At the beginning of June, CCSE had the perhaps slightly unexpected pleasure of one again hosting our annual conference virtually. As CCSE Director – Prof Gayle McPherson – pointed out in her opening remarks; at the time of our first virtual outing in May last year, there were few among us who believed we’d be gearing up for a second digital event just over twelve months later.

Home offices, dining, kitchen and side tables served as our venue once again and everyone bore responsibility for their own tea and biscuits. While far from the traditional conference offering, it is potentially the case that the widespread development of digital – and in future hybrid – events will be one of the longterm legacies of the pandemic response, ultimately enabling greater engagement with a wider audience.

This year’s conference; Recovery, Repair & Renewal: the role of arts and culture in the future of urban places explored potential for arts and culture and post-COVID recovery and, had a very evident focus on the still ongoing emergence into the post-pandemic world. The ways which arts and culture can contribute to recovery, tourism and festivals to processes of renewal were very much at the forefront of the discussion.

The first panel – comprising Consultant Andrew Dixon, Renfrewshire Council’s Louisa Mahon and Prof McPherson and chaired by Prof David McGillivray – considered the recent tendency to invest in arts, culture and heritage as a transformative tool in urban places and, how COVID uncertainty might impact the realm of the visitor economy and, charting a road towards recovery. Cultural event bidding/organisation has always foregrounded ways to bring people together, tackle isolation and build community cohesion and pride. While noting that these issues have been at the forefront of COVID recovery discourse, Andrew Dixon argued that, in fact, they had always been problematic and, foremost among the crises that cities have had to respond to and recover from in the past.

While modes of engagement for the recent City of Culture launch in Coventry – for example –  did not allow for large gatherings, outreach and engagement was nevertheless successfully achieved. Rethinking where and how we live will be key, and the arts and culture can and will be crucial to this process of redefinition. With regard to Renfrewshire, Louisa Mahon reflected on the job creation opportunities that can be provided in the arts and cultural realms while cautioning that the sector’s potential importance does not negate its fragility – appropriate support, targeted funding, investment and careful stewardship  are vital at this time. Also, the isolating effects of the absence of cultural activity must not be ignored; arts and culture are critical tools of sharing and individual expression. Prof McPherson considered the possibility that urban spaces will continue along a pathway towards the prioritisation of uniqueness, independence and connection with local populations over homogeneity and sameness.

The discussion was wide-ranging and fascinating. It was followed by two panels led by our doctoral researchers. The first of these Festivals, Events & the Visitor Economy was co-chaired by Conor Wilson and Niclas Hell and featured Visit Scotland’s Marie Christie, Renfrewshire Council’s Pauline Allen and Regular Music’s Mark Mackie. The second Normality? The role of culture and the arts to help us reflect, envisage and change what is and what should be ‘normal’ chaired by Lan Pham, heard from Sarah Grant, Jackie Sands, Marie Collins and Siobhan Gray from Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, NHS Glasgow, Renfrewshire Leisure and Renfrewshire Council. During the virtual coffee break between these latter segments, we took the opportunity to showcase some of the research currently being undertaken by staff and students at UWS that has relevance for work ongoing within Renfrewshire and beyond.

Another great advantage of the digital age is that we have been able to record the broadcast of our event and, if you were unable to join us on the day, it is nevertheless available to view.

Thanks once again to our speakers and audience for an enjoyable and engaging day!

Session IRecovery, Repair & Renewal: The role of arts and culture in the future of urban places can also be viewed here

Session II – Festivals, events and the visitor economy can be viewed here

The Video Showcase can be seen here

Session IIINormality? The role of culture and the arts to help us reflect, envisage and change what is and what should be ‘normal’ can be seen here