COVID-19 has hugely affected – and is still affecting – lives across the world. Isolation, economic shutdown and contact tracing have impacted our psychology, our daily routines and social activities. Among many effects, the potential threat to people’s mental health, including of those whose jobs has been lost as a result of the pandemic has been widely discussed. Among those who have to work from home there are many who will be struggling to adapt to improvised work spaces and those who have to cope with caring children while struggling to be productive in their work. At the same time, the widespread, ongoing struggle with the issues of race and inequality have sprung to the fore in the midst of the global corona virus pandemic.
My doctoral research is concentrated on sport diplomacy as a soft power tool and its impact on Japan’s foreign policy and image, with a focus on the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 – now postponed to 2021. The issues of race, racism, social injustice and protest made many athletes speaking against these issues, have allowed me to rethink the role sport has played as a form of protest through athletic activism. Social inequality and classism is not new to society but it perhaps came as a surprise to many that it took a global pandemic to accelerate the processes of rethinking issues of social inequality that have affected the lives of minority groups in our society perhaps especially in America and the United Kingdom.
In the light of this, what I seek to address is not the recent revelation of inequality in our society, but the neglect and suppression faced by influential sports men and women who are ready and willing to create change in society. I think that this is the right time to address the dual otherness and myth associated with sport and politics and to recognise the growing importance of our sports men and women who are interested in creating real societal change. Conceivably, athletic activism is non-normative in the world of sport; the idea that sport can create a progressive change in society is still a recurring debate in the academic field. Sport contributes to positive change in society, it also represents various hegemonies of oppression and inequality such as sexism, racism and homophobia. Sport has been linked with the provision of violent masculinity and a predilection for war. Participation in sport reveals the inequality of gender and race which is adhering to the maintenance of the social status quo. Sport is often viewed as a medium for consciously and unconsciously echoing the gender divide, a distinctive version of masculinity and underpinning of sexist ideas.
However, discussing this in relation to athletic activism, the narrative that sport and politics should not mix stems from the long stereotypical definitions (ideologies) and cultural perceptions attached to both. Sport is viewed as unifying, uncorrupted and positive while politics is often seen as complicated and dirty. On the other hand, activism or protest is seen as a complex form of societal politics. Protest as a form of social movement is a political means and a weapon of the weak and oppressed used to voice their discomfort. In the sporting world, protest by sport activists is a way of expressing discomfort towards societal and political problems. The already perceived idea of protest is among many reasons why athletes may find it difficult in sport to speak out. Secondly, the top down approach and idea that sport is an advanced tool for change in society especially in matters of race, racism, fairness and (arguably) the advancement of all disempowered people in society is another issue faced by the sport activist. A top down approach in this case means that in the sporting world, policies made to create awareness of social issues are made by the governing bodies of sport organisations; however, the fight against racism, for example, is actually manifested through athletes’ gestures which may prove to be a better way of reaching out to educate people in the audience for the event.
History has shown that athletic activism even with its non-normative state had been a recurring activity in the world of sport. The black power salute and protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos is an example which was not an act of rebelliousness as many thought of at the time, but an expression of the desire to truly change the world and to create an awareness using the platform provided by the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Fast forward to recent times, the take a kneel protest by American football quarterback, Collin Kaepernick, who began to kneel during the national anthem prior to every game. Fighting against the oppression of black people, people of colour and social injustice in the American system is also an example of sport activism. However, just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Colin Kaepernick was a victim of the idea that sport should not be associated with any form of protest or political activism that may challenge the stereotypical nature of purity and distinction related to sport. While there are guarded activist like LeBron James who will not conduct certain forms of protest that will jeopardize his career, it is time for the sporting world to rethink the benefits and impacts sport activists can have in society if given the appropriate support to convey their message. In modern-day sport, the recent issues of police brutality and the protests for justice arising from the killing of George Floyd and many other victims of police brutality has provided an opportunity for a rethink on protest through sport, with a focus on some of the real issues and narratives ignored when in the form of the ‘take a knee’ protest by Colin Kaepernick and the prior ‘I can’t breathe’ protest by LeBron James.
However, the broader social protest against racism, social injustice and police brutality from citizens, activist and the mainstream media calls for a bottom up approach in tackling these issue. In sport, this could mean that athletic activists who are willing to speak out should be encouraged to do so without fear of the consequences. This is crucial because as a result of a global pandemic and the revelations about racism, inequality and classism, the world and especially America is moving into a reformative stage in addressing these issues; it is important for the world of sport to adapt and adjust in its methods. In 2020, athletes have been able to recognise and use the powers they have to influence society using both social media platforms and the mainstream media. Sporting stars such as Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Raheem Sterling – and recently Marcus Rashford – have shown the strength and influence the modern-day athlete possess. However, governing bodies of sport organisations must be clear that athletes like Tommie Smith John Carlos and Colin Kaepernick are not protesting against the sport, or nation, they represent, but against the society that sport reflects.
Finally, in order to fully justify the importance of promoting a sporting world that will be impactful in shaping the future of communities, individual stakeholders and the environment, sport organisations need to look beyond the capitalist imperative of extracting profit from the public while trying to distract sports activists and their audiences from the real, unequal, conditions of their existence. Sport organisations need to exercise caution when encouraging athletes to be driven by market forces and profits rather than focusing on the fight against societal issues. What this mean is that a bottom up approach needs to be acknowledged and athletes needs to be given adequate support by the governing organisation they represent.
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.
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.
CCSE Steering Group Member, Pippa Coutts, recently published the following post as part of Carnegie UK Trust’s series sharing reflections and questions across different aspects of wellbeing duing the COVID19 crisis. This post first appeared on the Carnigie UK Trust page.
‘It’s community development on steroids: the partnership working, communities empowered, the generosity, the kindness’.
As part of our contribution to the COVID-19 emergency, we have been talking to people we know in towns and communities across the UK to hear their stories of what is happening on the ground. These conversations are with a range of people from volunteers, to business owners, to staff in charities, to public sector employees. They give us the opportunity to look for the common threads in people’s experiences to help us understand what we can do to #buildbackbetter once the initial emergency phase has passed.
We have been moved and inspired by people’s willingness to talk with us and by the stories they have told of mutual support. These include: food parcels for children missing out on school meals; pubs delivering meals, checking in on regulars and asking how they feel; school kitchens cooking for the community; street performances of opera and bingo; chefs arranging the distribution of fresh, local produce; arts groups collecting people’s stories or going online – the Future Paisley podcast explores the impact of Covid-19 on culture and in neighbourhoods in real time – but also calling and mentoring people who are digitally excluded.
The success of these efforts comes from people working together. In many of the stories we are hearing, both local authority and third sector staff have ‘stepped up’ alongside volunteers to meet people’s basic needs. Generally, councils first focused on setting up systems to cater for the shielded population and people over 70 and living alone. Some places, like Lancaster City Council – which covers Lancaster and Morecambe – have gone beyond this, developing new lists through pooling their knowledge with others, like the fire brigade, parish councils, and the third sector, bringing together information from charities that have often been working in only one sphere, like employability or homelessness. The Council has contacted 16,000 people who they consider vulnerable proactively – including traveller communities, people who have recently applied for universal credit and new parents – who haven’t used social support before. In other areas, local government already had and now is relying on ward or community development workers, who know well communities’ needs, for information on needs. These stories give us a glimpse of the power of bringing together information to support citizens and communities.
Councils have supported third sector and business organisations too, for example with funds to tide them over until UK Government funding stepped in. The most fruitful partnerships are where there was already a culture and system of working together. Towns that have responded to floods over the last four years already had emergency systems in place and were able to use those. But often it is more than that: it is about a way of working in which people recognise the value of the skills and networks of others. In one community, local emergency co-ordinators said ‘tell us what do you need to do, what you want to do, and we’ll help you’. This reflects a change in public services’ approach to delivering services. One the Trust advocates for in the Enabling State, which calls on public services to ‘create the conditions in which individuals and communities are equally able to take action to improve their own and others’ lives’.
The COVID-19 emergency has let us see what only the state can do (set up hospitals, fund research into a vaccine, shift resources to the front line) and what only communities can do (mobilise and respond quickly by building on existing relationships, pool collective resources, think creatively about what assets are available). The crisis has, at local government level, allowed the state to let go to allow others to step forward. Red tape has been cut, with businesses and voluntary organisations able to access grants more quickly, and regulations, such as restaurants being able to provide outside catering, relaxed. It has brought a desire to be and work together: both in neighbourhoods and perhaps also between communities and their local governments, with one council citing FOIs and complaints to councils drying up as a sign of a community’s support.
Of course, greater mutual support is not universally true. We have heard examples of where local government has not been visible or was in the way of a rapid community response. We know that not all communities have the same capacity to engage: there are inequalities in social capital within and between them. Now, as the initial phase of contacting shielded individuals plateaus, many workers are wondering about people who have not come forward for support. Council employees and activists alike talked of ‘listening to the silence’ and their fears for those who might need support, in the longer terms, but who have not been in touch. People whose mental health has suffered from the stress, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the under employment, the poverty, the loss, the isolation of the epidemic. People living in places where the networks of support weren’t already there to reach out. Families whose main contact with the state was through school, who are not ‘known’ to health or community services. We heard of a young people’s support organisation delivering menus and food appropriate for primary school aged children because they are preparing the households’ food where adults can’t cope. Community workers are concerned alcohol consumption has increased amongst people who habitually drink more.
Soon, the state, community and individual responses to the pandemic will move on from emergency mode – providing food and health care. Learning from the positive stories of community action and where the state has given communities more opportunity to shape the response, can encourage lasting change. There may be some way to go in resetting the relationship between the state and communities but in the emergency we see green shots, which we will continue to explore and plan to use to inspire wider and longer-lasting change.