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.
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’.
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.
As I write we’re entering our fifth week of lockdown and I am currently reorienting the ‘who with’ and ‘how with’ part of my PhD. In the meantime, the feedback between theory and practice will have to be through applying a conceptual perspective to my own life. This perspective comes from the concept of communities of practice1 and its descriptions of how meaning, identity and belonging are formed. This view is applied to analysing how the process of participating in arts and culture can create and maintain health. During this lockdown there has been a proliferation of examples, from the sourdough craze to the rise of crochet and neighbourhood singing. Maybe this is the opportunity for me to make kimchi, explore my many neglected cookbooks and finally knit stylish, cosy jumpers for my dogs. I can bring my conceptual framework to life through the practice of conceptualising participation as learning with others, such as online forums to share experiences or blogs to learn techniques. I can reflect on whether this participation can both maintain my mental and physical health and write my research equivalent of King Lear.
None of these things have happened. My focus and productivity are sporadic. I haven’t even binged a TV show, let alone been actively creative. There are plenty of resources that say this is to be expected and, help to soothe the debilitating feeling that now is the time for productivity and creativity whether personally or professionally. Some are aimed at PhD students and shared through communities.2 My conceptual perspective identifies non-productivity itself as a practice, through this mutual engagement, shared repertoire and joint enterprise of staying well through the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we will take each day as it comes, celebrate the small wins, and learn how to walk through The Valley of Deep (COVID) Shit3. There’s the repeated line ‘you are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.’ A reminder that you’re juggling responsibilities, new roles, ways of working and worries.
Since I don’t have any distractions at home, no juggling act, care work or adjustment to online working, I don’t feel I belong to the community of non-productivity. My conceptual framework states that the concepts of practice and identity are profoundly connected and relate to meaning and belonging. Without either a productive or non-productive practice, it is predictable that my identity as a PhD student is evaporating, as are my other practices and identities, which are all now curtailed by lockdown. How do I start to take the suggested small steps back into the practice of being a PhD student or even being a participant in everyday life and recover a sense of self?
At this point, my application of my conceptual perspective falters. However, it does provide an emphasis on an individual’s knowledge and experience. I’m familiar with the ongoing process of acknowledging the validity of your own challenges and not minimising your feelings. I have learnt to not compare my experiences to a pregnant woman, crossing the pirate-filled Gulf of Thailand in a wee boat to a future of either being trapped with a new born in a refugee camp or an as yet unknown life in a uncontemplated country. I can apply this knowledge in order to try not to compare myself to those who seem to be negotiating productivity and non-productivity. I’ve been working on the task of leaving my feelings out there, to not dismiss them as trivial compared to what other people must being going through. I find it helps to let emotions breathe and take form, in order to provide the shape of something to acknowledge, to help voice ‘I’m not fine’ to something and, hopefully, someone. I’ve found honesty with yourself helps meaningful connections grow, and if you’re lucky, one of those productive people might leave baked goods on your doorstep and help you find a practice.4 This process has taken me to a place where I can start to act on the advice of setting achievable goals,5 enjoy moments rather than activities6 and so create the conditions for taking those small steps back into PhD practice and myself.
Resulting Sketch of Dog
1Etienne Wenger (1998), Communities of Practice – Learning, Meaning and Identity
4 Pistachio and rosewater cookies. Unexpectedly my practice seems to be organising fitness workouts based around mathematical sequences. There is even a process of reification, where form is given to experience and objects articulating the experience are created, as I have been given a logo. Reification and participation are a duality that constitute the concept of negotiating meaning that is the basis of practice and identity. Maybe my conceptual framework is coming to life, as I seem to be forming an identity as an unqualified fitness organiser.
5 I might not have made kimchi but I have finally made the most basic form of pickles. I’m now making up for all the years of missing the flavour and texture combination of the world’s finest sandwich, Bánh mì.
6 It’s not a stylish dog jumper, it’s a moment. I haven’t used these pencils since I purchased them last year. I’m finally acting on the celebrating small wins!
When I started my PhD just a little over a year ago, I made a mental list of all of the things that might happen over the next three years, and all of the challenges I might face. That life happens around and throughout your PhD journey is something that all researchers must confront at some point during their studies, and doing a doctorate requires an intricate management of the world beyond the PhD. However, having a slightly pessimistic disposition, it felt reassuring to consider what challenges might arise and to think about how best to mitigate whatever comes my way from the beginning. One thing that did not make my list, however, was the outbreak of a global pandemic.
And yet, that is precisely the situation in which my colleagues and I now find ourselves. The coronavirus has spread on an unprecedented scale and has brought much of the world to a grinding halt. Our university campuses have closed, and we are, at the time of writing, in partial lockdown. That this pandemic will affect our research is, at this stage, inevitable. So, it is only natural that we ask ourselves what might be done to mitigate its impact.
There are a number of practical limitations that arise from a state of lockdown. To start, conducting fieldwork appears to be out of the question in the coming months. For me, this has sent me back to the drawing board. Prior to the pandemic, I was in the process of designing my fieldwork and planning the next few months of my research. In a sense, this has forced a period of much needed introspection; by obliging me to ask difficult questions about the decisions I am making and allow myself some important time to reflect and regroup before proceeding. In any case, as universities move increasingly (now entirely) online, it has never been more feasible to remain productive and research active remotely. From staying in touch with supervisors to completing interviews and focus groups, platforms like Zoom and Skype mean that research need not simply cease in these uncertain times.
Perhaps less easy to mitigate, however, are the missed opportunities that will arise as a consequence of cancelled events and conferences. As a doctoral research student, time is precious and your position is precarious. In the competitive world of academia, the opportunities to teach, publish and present can be just as important as the successful completion of a thesis in terms of securing employment post-PhD. From this perspective, cancelled classes and conferences could potentially have a significant impact on professional development, not simply in terms of bolstering your CV. Conferences, for example, provide networking opportunities that are difficult to replicate in the current climate of social distancing.
There are, then, a myriad of concerns for PhD students beyond the immediate threat to progression. It is without a doubt an uncertain and anxious time for everyone and for many, particularly those more closely affected by COVID-19, staying productive will be the least of their concerns. In these strange and uncertain times, the PhD and the world beyond it seem to be at odds. Despite the levity of some sections of academia, who insist that lockdown is concomitant with something of a productivity boom, it is important be mindful of your own mental health and recognise your own limitations in the coming weeks and months.
The PhD and pandemic, it seems, reveals a struggle between productivity and priority that we all must address. Coronavirus will continue to have an impact that reaches far beyond our research journey. It will, it seems, remain possible to continue to research. However, it would be a little naive to suggest that this constitutes anything resembling a ‘business as usual’ approach. In these anxious times, it is important to take the time to rest, reflect and regroup.
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): firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr Ana Vivoda (University of Zadar, Croatia): email@example.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): firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
‘Articulate is a niche and specialist charity that has equality, diversity and inclusion at its core and co-designs services that benefit Scotland’s most vulnerable young people, especially those who are care experienced, at risk, seeking asylum or living in poverty in our most challenged communities.’
Creativity across the global education landscape is considered a fundamental skill that will help future generations thrive. It can support young people to be more engaged in learning by fostering imagination and curiosity. Potentially more impactful, it can ensure that they find learning meaningful by connecting learning with the world around them as well as things they care about. After formal education ends, creativity is valued as the most desirable ability from employers, even above mathematical and logical reasoning (World Economic Forum).
Access to high-quality creative education is critical for all our young people. Access to creative education is particularly important for children from low-income backgrounds who may only have opportunities to engage with arts and culture through their schools. Studies show that children who do not have access to arts and culture are at a disadvantage both economically and educationally in comparison with those that do. A system which means that only more privileged young people are able to access arts and culture does a disservice both to those young people who suffer as a result, and to a society that believes in the importance of social mobility and equality of opportunity.
The creative industries deliver economic, social and reputational value. They add over £100bn to the UK’s economy and are growing at twice the rate of the general economy. The sector employs more than two million people and expects to create one million more jobs by 2030.
Beyond these economic benefits, the creative industries continue to tackle regional inequalities, build communities, and enable individuals to lead lives that are happier, healthier, more sociable, and enriched through access to the arts, culture and creativity.
There is enormous potential to go further. Despite their great successes, our creative industries are often under-capitalised, suffer from skills shortages that impede growth, and are hampered by a lack of diversity and unequal access to the opportunities that organisations and individuals need to reach their full potential.
While talent and creativity can be found everywhere, access to the money and networks needed to succeed cannot. The result is lost opportunities for individuals and communities as well as a cost to the national economy.
Creativity and the Arts
A Social Mobility Commission study reported that children aged 10 to 15 from low-income families are three times less likely than wealthier peers to engage in out-of-school creative activities.
So Articulate’s work focuses on creative habits of mind. We use the arts as a stepping-stone to creativity, a high value commodity in the workplace of the future, not just in the cultural landscape or the creative industries.
We have worked hard in the last three years to understand what we can do to help and now focus on these key themes:
• 16 industry- and art-forms are employed to benefit marginalised young Scots
• arts education, creative learning and cultural practices, including digital, are prioritised
• all ages and stages of child development are supported
• an asset-based, person-centred and relational values approach is core
• Social Pedagogy and creative learning pedagogies combine
• practice is rooted in robust evidence and research, including around the arts and neuro-science
• the teaching artists are of the highest calibre and their approach is trauma-informed
• creative voice is nurtured for social, educational and economic improvement (artivism)
• programmes are built upon the UNCRC, specifically articles 12, 29 and 31
• high value is placed on quality, authentic co-design and creativity with partners and participants.
At Articulate, we see creativity as crucial to solving problems both small and large. Whether personal challenges or those that impact billions, creative solutions are in high demand.
Creativity is also a mindset that helps children (and adults) adapt, no matter what happens. We believe that every child is creative, and that ability can be improved as they, and we, all grow.