘baseless and libellous’ and the claim of Holocaust denial was ‘utterly false’. ‘Both Comma Press and the author absolutely refute the allegations of antisemitism," the publisher said.

HOME stuck with their cancellation anyway. 

2024 04 04 Home Palestinian Story 2
Artists have removed their artworks from HOME Image: X

Time for Act Four.

A 'cohort' of artists at Manchester Open Exhibition 2024 reacted in furious and emotional language to the disappearance of the event calling for it to be reinstated OR ELSE... 

Some of the words they used could have been cut from the pages of the latest edition of the Socialist Worker: an organ which always writes with student intensity, a bit like The Guardian's Owen Jones. 

'We feel this decision,' they raged, 'deeply contradicts the feelings of HOME visitors, creative workers, staff, supporters and those who felt they could trust HOME to be a voice of justice and reason. Your decision and silence could not be further from this, and results in your active complicity with the genocidal colonialism taking place towards the Palestinian people.'

Aside from assuming everyone involved with HOME agrees with them, the artists’ invective (signed by luminaries such as Maxine Peake who was to have been part of Voices of Resilience) hit the nail on the head over hypocrisy.

'We do not accept the excuse of safety concerns, coining HOME as a "politically neutral" space (doesn’t carry) any logic, sense or credibility, at least in relation to HOME’s own policies and the previous events you have hosted. Your programming speaks for itself on these matters.'


They were right.

HOME knows that since it opened in 2015 it has produced work that is explicitly political, specifically on the left side of politics. The right of politics need not apply. Mind you HOME is the responsibility of Manchester City Council which has been Labour since the dawn of time or at least the 1980s. 

The situation got worse when several artists removed their works from the Open Exhibition on Wednesday 3 April. That was probably Act Five. 

2024 04 04 Home Karen Oneill
HOME executive director Karen O'Neill Image: HOME

And then suddenly the sands shifted again. A statement from HOME in the afternoon of Thursday 4 April reversed the decision. Act Six. This was the message.

'The initial cancellation of the Voices of Resilience event was a difficult decision for HOME. We recognise how deeply this decision has affected communities and groups across Manchester and beyond, and we apologise for any distress or upset caused. We support Palestinian and all community voices, and acknowledge that we can learn from how this was handled. We regret that this has had such wide-reaching impacts.

'Since our initial statement, we have continued to collaborate and consult with stakeholders and the artists involved, and to review and develop plans. We have reached out to partners in the city for assistance and have been able to access additional resources that will support us delivering the event. As a result, we are now in a position to confirm that the Voices of Resilience event will take place at HOME, created and curated by Comma Press.

'HOME has always been a space for all voices, with a commitment to championing equality and diversity at the heart of our work. This commitment has never changed, and we recognise that there is work to be done now, to restore the well-earned confidence that our audiences and artists have always held in HOME. We are committed to continuing these conversations with all affected by recent events.

'We stand with all innocent victims of this conflict, and call for a humanitarian solution.

'Details of the upcoming Voices of Resilience event will be announced shortly.'

Of course this won't appease those who objected to holding the event in the first place. No mention of the JRCGM there, were they consulted? There will be more fireworks. It's a remarkable about turn, the release without saying sorry is simply the original cancellation message in reverse. 

Home Launch 4
Spinning around decision making at HOME Image: Confidentials

So the players leave the stage with scarcely a bow. Seriously though was there any chance this event could have gone ahead as originally planned without this crazy dance?

HOME at the very least might have at the beginning tried to find a balancing event cataloguing the Israeli experience through words and voices. They could have advertised both events together with the rider that only reasonable people need attend, not the crazy finger-jabbers.

The fact remains that once committed to the original event HOME should have gone ahead rather than cancelling it with a mealy-mouthed lie about not being political.

At the same time those who complained about Voices of Resilience going ahead might want to take some time to consider their actions. There could have been a different outcome. This was a literary event in a pleasant, safe, comfortable arts centre. Couldn’t JRCGM have gone along and listened, thought about what was being said and asked questions, politely? The Palestinian writers and others could have politely replied to the questions. There might have been an impartial M/C to referee the event.

This is doubtless woolly-headed day-dreaming given the horror on 7 October 2023 and subsequently in the unrelenting bombardment, chaos and death in Gaza. 

What is clear is this mess is not a good start for the new Executive Director Karen O’Neill, who moved down from Lancaster’s Dukes arts centre, to take the rein.

The previous long-term incumbent was Dave Moutrey who was a famously safe pair of hands across 26 years at first the Cornerhouse and then at HOME before becoming the full-time Director of Culture for Manchester last year.

This has been a botched few days and it's not over. If O'Neill wasn't aware of how political running an arts centre such as HOME is, she is now.

Here's an idea though. 

Give it a few months and HOME should commission a writer to dramatise the events of April Fool's week 2024 and put a play on. Sorry, not a play, a farce. 

Meanwhile theatrical PR people should write a chapter on the week's events in one of their textbooks.

A brief coda added on Friday morning, the day after this article was published. 

This is the nonsense of people over this issue. 

A friend tells me she was having a drink chatting away to a friend outside HOME at teatime on the covered terrace. 

A protest group was gathering but they were engrossed in their conversation and didn't really register it. One of protesters gave them a 'death stare' when the pair shared a laugh while someone was attempting a speech

Just a minute my friend thought this is a Pro-Palestinian protest outside HOME but the decision to cancel the 22 April event has been overturned. 

"Why are you still protesting?" she asked. "We're protesting the original decision to cancel it," came the reply. "But it's not cancelled anymore, you've won," she said. "That doesn't matter, the fact they cancelled it in the first place is the problem," said the protester. 

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