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.
The weeks from late October until mid-December always seem to be some of the most hectic of the year, and this is especially true for researchers looking at events like myself. My PhD projects aims at understanding the social and economic impacts of the Paisley urban regeneration programmes. One of the flagships of this investment scheme is the public events programme, and that is thus one of the major cases studied. In a period of only five weeks in duration, four big events are on in Paisley:
The Spree festival,
The Halloween festival,
The Paisley Fireworks extravaganza, and
the Christmas lights switch on.
Halloween is by far the biggest event. 41,000 people (in a town with – generously speaking – some 74,000 inhabitants) participate in a two-day celebration spread out all over town. This also means researchers and consultants administer questionnaires and interviews. My questionnaire revolves around the willingness-to-pay on the demand side, and perceived impact on the supply side.
Measuring willingness to pay for a service which is free of charge indicates the worth of the service provided. Adding this up with travel costs, shopping, and sometimes other costs, shows us what people are willing to spend to experience a night out in Paisley. In this case, a large majority thought that it was important that the event programme was mainly free, but they would still have come if there had been a fee: the fun fair, the only part of the programme where more or less everything had an entrance fee, was the place where most people asked for an increase of the available programme.
Though the demand-side of the survey is arguably the most important, earlier evaluations did not ask local shopkeepers’ opinions (though there are other ways to measure that, such as dialogue with the opinions of the local Business Improvement District). Understanding whether, and which, businesses benefit from the events programme brings an important piece of information to understanding the economic impact on the area. Interestingly, most of the shopkeepers who stated that their business suffered as a result of the closed roads and crowded streets rather than gained from it, said that they still wholeheartedly supported the event programme as such, as it brought life to the town.
The Halloween festival attracts people from all over Scotland, and earlier evaluations show that around 40 % of visitors come from outside of Renfrewshire. In the coming weeks, there will be two events attracting a predominantly ‘Renfrewshirian’ crowd. Performing the same survey with these participants and shopkeepers at smaller, more local events provides an interesting insight in how hosting the sheer volume of 41,000 people affects the community. Is being a big event venue the road forward for Paisley?
The Future Paisley Partnership comprises 22 local and national organisations committed to driving forward Paisley’s cultural regeneration. In September 2019, the partnership went on a field trip to Glasgow’s East End to learn about the city’s place-based approaches to regeneration and the role of culture within them.
First stop was a meeting with Clyde Gateway at Red Tree Magenta, visiting the Athletes Village in Dalmarnock and the Cuningar Loop, where we learned that culture is woven through priorities of high quality jobs, homes, the environment, zero carbon, community and future. Next was a visit to the Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Dalmarnock, a community-led outdoor space where children can play on their own terms, grow and eat healthy food and learn skills for life.
We stopped at the Glasgow Women’s Library for lunch, getting an insight into their values, commitment to inclusion and artistic integrity as the only accredited museum in the UK dedicated to the history of women’s lives. Next, we visited David Dale Gallery and Studios and learned about its origins and development as an artist-led space. This was followed by a tour and discussion at Saint Luke’s and The Winged Ox Music and Arts Venue about its transformation from a church in a state of disrepair to a beautifully renovated and thriving venue.
Artists from Many Studios led the group on a walking tour of Barras area, visiting a number of creative businesses, from Glasgow Collective creative workspace, to Soul Food Sisters café, to 226 Gallowgate and Many Studios itself. Finally, at Barras Art and Design, we met with Cllr David MacDonald, Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council; Bridget McConnell and Jill Miller from Glasgow Life; and Prof Brian Evans, Glasgow’s City Urbanist.
The day provided many opportunities to learn from the dramatic physical transformations to have taken place in recent years – some event-led in relation to the 2014 Commonwealth Games, some following a different developmental trajectory.
We encountered debates about when the local authority should step in – and when it should take a step back and others should lead, whether local community members, artists or entrepreneurs (or those who might be all three).
A common thread through all of the sites we visited was the fundamental importance of partnership, whether in the establishment of the Clyde Gateway as a large-scale regeneration programme, or the story behind Soul Food Sisters as a café and catering social enterprise led by refugees, migrants and local women from diverse backgrounds. We found there was much for the Future Paisley Partnership to learn from Glasgow’s experience, just a few miles from our doorstep.
On 11-12th September 2019, CCSE’s Professor David McGillivray and Dr Severin Guillard attended the conference “Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe” as part of their HERA-funded project, FESTSPACE. This 2-day conference was a good opportunity to meet with members of the other 19 funded projects, and to develop research plans with the FESTSPACE researchers based in London, Dublin, Barcelona and Gothenburg.
During the conference, the team displayed a poster presenting the project’s research questions and the ways they will be addressed in each case study, and held various meetings to discuss future conferences presentations and collective publications.
This event also provided a fruitful opportunity to exchange idea on the theoretical reflection and empirical investigations which have started in each city, and the specificity of the work carried out by each member. While the London team (Dr Andrew Smith, Dr Goran Vodicka and Prof Guy Osborn) has started to investigate everyday interactions in London’s Finsbury Park, Dr Bernadette Quinn and Dr Theresa Ryan (Technological University Dublin) are exploring how expectations for solitude and silence shape encounters in Dublin’s public libraries. Dr Kristina Lindstrom is observing how laws and regulation inform the production of Gothenburg’s festivals, while Dr Alba Colombo highlights how language, place of origin and place of living influence the perception of Barcelona’s events. Finally, the Glasgow team (Prof. David McGillivray, Prof. Gayle McPherson and Dr Severin Guillard) has begun to address the issues at stake in the promotion of Glasgow’s as an event city, involving interviews with public institutions and festival organisers.
More information about the FESTSPACE project is available here Follow the project on Twitter at @FESTSPACE1.
A doctoral student and research associate at UWS Greis Cifuentes has also found the time to launch a Street Library program – “Libros a la Calle” – in Ibagué, Colombia. The program seeks to facilitate social cohesion alongside the appropriation of public spaces. It is the first time that a program of this nature has been located in the city.
Greis is a founding member and leader of a citizen group Por Ibagué which works to promote a sense of belonging to the city through culture. Libros a la Calle is one of the initiatives developed to progress this aim. Libros a la Calle is based on trust, anyone is free to take, read and return the available books. Over time, 30 libraries will be installed in public parks around Ibagué, financial support for the initiative is provided by private companies and individuals. Currently, there are 6 books donation points around the city and more than 500 books have been given to for the project. Libros a la Calle has had a positive impact in the city. It has not only guaranteed access to culture as a right and expanded the cultural offer in place but, the project has also succeeded in promoting coexistence, contributing to the formation and development of the individual and society in a city where, typically, people read fewer than 3 books per year.
Besides her academic work and citizen activism, Greis has recently accepted a new position as General Coordinator at the Fundación Nacional Batuta in Colombia. Batuta is a non-profit organisation created in 1991. The work that the Foundation undertakes focuses on the improvement of citizens’ quality of life, the construction of social fabric, generation of spaces for reconciliation and coexistence to benefit the children, adolescents and youth of Colombia who have been victims of the armed conflict or, who live in extreme poverty. Through a quality musical education, focused on collective practice, from a perspective of social inclusion, rights and cultural diversity, it has been possible to guarantee children and young people access to the arts and its benefits. Currently, Batuta serves more than 40,000 young people annually across all regions of Columbia. Gries’s work is fully aligned with her thesis topic which examines the role of arts and culture in the Colombian peacebuilding process.
Thanks to her participation in radio programs as Punto de Encuentro Tolima (97.5 FM) in Caracol Radio, work as a columnist for the El Olfato, newspaper and, membership of the editorial board for the Observatory of Peace and Human Rights of the Universidad Tolima, Greis has being invited to present at a number of conferences. In this way she has managed to put the value and importance of arts and culture on the public agenda, being able to discussed issues that were not openly discussed before.