Edinburgh, A View from the Fringe

Edinburgh, A View from the Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe not taking place for the first time in its 73 year history was a huge professional and personal blow to the thousands of individuals and organisations who make up the festival.  The Fringe Society, the charity that underpins the infrastructure of the festival, faced an existential crisis as 85% of its income is earned through the festival.  This model of operation – largely unsubsidised and reliant on ticketing income yet to be secured – is pretty much the standard for Fringe venues, artists, promoters and producers year on year, here in Edinburgh but also in Fringe venues and festivals across the world.

The opportunities derived from presenting work at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can be enormous; many artists book onward touring, build a new collaborative partnership, find a new agent, get bookings for stage, screen, and film work.  Many engage with a loyal and adventurous fanbase, earning income to support their year-round activities, or taking the chance to try out new work and ideas on audiences who are actively looking for something new. The impact of these lost opportunities will stretch way beyond 2020, with artists looking at a long recovery for their work to be seen on stage again, with the worry that many will be forced to leave the sector to earn a living elsewhere, impacting marginalised voices more acutely.

 

The sustainability of this model and its capacity for inclusion, was already in question before the Covid 19 pandemic, and the Fringe Society, amongst many, were working collaboratively to affect positive change to address this before the enormous impact of the pandemic hit.  The situation remains fluid, and it changes fast.  Just this week HM Treasury have announced a significant package of support for the sector, which will throw a much needed lifeline to organisations, from individual artists all the way up to the cultural institutions of the UK. It is critical to remember that funding needs to be distributed at all stages of the supply chain – there is no West End without Fringe theatres above pubs, no Olivier Award winners without training and stage schools, no hit TV series without spaces to try, fail, and try again.

There is no future without artists who reflect the world we inhabit – and artists will be key to helping us imagine a new, shared future.  We need artists to record history, to help us make sense of ourselves and reflect the true nature of our world, to challenge what we think we know, to delight and entertain, to show us the best and worst versions of humanity, to let us laugh at ourselves when we fall down and cry when we don’t know what else to do. Fringe of Colour works with audiences and artists of colour to help them see and be seen; COMMON works with working class arts professionals to break down the barriers of money and network; Sick of the Fringe supports work exploring physical and mental health; Disability Equality and Deaf Scotland strive to make it easier for d/Deaf and disabled artists and audiences to engage with culture – all of these organisations, and more, have been working with the Fringe Society to inform strategies, influence investment and funding, and lobby for greater support for fringe artists.

As we await the details of transitional financial assistance we can use this opportunity to challenge our own assumptions and deliver a future for our sector that is inclusive, progressive, bold and uncompromising in being to the benefit of all.

 

Lyndsey Jackson is Deputy Chief Executive at Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

Commemorative Events and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Commemorative Events and the COVID-19 Pandemic

FESTSPACE Co-Investigator, Dr Bernadette Quinn, recently published this article on the FESTSPACE webpage; it reappears here by kind permission.

Being able to use public space is something we routinely take for granted. However, in recent months governments have actively sought to control and restrict access to, and use of, public space. People have been required to limit their social interactions and to practice ‘social distancing’, to restrict their movements away from home, and to use public space in ways that are much more prescribed / restricted than usual. In consequence, interactions with public space have been reduced to a minimum, with people venturing out mainly for exercise or to carry out essential tasks. One consequence of this is that the value of public space has suddenly become much more apparent to us, precisely because we are not able to use it as we normally and unthinkingly do.

Perhaps most obviously, we are appreciating that an important value of public space is that it offers us opportunities to ‘make social ties and create civic norms that bind not only friends and families but also loosely connected strangers’ (Barker, Crawford, Booth and Churchill, 2019, p.495).  Humans have a strong need to gather together in different contexts and for different reasons. Whether it’s for a routine evening stroll or visit to the playground, or indeed a more occasional trip into the city to attend a national day celebration or participate in a protest march, the public spaces of our towns and cities allow people to come together, share social practices, convey solidarity and express collective identities. All of these social gatherings have been abruptly curtailed in recent months, albeit the more recent protests around the UK have meant that this form of gathering has continued, though against government guidance. Governments have even been prompted to restrict people’s ability to come together in times of personal grief, and on occasions when nationally significant moments of grief, loss and monumental upheaval are usually remembered. One of the most distressing aspects of the current pandemic has been the strict curtailment of the rituals associated with bereavement and funeral services, as well as a downscaling, postponement and cancellation of many commemorative events.

Societies everywhere organise commemorative events in the public domain to remember significant happenings in the past and to reflect on their contemporary relevance. As it happens, Ireland is currently marking a ‘Decade of Centenaries’ with a programme of events marking important milestones in the formation of the Irish state. For Frost and Laing (2013: 1), commemorative events are those that ‘are staged so that society may remember and reflect upon past occurrences and their relationship to today’. In remembering, we honour people who have gone before us and acknowledge actions and activities that have helped shape contemporary society.  When the memories involve difficult past experiences like warfare, colonisation, suffering and death, then the process of remembering can be difficult, and the act of remembering can play a cathartic role in helping societies to reconcile past issues. The process of remembering is often heavily contested, involving sometimes controversial decisions about who and what gets remembered, and by extension who and what is overlooked or forgotten.

Dublin City Council’s commemorative exhibition ‘Goodbye Dublin: The War of Independence in the City’, held in Pearse St public library, Autumn 2019.

While complex, the process of recalling memories is fundamentally important in how we construct identities for ourselves both individually and collectively. Commemorative events have a strong role to play in helping people remember occasions that are of collective significance, and represent an example of what Foucault (1968) called heterotopia or  ‘other spaces’, where people can set aside routine normality and  come together in solidarity to recall, remake and pass on memories to future generations. Data gathered in Autumn 2019 by the Dublin based FESTSPACE researchers at Dublin City Library’s ‘Goodbye Dublin: The War of Independence in the City’ commemorative exhibition illustrate this in a number of interesting ways. Visitors to the exhibition frequently noted how looking to the past encourages them to reflect on contemporary life. Often, they were prompted to express gratitude that they had not experienced armed conflict in their own life times. The exhibition refreshed their knowledge of history and reminded them why certain key buildings and streets are named as they are, i.e. to honour people who fought for Irish independence. Visitors appreciated the fact that the exhibition, with its video, photographs / visual material, artefacts, soundtrack and information panels, served to distil a lot of interesting and reliable information in a very accessible way. Many visitors subscribed to the view that ‘these types of exhibitions really help you frame where you are in the world and how we can maybe avoid something like this happening in future’. Images and stories relating to individuals caught up in the War of Independence encouraged visitors to reflect on the complexities of the human stories being told. In general, the exhibition had the effect of developing visitors’ understanding of the city. For some non-Dubliner residents, it brought them ‘closer to the city’. Some people had personal connections to the War, and the exhibition reinforced their understanding that the evolution of their family identity was intimately bound up with that of the city. Sometimes this encouraged a sense of pride. At other times it stirred up a range of mixed emotions. Unanimously, however, the experience of being transported back to the past through engaging with the exhibition was deemed to be important and meaningful.

These brief insights gleaned from the data gathered at the War of Independence exhibition attest to the importance of commemorative events.  In recent months, countries around the world have had little option but to postpone, cancel or make alternative arrangements for numerous important commemorative events staged by governments, communities and individuals. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, Anzac Day (April 25th) commemorations remembering Australians and New Zealanders who died in international combat could not be marked by the usual dawn services and marches. In Rwanda, the annual April 7th night vigils and ‘walk to remember’ commemorations staged in memory of the 1994 genocide could not take place as usual. Internationally, VE Day Commemorative events on May 8th had to be re-imagined in unconventional and creative ways, often to very poignant effect, as noted in a recent FESTSPACE blog post.  Meanwhile Italy’s national day on June 2nd saw the cancellation of the military parade and the open afternoon at the President’s gardens in Palazzo Quirinale. Instead, the President symbolically marked the day by visiting Codogno, the Northern Italian town where the country’s first corona virus patient was diagnosed. In so doing, he very poignantly honoured the huge loss of life the nation has experienced because of COVID-19, incorporating it into the country’s national day of self-reflection.

In Ireland, the annual commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising was radically downscaled. In Dublin the crowds that usually assemble on O’Connell Street to watch the solemn state ceremony were absent. In their stead, a lone soldier performed the symbolic reading of the Proclamation of Independence to a single camera man documenting the proceedings for posterity. As is often the case with commemorative events and indeed other state events of national import like royal weddings and state funerals, the ceremony was broadcast by the state broadcaster at 12 noon that day on a number of platforms. However, this year, in the absence of any collective physical gathering, the importance of the public broadcast was greatly enhanced, being the only means through which the public could experience the ceremony.

Hundreds of commemorative events had been planned throughout Ireland this year as part of the Decade of Centenaries programme. While local authorities were significantly involved in a supporting role, a great many of the events planned were bottom-up initiatives, driven by people motivated to acknowledge and honour the significant role that their place and/or their forebears had played in 1920.  The curtailment and cancellation of many of these events has meant a significant loss not only to collective remembering and reflection, but also to community enhancement, knowledge sharing and capacity building. Interviews recently undertaken with local authority Heritage Officers revealed the investment of creativity, time and collective energy that local people collectively make in planning these events. They also revealed the depth of disappointment and upset felt when plans have had to be curtailed or cancelled.  In testimony to the spirit and determination of the community groups involved, many events have been creatively re-worked and delivered e.g. by live stream, as podcasts, recorded lectures, or in publications. However, these are only partial substitutes. As the Heritage Officers explained, the very essence of commemorative events depends on people physically coming together, often in the specific place that resonates with historical significance. The experience of local people publicly standing together, in situ, remembering and honouring the significance of their locality, is very powerful and cannot be replaced virtually. While the place being honoured might be unremarkable in the normal course of life, in the commemorative context it assumes exceptional significance, one which is a source of collective pride for local people.

While the valiant efforts made by the broader event sector to speedily and creatively re-invent itself in virtual space in response to the disruptive effects of COVID-19 have been lauded, it is important to also recognise that many events have not been able to materialise in the forms intended. Many have not been able to achieve their objectives and this represents a loss that is difficult to calculate. For the myriad groups involved in planning commemorative events around the world this is most certainly the case. The curtailment of social gatherings in public space has disrupted social memory-making, which as Ingold (2017) writes, is at the heart of learning for communities. It has furthered disrupted the processes of community building, collective identity formation and place attachment ongoing in settlements everywhere.

Yet as the last few months have shown, in times of adversity a profound human response is to unite in solidarity and commemoration. Numerous commemorative events this year have incorporated ways of both remembering those lost to COVID-19 and of expressing gratitude and camaraderie with people working on the frontline. The Italian national day commemorations mentioned earlier is one example of such an event. Another is RTE’s ‘Ireland Remembers’ ceremony broadcast on Easter Monday to commemorate the 1916 Rising. This featured a wreath laying ceremony involving five people representing some of the services and organisations actively involved in supporting people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Less formally, everywhere, groups of people have come together and publicly signalled their desire to collectively honour frontline workers and remember those lost to the pandemic. In highly symbolic acts, people effectively made public space together by ceremoniously lighting up buildings, illuminating windows with candles, coming out onto the streets to applaud frontline workers, and decorating their windows with messages. This fundamental human desire to create public space so as to openly demonstrate togetherness in support and remembrance of others, has been a heartening feature of this most difficult period. It augurs well for a return to commemorative and indeed to all kinds of events in the future. As researchers on this FESTSPACE project, we see much scope for further exploring the critical need that humans have to gather collectively and publicly to commemorate. Going forward, we will continue our efforts to understand how the availability and nature of public space shapes different kinds of collective efforts to remember and reflect on the past.

Dr Bernadette Quinn is a human geographer. She is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Hospitality Management & Tourism at the Technological University, Dublin. Her main research interest is arts festivals and she has written and taught extensively about the roles that they play in transforming places, transforming space and in moulding community and place identities.
James Town & Slavery – Short Film

James Town & Slavery – Short Film

Dr Stephen Collins’ short film ‘James Town and Slavery’ is an official selection for the Changing The Story Online International FIlm Festival. The film is a result of a research project which investigates the links between modern and historic slavery in James Town, Ghana. Capturing footage of a new walking tour developed in a collaboration between the project team and James Town Walking Tours, the film premiered on 1st June 2020.

 

Call for Abstracts: Coming of Age on Earth: Legacies and Next Generation Anthropology Conference

Call for Abstracts
IUAES 2020 Coming of Age on Earth: Legacies and Next Generation Anthropology Conference 07-11 October 2020, Sibenik, Croatia
Deadline: 23 March 2020
We are seeking abstracts from speakers from a range of disciplines to present 15 minute papers for two panel sessions about feminist-inspired activism that will run consecutively at the conference: Weaving Cross-Generational Theory: Alternative Futures for Feminist Activism-Inspired Methodologies
and Making Change: Social Making and the Material Imaginaries of Everyday Activism (see details below)

All those interested, please submit your abstract direct to the conference website and email the conveners by 23 March 2020 deadline: https://iuaes2020.conventuscredo.hr/ For more information, and to register interest in the panel, please contact the conveners:

Weaving Cross-Generational Theory: Alternative Futures for Feminist Activism-Inspired Methodologies
Professor Katarzyna Kosmala (University of the West of Scotland, UK): katarzyna.kosmala@uws.ac.uk and Dr Ana Vivoda (University of Zadar, Croatia): ana.vivoda@gmail.com

Making Change: Social Making and the Material Imaginaries of Everyday Activism
Professor Fiona Hackney (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK): F.Hackney@mmu.ac.uk, Jana Milovanović, (Director Terra Vera, Slovenia): drustvo.terravera@gmail.com

Panel abstracts:
Weaving Cross-Generational Theory: Alternative Futures for Feminist Activism-Inspired Methodologies
Alison Dahl Crossley proposes a notion of ‘waveless’ in feminist paradigms to point out “the persistence of feminism over time, the variations in feminism, and the interaction between feminism and other movements.” This panel addresses some of the challenges in today’s research realities, including positionality of the researcher, coalitional politics of the feminist-inspired activisms and intra-generational dialogue, intersectionality as well as geographical and other forms of distancing.
Researchers today are in a world that is different from what it was a generation ago, creating ways of coping with new challenges, some of which persist from previous generations. What kind of feminisms can permeate our worldview to face alterative futures for an interdisciplinary researcher, including interactions, alliances and relationships in everyday lives?
Rosalind Gill suggests a category of post-feminism in the context of recent resurgence of interest in feminism among younger generations, used as an analytical frame to capture a connection with neoliberalism. We invite theoretical papers, exploring the ways of approaching alternative futures of feminist methodologies as well as empirical studies that draw on research paradigms underpinned by plurality, continuity and difference within feminist-inspired research and activism.
We welcome interdisciplinary enquiries, artistic interventions, creative works and case studies examining the ways power dynamics operate in the field, addressing contextual issues for mobilising researchers to act for gender equality, or representing the multiple routes through which power marginalizes and rewards. We invite contributions from the multiplicity of geographies, disciplinary fields and specificities of grassroots struggles.

Making Change: Social Making and the Material Imaginaries of Everyday Activism:
The current situation of worldwide instability combined with political popularism and climate emergency results in a state of unprecedented worldwide risk. At the same time, this offers opportunities as new imaginative spaces open-up in a lived response to crisis. Faced with such global challenges we are forced to rethink our relationship with the world: the way we live, our needs, desires, values, aspirations and priorities, and the ‘arts’, broadly understood, play an important part in this. Thinking around ‘cosmopolitan localism’, moreover, helps us understand the global as a series of networked interconnected locals in the form of small, everyday life solutions that people can understand and control.
This panel explores examples of what we term ‘social making’: community arts, collaborative crafting, social architecture and design, for instance, and how they function as a mode of embedded, everyday activism to re-imagine the world from the ground up and bring about change. This might include, but is not limited to, explorations of community arts’ agencies, the added value of design networks, the benefits and challenges of hyper localism, how caring for things helps us care for each other, the health and well-being benefits of creative making processes, upcycling and repurposing clothing, neo-artisanal producers and the potential for more democratic circuits of community-based production and consumption, localised ‘ecologies of making’ and regeneration.
As such, the panel focuses on the agencies, knowledges and capacities of ordinary people as they reimagine processes of living as embodied activism by forging interactions between people, places and things.

Paisley School of Arts | Est. 1838 : A Living Archive Project

Paisley School of Arts | Est. 1838 : A Living Archive Project

Background

In 1808, a group of local community figures came together to establish the Paisley Philosophical Institution. This collective vision recognized that there was a growing desire in Paisley, and the wider area, to support and provide cultural and educational development to the town’s inhabitants. The group were particularly conscious of a rich historical legacy, alongside burgeoning and emerging talent, within the community. In response to this, they drew up a set of guiding principles, including a determination to “realise the potential contribution that creativity can make to education, social inclusion and quality of life”.
Playing a significant role in the cultural and creative development of Paisley, and beyond, the membership of Paisley Philosophical Institution supported proactive discussion and the establishment of key cultural resources within the community. The Public Library, Museum and Observatory, now Local Authority responsibilities, are still in use to this day.

Paisley School of Art

An important, yet often forgotten part of this story is the foundation of Paisley School of Arts, established by the Paisley Philosophical Institution in 1838. As an interesting aside, this predates the formation of Glasgow School of Art by a number of years. The development of Paisley School of Arts evolved over the years. From its origins as Paisley School of Arts; a Government School of Art and Design at 14 Gilmore Street, it then grew in size to form the School of Arts and Science. This led to amalgamation with local technical education provision to form the Paisley Technical College and School of Art on Gordon Street and has now developed as part of the multi-campus educational presence of the University of the West of Scotland.
Celebrating a legacy and lineage of creative education
Last year saw the redevelopment and launch of the BA(Hons) New Media Art programme at UWS. At the heart of this programme, students discover and develop their own artistic practices through exploration of diverse platforms from illustration, moving image, animation, multimedia live performance/installation, projection mapping, sound art, creative coding and immersive media (360 Filming/AR/VR). Through learning and exploring historical, contemporary, cultural and social contexts of New Media Art, students become ‘Technical’, ‘Critical’ and ‘Creative’ practitioners. With the ongoing emergence of new and innovative arts training at the University, Paisley can claim to have a long and significant presence in the provision of creative education in Scotland. Here, the University of the West of Scotland forms part of this fascinating timeline.


Paisley School of Arts | Est. 1838 : A Living Archive Project

Mr Trent Kim (Proramme Leader) and Dr Rachael Flynn (Lecturer), staff from the BA(Hons) New Media Art programme, along with Ms Anne Gifford (Head of Arts & Media), were recently awarded funding from Renfrewshire Council, through the Culture, Heritage and Events Fund, in order to explore this creative history.

Recognizing the significance of Paisley School of Art, as an important and pioneering presence within the community, the project will focus on this educational and cultural institution, where there is evidence of a longstanding and a continuing flow and flourish of local creativity, with global impact. Whilst national focus and spotlight have been placed elsewhere, this project seeks to reassert the significance of this long-established creative community, which continues to innovate. As we move towards a new chapter in the creative and cultural history of Paisley, with the current £100 million investment of Paisley Town centre, this project will contribute to the reimagined vision of Paisley.

Their project will involve archival research, a series of public workshops, and a culminating Summer School for local school aged children located at the historic site of the Art School on Gordon Street. This work will build to form a Living Archive, across various historic and contemporary sites of interest, recognizing, reasserting, and reimagining the vision and determination of these local figures and a community who believed in the potential for their cultural wealth to create CULTURAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL change.
You can follow the progress of this project via their Social Media channels which are launching this month! https://www.instagram.com/psoa1838/

Memorialisation, Heritage & Funding at Fort Jesus, Mombasa

Memorialisation, Heritage & Funding at Fort Jesus, Mombasa

As part of the delivery of  cultural heritage training workshops that took place in Mombasa, Kenya from 12-16 November 2019 – as part of the British Council funded Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth project – Drs Stephen Collins and Allan Moore took a trip to Fort Jesus with colleagues from Mount Kenya University and workshop participants .

Built on the orders of the Portuguese between 1593 and 1596, Fort Jesus was taken over by Omani Arabs in 1698 and then the British in 1895. In 1631, the fort briefly fell under the control of the Sultan Yusuf ibn al-Hasan of Mombasa. Under the British, the site was used as a prison. Subsequently, the fort was declared a historical monument in 1958 and given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011. Thus, as a site, it has had a colourful and contested history.

The purpose of the trip was to consider the UNESCO world heritage site, and Mombasa’s dominant monument, in terms of what had been discussed in the preceding workshops. Participants were invited to consider the site in terms of formal and informal uses of the space, who had the right to use the space, how heritage was foregrounded or promoted and what kinds of narratives were evident.

The following day, the conversation in which we reflected on these themes with reference to the fort was one of the highlights of the week. Curated by Dr Moore, participants identified several areas that they now felt were questionable in terms of how the space was presented. For example, they identified that there was very little mention of the local community in any of the displays, instead it was as though the fort had simply been a site of chronological occupation by foreign powers with no connection to the people living and working outside the gates.

Dr Stephen Collins speaking at the Cultural Heritage for Inclusive Growth workshop

Secondly, they identified that in the section recently renovated by a grant from the Oman government, there was a series of mannequins in traditional Omani dress. In spite of the presence of the mannequins, there was no critical information of the role that Omani Arabs played in the Arabic slave trade or the lives of the indigenous population. In fact, there was no mention of the role of the fort in slavery at all.

Similarly, the British presence, which lasted over several decades, was characterised as being administratively and scientifically progressive, rather than part of a theatre of imperial power.

As we left, we spotted a large group of school children arriving to view the site for themselves; they ran around the large expanses of grass and clambered over the crumbling walls. Over the following week, we pondered large questions concerning how funding has implications for which stories are told, how uncomfortable stories are passed down and whether or not historical sites need to have their history sanitised in order to be accessible.