Festivals, Events & the COVID-19 Pandemic

Festivals, Events & the COVID-19 Pandemic

CCSE Deputy Director Professor David McGillivray has recently published the following blog post as part of the FESTSPACE project he leads discussing the impact and implications of COVID-19 on the festivals, events and public spaces that project is investigating. This post first appeared on the FESTSPACE website.

 

Our FESTSPACE project was conceived in a pre COVID-19 world, where those interested in festivals, events and urban policy were debating how to best design and manage public spaces to bring people together, to encourage co-presence and generate convivial atmospheres involving as wide a representation of the population as possible. At that time, our concerns were about how to ensure festive public spaces were inclusive, more open and less commercial. People talked to us about the economic imperative exerting undue influence on how public spaces were being used, and managed. People complained about too many festivals and events taking place in their parks or civic squares, removing much valued public spaces for extended periods of time. However, over the last few weeks, as the global pandemic consumes our thoughts 24-hours a day, across the world a common language of social distancing has dominated our conversations, accompanied by the stark reality of ‘lockdown’. Social interactions and exchanges are discouraged, gatherings of more than two people are banned, and planned outdoor festivals and events are postponed or cancelled until as yet unknown future dates.

Across the UK and Ireland, parks and green spaces have introduced restrictions to prevent well-intentioned families from inadvertently spreading the virus. Streets are empty, civic squares are populated only by urban wildlife and many well known urban centres resemble ghost towns. Iconic annual festivals and events, sporting and cultural, have fallen victim to COVID-19. Euro2020 has been postponed (to 2021) and Glastonbury, Wimbledon, The Open Championship, St Patrick’s Day Parades, and Edinburgh Festivals have been cancelled. Established in 1947 Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe festival have taken place every year drawing huge audiences and contributing an estimated £300m to the economy. The Festival Fringe takes over Edinburgh’s cityscape during the month of August each year and organisers have cancelled early because they can’t envisage large gatherings on the streets of the city being possible in the near future.

In London, which has a high concentration of COVID-19 cases, there has been a significant amount of debate about the use and regulation of parks during the lockdown. Most parks and green spaces remain open, although all facilities within them such as playgrounds, cafes and toilets are closed. These spaces play a key role as sites where Londoners can look after their physical and mental wellbeing, a function which now seems more important than ever. Many citizens do not have their own gardens and people living in flats and small residences are particularly anxious about being denied access to public green spaces. Unlike the city’s squares and streets which are relatively empty and unusually quiet, large parks surrounded by densely populated neighbourhoods remain heavily used. This includes Finsbury Park which is the key case study for the team of #Festspace researchers based in London. Media campaigns and physical signs have been employed to encourage people to adhere to new regulations and guidelines – keeping 2 metres apart and only using the parks for exercise (walking, running or cycling). There are concerns that if the new rules are not followed, then more parks will follow the example of East London’s largest park Victoria Park which has been closed since March 25th because some users continued to gather in groups. Here and elsewhere, people have flouted the rules by sun-bathing, barbecuing, picnicking, using skateparks, kite flying and engaging in other activities deemed to be non-essential. It seems people are unwilling or unable to resist socialising in parks. Early on in the lockdown period, new rules were enforced mainly by self-regulation. But in the past few days, there are increasing reports of police moving people on who were gathered in small groups or lingering unnecessarily. On Sunday 5th April Brockwell Park – which serves a very densely populated part of South London – was closed after 3,000 people turned up to enjoy the fine weather. The Park reopened the following day, but the closure sent a warning to people that authorities would close parks if they were unable to guarantee safe use. This threat has been reiterated by several national government ministers at the daily media briefings. All festivals and events planned for London’s parks from now until the end of June have been cancelled or postponed. Events scheduled for July and August are also expected to be cancelled over the next few weeks. This will disappoint many people who were looking forward to attending one of the many music festivals scheduled to take place in London’s parks – e.g. All Points East in Victoria Park or Lovebox in Gunnersbury Park. However, some London Friends groups (e.g. Friends of Finsbury Park) have campaigned for a fallow year (something which the organisers of Glastonbury do every few years) which would allow park environments time to recover from their intensive use as sites for festivals. Now it seems they will get their wish – although in circumstances that no one would have wanted to see. …..

A Park in Dublin

In Sweden the strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 is more liberal compared to most other countries in Europe. Although some organisations like universities have moved to remote teaching, most businesses and workplaces have remained open, and people have been allowed to move around without restrictions other than to follow social distancing advice and minimizing their physical social contacts. The Swedish COVID-19 strategy has been to encourage people to take moral responsibility without legal restrictions, a traditional approach in Swedish society, based on the fact that Swedes tend to trust authorities and the right to move around freely is stated in the Swedish constitution. That said, public events and festivals are still suffering from the COVID-19 outbreak in Sweden.  At the beginning of March, authorities there limited public events to no more than 500 individuals, like in other parts of Europe. At the start of April, the number of individuals allowed to gather for public events was reduced to no more than 50 people. While schools for children under the age of 15 are still open, public events and festivals are more or less abandoned. And yet, restaurants, pubs and private gatherings are not included in the restrictions, in order to maintain some semblance of normality for the Swedish economy and social life. As all public events and festivals are effectively cancelled, both private and public event organizations are facing financial emergency situations and many will struggle to survive until the summer.

In Barcelona, authorities have followed a strict lockdown strategy and social life has disappeared in public spaces to prevent rapid contagion.

Plaça Catalunya (March 2020)

This situation is replicated across Spain, with no activity in public spaces. Barcelona was quick to realise the impact of COVID-19 with the cancellation of one of the biggest events hosted by the city, the Mobile World Congress, in mid-February.  Subsequently, a long list of festivals and events have been postponed or cancelled, including Festival Greg, Primavera Sound, the International Book Day (Sant Jordi), and neighborhood festivities such as Sant Josep Oriol. However, out of this uncertainty creative and innovative responses have emerged from citizens, institutions, event organisers and companies. Everyday cultural and sporting activities have been established to create solidarity and to make life more bearable for those confined to their homes. These include #LaCulturaTAcompanya (culture accompanies you),  #BCNesMoudinsCasa, (Barcelona moves inside home) or online festivals such as D’A Film Festival. The most fascinating initiatives are those spontaneous ones, initiated by individuals and communities to share and entertain during these challenging times. One excellent example is balcony festivals – small intimate events on the city’s balconies and terraces. These festivals have seen singers including Begoña Alberdi  and Ruth Lorenzo singing opera each evening, or musicians such as Alberto Gestoso or Benet Vázquez, Àdria Cañellas and Jordi Juli playing to residents.

Across our European case cities (Glasgow, Dublin, London Barcelona and Gothenburg) and further afield, outdoor and indoor public gatherings have decimated the festivals and events sector. However, we are witnessing varied responses to the crisis, with the desire for social connection producing new ways of people gathering to share their artistic, cultural and sporting interests. Some of these responses have been very simple – moments in the day when members of the public emerge onto their streets to applaud health care workers on the front line. In Dublin, people living in apartment complexes have been playing bingo outdoors so as to maintain social connectivity and tiny groups of people have expressed their communal identity by coming onto the streets and outdoor space in their neighbourhoods to engage in exercise, song and dance, and chat, all the time respecting ‘social distancing’.

People exercising in the street in Dublin

Digital public spaces have also proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic as we gather online, joining Facebook parties to participate in quizzes, Instagram Live to hear our favourite artists perform acoustic sets from their homes, or Houseparty to replicate the regular weekend soirée. Events previously held in public spaces have also moved online. For example, in Gothenburg, the face-to-face event, Lunch Beat, where people come together in different public spaces on a monthly basis to dance during lunchtime to a live DJ has now become a virtual Facebook/Instagram/Youtube event. While virtual festivity does little to facilitate surprise encounters with difference and physical proximity with strangers, it does provide a very useful way for already-existing networks to maintain their connections.

Finally, we’re likely to be in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic for some weeks or months yet, and the longer term implications of the pandemic on the relationship between festivals, events and public spaces are difficult to assess. However, some of the research questions that are likely to arise include:

  • How will people respond to a loosening of social distancing measures across Europe, including how festival and event organisers adapt their practices?
  • Will there be an ongoing fear of gathering in public space to celebrate collectively, for how long, and with what implications for social life and cohesion?
  • What is the impact of COVID-19 on the value associated with access to, and use of, public space (s), including parks, and civic squares?
  • What will happen to the new practices and cultures established during the COVID-19 pandemic once the lockdown is relaxed?
  • How will internationally-important festivals and events dependent on tourism visitation respond to the changes to travel practices likely to ensure post-COVID-19?

We are living in a new normal with uncertainty a feature of every area of economic, social and cultural life for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 is not the first time in human history that festivals and events have had to be suspended or cancelled but it has certainly generated a shock to the system that few people could have imagined. Time will tell what the long term effects on festivals, events, public space and public-ness will be.

Virtual Conference- #CCSEFutures

Virtual Conference- #CCSEFutures

Festivals, Events and COVID-19: Navigating a Global Pandemic

May 27th 2020, 13:15- 16:15

Event Registration: Eventbrite

Background

We are in the midst of a global pandemic unlike anything witnessed in our lifetimes. From March 2020, across the world large scale festivals and events were cancelled or postponed and there are fears that the restrictive social distancing measures in place to contain the virus will endure well into summer and autumn 2020, at least. Local, national and international cultural, sporting and business events have been affected, from Merchant City Festival in Glasgow, the Grand National (global audience of 500 million people) to Coachella Music Festival in Nevada, and even the world’s largest mega event, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some events were postponed until later in the year (e.g. Glastonbury, and the London Marathon) in the hope that some mass gatherings will be permitted as the world slowly re-opens for business. However, even these plans are likely to involve adaptations including being hosted behind closed doors or with restricted audience numbers. Large gatherings, community events, people’s sense of place, space, identity and culture have all come to a halt with no sense of returning to normal any time soon.

Prior to the COVID-19 shock, the global festivals and events sector was worth $1,100 billion in 2018 and is predicted to reach $2,330 by 2026 (Allied Market Research, 2019). In the UK alone it is worth over £42 billion, supporting over half a million FTEs (Pulse Event Report, 2018).Corporate and business events were anticipated to show the most significant growth. However, with the current COVID-19 restrictions in place, the ability to stage, host and attend festivals and events has been severely curtailed. The festivals and events sector will be one of the last to re-open so there is a need to think carefully about the impact of this global pandemic on the sector, its main stakeholders, audiences and the future. The Centre for Culture, Sport and Events (CCSE), University of the West of Scotland, invites you to participate in this virtual conference, with contributions from academics, policy makers and practitioners from the UK, Europe and North America to talk about how we navigate a future for the festivals and events sector.

Schedule:

This conference is to be broadcast on social media to watch it please click the links below:

1. YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/c/UWSSBCIStories
2. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UWSBusinessStories
3. Twitter: https://twitter.com/UWSSBCIBusiness
4. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/uwsbusent

(The event will stream on each of these channels from 1pm on 27th May. Attendees do not require access codes or additional links/logins).

13:00 Start of broadcast

13:15 Introduction and scene setting
Professor Gayle McPherson, Director CCSE
Professor David McGillivray, Deputy Director, CCSE and Project Lead, FESTSPACE

13:25 Cultural festivals: Performing at a Distance

In this panel session, we will hear from academics and policy makers from the UK and Europe on the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural sector with specific focus on cultural festivals and events. In this session we will discuss two main questions:

● What are the effects, economically, socially and culturally, of COVID-19 on cultural festivals?
● What are the implications of COVID-19 for the future of cultural festivals?

Chair: Prof Gayle McPherson

Contributors: Marie Christie, VisitScotland; Dr Bernadette Quinn, Technological University,
Dublin, Louisa Mahon, Renfrewshire Council and Lyndsey Jackson, Deputy Chief Executive, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

14:20 Break

14:25 COVID-19 and the Future of Sport Events

In this panel session we will hear from academics, policy makers, and sport broadcasters on the implications for sport events; from regular events to mega sport events like the Olympic Games. Contributors from the UK, Europe and North America will discuss how the pandemic is affecting sport and sport events and the strategies that can be put in place to ensure there is a future for these events once restrictive social distancing measures are relaxed. In this session we will discuss two main questions:

● What are the effects, economically, socially and culturally, of COVID-19 on the landscape of small, major and mega sport events?
● What changes to the sport event landscape can we expect once the immediate effects of COVID-19 are overcome?

Chair: Professor David McGillivray
Contributors: Dr Laura Misener, Western University, David Grevemberg, CEO Commonwealth Games Federation and Professor Martin Müller, University of Lausanne

15:20 Break

15:25 Creative responses and new event formats: Adapting to a New Normal. In this panel session, we will discuss how communities, neighbourhoods, cultural organisations and festival and event organisers have responded creatively to COVID-19 lockdown measures and what these new or adapted practices might mean in the future. These practices include
street or balcony events, digitally mediated gatherings and other expressions of everyday creativity. In this session we will discuss two main questions:

● How have neighbourhoods and communities responded to the ‘absence’ of collective gatherings brought about by COVID-19 measures?
● Which new or adapted forms of festivity will be sustained once social distancing measures are relaxed and what might this mean for traditional models?

Chair: Dr Sandro Carnicelli
Contributors: Dr Alba Colombo, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Leonie Bell, Renfrewshire Council, Dr Andrew Smith, Westminster University, Dr Tim Gale, Bournemouth University

16:00 Conclusions
Professor Gayle McPherson, Director CCSE

Please Register to Attend here. We look forward to seeing you on 27th May.

 

RSSE Graduation 19/20 & Community Sports Hubs (CSH) VS COVID19

RSSE Graduation 19/20 & Community Sports Hubs (CSH) VS COVID19

This week, Active Schools Coordinators Tammy Johnston and David Rose reflect on the ways in which the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted on their work and, on the experiences of the young people they work with. Active Schools is a government initative funded by sportscotland and managed by Local Authorities.

Our Renfrewshire School of Sport Education (RSSE) programme is Renfrewshire Leisure’s Active Schools coaching programme. 75 pupils from across all of the local high schools are selected annually to complete this 25 week programme across three different centres. Upon completion of the course we host a grand graduation whereby we showcase the hard work and dedication of these young people. This formal event is one of the highlights of the working calendar for all the coordinators. It’s a chance to show our 75 young people how much we appreciate them, how proud we are of them and show them off to our chief executives, local MPs and SportScotland representatives. Everyone gets dressed up to the nines to come together in celebration of our young and future stars. Last years event was beautiful, hosted in the architectural, historical phenomenon that is Paisley Abbey. This motivated us to make the graduation for our 2019/20 students even better. Then along came coronavirus.

One thing we always teach our RSSE students is to have the ability to adapt to any circumstance. I must commend the youth of 2020. This uncertainty and fear are not something you should have to experience, but from the bottom of my heart I want to express my gratitude and pride for how each and every one of you have taken this in your stride. You adapted.

All the students in the course inspire the coordinators in different ways and it is the sense of loyalty to them that hurt us coordinators to not be able to give them all the send-off they deserve. A quick powwow and it was decided we weren’t going to let COVID19 take anything more from them. It’s taken their exams, leavers days, proms etc but it wasn’t taking their RSSE graduation. So again, we got ourselves scrubbed up and instead of making our way to a prestigious event, I walked the two steps from the sofa to the desk, opened my laptop and video called my centre. The same was replicated across the other two centres with all our students getting the graduation they were promised and deserved. We pulled together video montages of their journeys on the course, spoke of fond memories and celebrated them. The RSSE Graduates of 2019/20.

The circumstances and situation have changed, but my message to the graduates remains the same. There are three types of people in this world, the people that make something happen, the people that watch something happen, and the people that have no clue it happened. Which person will you be?

In Renfrewshire we work with over 55 clubs in our 5 Community Sports Hubs. The hubs are; Johnstone Linwood & Gryffe, Renfrew & Gallowhill, Paisley West, Paisley East, and Park Mains Community Sports Hub. The objective of our Hubs is to provide opportunities to the community by bring clubs together from a variety of sports to promote the positive impact sport has on a person’s life. This is done through working with Sports Services, National Governing Bodies, Schools and the community to identify the needs and provide taster sessions to pupils in school time.

As like everyone our CSH are facing difficult times and having to adapt to the service they provide. The clubs need to continue to support their members and keep engaging with their communities to provide opportunities. This has led to clubs being creative and inventive with their ideas to keep in touch with their communities.

A lot of the clubs have come forward with support to the local community such as Bishopton Rugby Club that are offering a door to door service to vulnerable people in their community. Also, Erskine badminton club took to social media to share their stay safe video and at home workouts. Other clubs in the hubs have taken to using various online platforms to keep engaged with their members such as e-sailing by Castle Semple sailing club, online quizzes based on Judo holds by Genki Judo club, Zoom sessions delivered to members by the UKTC and also Renfrewshire Trampoling Club. The Paisley Barbell Club has allowed members to take club equipment home so they can continue to train at home, also offering check in sessions via Zoom and coaches posting workouts online.

As part of our partnership working with Sports Services and the CSH we have created various opportunities through Twitter and Facebook to challenge the local community. There have been clubs such as St Peter’s Netball Club and Basketball Paisley taking part in these challenges. Furthermore there is now a number of clubs supporting the Active Schools programme through online coaching sessions. These are able to be accessed by all Renfrewshire schools pupils and through working with Active Schools have created opportunities to learn new skills such as football, karate, tae kwon do and basketball.

As the situation continues to develop it is great that our clubs maintain their involvement in the community. Everything they are doing is offering support and it is great to see our Community Sports Hubs working hard to bring opportunities and also provide different types of support in these challenging times.

 

 

Tammy Johnston is the Active Schools and Community Club Development Officer for Park Mains High School and Bargarran, Barsail and Rashielea Primary, her work ensures that there are sporting opportunities – through participation, competion or volunteering – for all.

David Rose is the Active Schools and Community Club Development Officer for the St Andrew’s Cluster with St Andrew’s Academy, St Fergus, St Paul’s and St Peters Primary school. He also works with the Paisley West Community Sport Hub.

Soundings, One Month in: Leading and Learning during Lock Down at Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL)

Soundings, One Month in: Leading and Learning during Lock Down at Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL)

March 16th 2020 was my own Covid-19 watershed. I started the day at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. I was speaking about GWL and our work with legendary feminist artist Linder; the audience had seemed marginally depleted, there was nervous laughter as the mic was passed around in the Q and As, hugs still happened, social isolation and social distancing were new terms that were yet to affect behaviour. On the train journey home from Cambridge to Scotland traveller numbers were noticeably reduced. By the time I joined the Museums Association conference planning meeting in Edinburgh that same evening, the atmosphere had shifted dramatically (hand sanitising routinised, a sombre mood, the MA team preparing for imminent lock down, a sense of this being a ‘Last Supper’). Fast forward: as I write just over a month has passed since this cognitive milestone and the subsequent rapid reorientation of GWL from an audience facing, building centred, live events and learning hub (with just two of our team focussed part-time on the digital realm) to knowing that our building is closed for the foreseeable, staff and volunteers all working from home and everyone committed to making our beloved resource function, make sense and have impact in the virtual world.

Facade of Glasgow Women’s Library Bower of Bliss, Linder, a commissioned flag (with accompanying film and exhibition) for Glasgow Women’s Library, Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, 2018

 

I wanted to briefly share at this stage three of my own observations of how GWL is responding to the COVID-19:

The GWL staff team members are  specialists in adapting to and managing change. As a feminist cultural organisation, resilience and adaptability have been muscles we have had to develop. Change Making is one of our Strategic Aims Challenges have been ongoing and varied since 1991: insecurities (whether financial or concerning premises), neglect, and marginalisation (not to say derision) at the outset, and continuing political, social and cultural tumult and criticisms of every stripe (as well as opportunities and the challenges associated with growth and increased recognition), have had to be acknowledged, discussed and acted upon as a team whilst attempting to be a genuine resource ‘for all’.

As a team we nurture staff and volunteers creativity and potential beyond the Job Description. The consequent benefits for GWL and our users are that this solution focussed momentum for change has continued to be unleashed during COVID-19. Some years ago GWL established Creative Clusters – themed groups that enable the Board, staff, and volunteers to productively connect. Cluster members tackle ‘stuck’ issues using creativity and our shared Core Values as an anchor. Team members choose Clusters based on their knowledge, interests and passions. During this challenging period this embedded ‘can-do’ collaborative culture and variants on ‘clustering’ are blossoming. For example, I found reassurance in Week 1 from a bulletin sent by our cleaner who reported that she had enjoyed an online Green Cluster meeting, was writing a Blog about the GWL garden (with a volunteer) had attended the first Reader Development Cluster meeting (her first ‘Zoom’) was ‘studying a lot of online literature, including GWL’s Strategic Plan (which is really interesting) … I am getting a chance to do all the research I never seem to have time for…Tomorrow I’ll be in a Webex meeting, about video subtitling… my brain has been buzzing with all these new concepts and my creativity has also made a reappearance.’

The efforts made throughout GWL’s development to centre access and inclusion and consult those most excluded from the cultural offer has meant that aspects of our work are flowing freely with minimal sense of adaptions being needed (for example, in May we stage another of our Open the Door Digital Festival, in planning for several months, the first of these digital festivals took place in 2018). Staff with digital skills have been quick to share expertise and have demonstrated exemplary leadership in an organisational culture where learning as a principle for all was already embedded.

A culture of care and kindness that people feel when they use our building or visit us online, and that characterises the staff and Board cohort, is ensuring that so far, our ship is steady and our work is making a difference. Amongst staff and Board I have sensed  excitement percolating about how these current challenges can cultivate change at GWL and beyond.

There is of course no room for complacency, we are all mindful that the challenges: financial, existential, social, local and global, guarantee turbulence in the cultural waters as far as the horizon. Meantime, we can derive courage from a glance at the stirring stories on our (virtual) shelves and in our collections and can draw on our own history of tenacity, survival and creatively navigating the storms of the past three decades. In amongst the inevitable personal and professional dis-ease that change can engender, the team at GWL harbour dreams that in this, the latest ‘crisis’ that we are being asked to navigate, may engender shifts that could bring us closer to realising our Vision, Mission and deepen our Values.

Follow Adele on Twitter: @AdelePatrickGWL and keep abreast of GWL’s latest work and initiatives via womenslibrary.org.uk

Adele Patrick is a co-founder and Creative Development Manager at Glasgow Women’s Library. In the year leading up to the Lock Down Adele undertook a Clore Leadership Fellowship and produced Post Fellowship Research. In a GWL Twitter Take Over (08.04.2020) Adele shared the demands she was making of herself as a Feminist Leader.

 

The Effects of COVID 19 on the Cultural Sector, a View from Colombia

The Effects of COVID 19 on the Cultural Sector, a View from Colombia

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to take hold, the world is being shaken in ways not seen in recent memory. The virus has affected practically all sectors of the economy and it was to expect that the culture would not be shielded from the fall out.

In Colombia, the first case of coronavirus was registered on March 6, 2020. At the time of writing, the country has recorded cases of 1579 infection and 46 dead. From March 25th, the government decreed mandatory preventive isolation, initially of 19 days, but in early April this period was extended by an additional week. Even prior to this change, other measures had been put in place. On March 12th, the President cancelled all public gatherings/events of more than 500 people and, less than week later, the government reduced this number still further – public and private events were no longer to exceed 50 attendees; all bars and clubs were closed.

In Colombia, massive events such as the country’s premier book fair (Filbo 2020), the largest private music festival (Estéreo Pícnic) and, the internationally renowned film festival (Ficci) were cancelled. Theatres and cinemas – alongside fairs and literature meetings – were closed. The restriction, which is – for now –  somewhat optimistically scheduled to continue until the end of May, left 493 live music and 643 theater shows “in the air,” according to figures recorded by the Ministry of Culture. These measures undoubtedly affect the economy, including the night time economy comprising a wide range of activities ranging from concerts, theatre visits, dinner or a night out at a club, involving hotels, venues, restaurants, bars, chain stores and others that are estimated to generate about $3 billion annually across the country, alongside approximately 34,000 ‘regular’ jobs and another 30,000 weekend work opportunities in Bogotá alone.

To face this scenario on March 25th, the National Government signed Decree 475 which bringing into force “special measures related to the Culture sector in the state of Economic, Social and Ecological Emergency”. Enforcement of the decree means that it is estimated that more than 120,000 million pesos will be allocated to combat the effects of Covid-19.

However, these measures have caused discomfort in the sector; they are not novel and are only focused on the situation found in the capital, Bogotá, leaving the challenges faced in the rest of the country unaddressed. For example, the decree’s second article contemplates the transitory allocation of more than $40 billion from the para-fiscal contribution of public performances of the performing arts; in other words, modifications to the law on public spectacle. The $40 billion are in the hands of the municipalities that generate the resources for this law and can (ordinarily) only be used for cultural infrastructure but, the Ministry of Culture (2020) claims that in these moments of crisis, “we do not need to invest all resources in this purpose”. According with the Ministry of Culture (2020) the Decree is designed to make the use of these resources more flexible so that they can be deployed in projects and programs for training, production and virtual creation, in order to reach Colombian homes with a digital culture and across digital platforms. However, this is another challenge as the Colombian National Administrative Department for Statistics (DANE) reports that about half of Colombian households are connected to the internet.

Without doubt, this pandemic is changing our lives and the way we perceive the world. Unfortunately, in terms of connectivity, Colombia is far behind in comparison with other countries, and social isolation is not experienced by everyone equally. For now, the cultural and creative industries have reacted by offering their cultural products and services (i.e. virtual museum visits and books to download) online for free. However, not everyone has access to the internet, a privilege in a country like Colombia, which results in a situation where many citizens are denied their democratic right to benefit from culture.

 

 

 

 

Invisible Threads

Invisible Threads

German philosopher and cultural critic Fredrich Nietzsche once said “invisible threads are the strongest ties”. As well as being reminiscent of Paisley’s very own Sma Shot, there is the undeniable truth that the invisible threads Nietzsche refers to are what binds our communities together. Our strong ties are in the social connections we make and in being part of something bigger; a shared ‘we’re in this togetherness’.

This strength of connection, or sense of community, is what underpins all that STAR Project does. It’s a solid and safe foundation, albeit invisible, a platform for change that facilitates risk taking, creative expression, exploration and growth. The onset of Covid-19 threatened to rip through these invisible threads as, piece by piece, they were intertwined with fear. Connections were now fraught with risk.

We feared the impact of the pandemic; what it might mean for us, our community, ourselves, our existence. We worried about funding, staff health and safety, loss of income, and we worried about our ability to get through this unscathed. Fear is contagious and, alongside our own fears, we were inundated by the fears of hundreds of distressed and vulnerable community members looking for comfort and reassurance. People were displaying signs of trauma and grief, fight or flight responses were kicking in and – for many – there was a profound sense of loss. A loss of what was known and safe, of connections and, of the way things were supposed to be.

Understanding this threat to the psychological safety of our community is what compelled us to try and salvage those invisible threads as quickly as was possible. A collective determination developed within the team and we decided to do what we do best; we got creative in the face of adversity and upped our game.

And so began our digital revolution.

We experienced a real urgency to adapt and creatively replicate our services digitally, and as closely as possible, to what was familiar. Within 32 hours we had our contingency plan in place, adapted our social media strategy, a creative operational plan and associated protocols, set up various digital tools and implemented a new wellbeing framework for the team. The only exception to this was our Community Fridge which we adapted for delivery, an essential service tackling food insecurity and reducing food waste, but that’s a whole other blog in itself.

For our community members, their need to connect with us, and each other, was so strong they were willing to put aside age-old resistances to change and, for some, a mistrust of new technology.

If you’d said to me a month ago that our Drop-In would work digitally, I’d have laughed (albeit in my head). If you’d said that we could be just as creative and that our community would engage just as creatively, I may have doubted it. Yet here we are, even busier than before and with a whole new level of creativity to explore. People who were a bit quieter have come into their own, leading on topics, enjoying a newfound digital freedom. People who resisted technology are suddenly connoisseurs of Zoom, Slack and Hangouts.

Amid the horrors of this crisis, the fear and the loss, there has also been gain; new ways of working, evidence of cultural resilience,* expanding comfort zones, heightened creativity, lots of compassion, and a new kind of connectedness. Those invisible threads continue to hold fast.

Although we are bruised, we are finding ways to battle on.

 

A registered Scottish charity: SC028133

*Cornelius Holtorf (Assistant Professor, University of Lund, Sweden) describes cultural resilience as the capacity of a cultural system (consisting of cultural processes in relevant communities) to absorb adversity, deal with change and continue to develop.