This week’s guest blog comes from Sarah Derrick, Head of Learning at Dundee Contemporary Arts
“Taybridge2″ by richywiseman74 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
I have been reading ‘Funny Weather – art in an emergency’ by Olivia Laing (almost required reading for out times) and was struck by her use of the word ‘hospitality’ in the introduction, in relation to what artists do and can do for us. It made me realise that I have been using the term very much in relation to welcoming people into a venue, as a one-way flow of hospitality. Not having our venue for this period of time has opened up the idea of hospitality as being mutual, embodying caring, open-ness and working together. Due to the time that I have had to connect and talk to our community partners through this awful shared experience of COVID-19 I am thinking a lot more about ‘hospitality and about love, respect and challenge.
Back in March when our building closed like many other organisations we were put in a situation where as a staff team we had to respond, re-imagine, plan and re-design simultaneously whilst being ‘remote’ from each other and our audiences. I certainly felt adrift and a little unhinged at times but our DCA Director, Beth Bate, defined three principles to guide us: be honest and open; focus on the local (‘hyper-localism‘) and be compassionate and caring.
My gran’s saying, ‘you’re neither use nor ornament’ also kept running through my head – how could the Learning team be relevant and useful in a global pandemic? without our building, without the film, print and exhibition programmes. How could we connect and respond with our many and varied audiences? Would they want to connect? In what ways could we be caring? My thirty years’ of experience in the sector gave me neither help nor confidence at this time.
However, as I ran around Riverside Tescos on my way home from DCA on the day we closed, I was stopped twice by parents asking about what we would offer online, and when – that in a way set the tone for our online focus for ‘families‘. New Monday Makes ( step by step guides) and Weekend Activity Sheets all inspired by our Exhibition programme and Print Studio offer were created and went online from 30 March, closely followed by Wednesday Discovery Short films and a lesson or activity from our annual international film festival for young audiences. The aim being to support home schooling, inspire making and ground the activities in DCA exhibition programme and print making offer. We knew local families, community organisations and teachers were invested in our venue-based programme and we hoped that they would access the online provision. The activities do look great on social media and downloads have been in the range of 53 – 70 per week but we have yet to evaluate how they were used.
Alongside this new online offer it was essential to have non-digital activity, bearing in mind digital poverty and lack of access. Our collaborative PhD programme with the University of Dundee, Art at the Start, and PhD student Vicky Armstrong helped our thinking by speedily adapting her work from hands on sessions at DCA to ‘art packs to use at home’. Vicky’s research for the past two years has centred on how viewing and making art together enhances parent/child attachment in 0-3 year olds. For her, no venue instantly meant no art therapy groups, no public Messy Play sessions and therefore no PhD data gathering. To overcome this Vicky initially sent activities out to parents from all the groups , like recipes but became aware that the majority of homes involved did not have art materials – you can read more about this here : https://www.dca.org.uk/stories/article/adapting-art-at-the-start
Initial feedback from SAE feedback cards in the packs shows that families are bonding through making together, local project partners, Homestart and community health teams value the packs . A nurse reported that one of her families was using the pack daily and it was definitely helping the family cope with lockdown. To follow this up we have funded the piloting of Family Art Bags for older children, including basic art making materials, sketchbooks, and printed DCA and Monday Makes. We have responded more confidently to requests from a number of our partner community groups. We found a strand of relevance and are feeling useful again, delivering solidly on DCA’s mission, despite lockdown.
By the end of July we will have delivered nearly 400 packs and bags via key community partners such as Dundee International Women‘s Centre, the Maxwell Centre, Boomerang and local charity Dundee Bairns. At the moment this kind of provision is not sustainable funding-wise but we have been asking parents to contribute back their own activities as a follow up and potential route to keep ideas flowing. As a result we are re-designing our exhibition related activities hopefully with some of our partners involved ready for the soon to be coming DCA re-opening date in September.
Staying connected with our partners like Art at the Start and local groups has been mainly down to myself, as the rest of the team have been in and out of furlough and it has been so very heartening to have conversations that start with a genuine ‘how are you all doing?’ and ‘what on earth can we do?‘ rather than the sometimes more one-sided, although no less genuine offer of invitation to come to DCA. There have been many ideas and suggestions, poster activity trails, art and science picnics, sending artworks and messages to isolated older folk – some may happen, some may not and one or two will I am sure become part of our ‘new normal’. However, to move from the blank and useless feelings of March I needed that energy and spark that comes from our partner organisations and their communities and a new , more ‘hospitable’ approach on my part.
“Not only did these bags have brilliant resources to engage and play through art. In my opinion these bags were filled with, love, care, kindness and respect for children. “
Salma Hanif, Family Support Worker, Dundee International Womens‘ Centre
Earlier in the year, CCSE staff got together with colleagues from STAR Project to deliver a workshop alongside STAR community members. The workshop was an opportunity to discuss community experiences of culture in and around Paisley and Renfrewshire. The workshop was part of our UKRI project, funded as part of their ‘Enchacing Place Based Parterships’ stream.
The collaborative work undertaken has been both interesting and rewarding. After the workshop, STAR community members co-wrote a lovely blog which we published here. We were also able to comission a short film on the day of the event which we’re delighted to be able to share here.
While formal, officially sanctioned social gatherings were banned during lockdown, more localised and creative responses to the restrictions associated with COVID-19 were evident, across the world. From the balcony concerts of Barcelona, to the socially distanced street parties celebrating VE Day in London and the neighbourhood DJ sets taking place in other cities, the everyday, communal and ‘hyper-local’ responses to COVID-19 of people in our urban locations was inspiring. We have seen streets being (re) claimed by neighbourhoods and communities, parks becoming ever more important places for recreation, relaxation and sociability and examples of public squares becoming the sites of extended private cafes to enable social distancing. Our ‘stories from the street’ initiative wants to generate a picture of the sorts of informal or spontaneous festivities or social experiences that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic from March-July 2020 in the city of Glasgow and surrounding areas.
We want to know more about: the types of communal social experiences that have been established during the lockdown; who initiated and organised these communal social experiences; what social infrastructures have been used to enable these social experiences to be hosted (e.g. streets, windows, parks); who has been participating in these communal social experiences; whether these temporary communal social experiences will continue to become more permanent features of community life. We want to draw on residents’ intimate knowledge of their local areas, including streets, lanes, small parks, their own houses and gardens. We want people to contribute both textually and in visual form and we will also follow up with those people who want to tell us more about their experiences.
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
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.
After our own recent experience of hosting a virtual conference, CCSE Director – Prof Gayle McPherson – spoke this week at the 7th biennial International Symposium on Cross -Sector Social Interactions. As the restrictions on co-presence and travel remain in place for many, the event took place virtually.
Alongside conference chair Dr Annmarie Ryan, Prof McPherson spoke, presenting on the ‘Legacies of failure to win the City of Culture: Identity, civicism and change,’ drawing on her participation in developing and delivering Paisley’s own City of Culture UK bid. Although, ultimately, Paisley was not selected as city of culture, the bidding process and its legacies have positive ongoing effects for Paisley and the development of cultural strategies, collaborations and interactions across a spectrum of civic agencies and actors.