It has been a while since we last posted on what we have been up to and what the next steps will be. So, here’s a bit of an update:
From June to August, we conducted research fieldwork in all of our case study cities for our AHRC funded project ‘Social Distancing & Reimagining City Life’ (responding to COVID-19). Having conducted this work in Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle, we wrote and published our initial findings and reflections. A short article for Crisis Response Journal outlined our project and findings to-date. This was distilled from our fist project report ‘Performance as City Pandemic Response: Innovations to Innovate‘.
These publications share our research findings and open up conversations with colleagues from across arts and emergency planning. We are seeking innovative new approaches to cities’ emergency challenges. The work invites new ways of thinking across and between professional practices in arts, resilience and emergency planning. We hope this opens up dynamic ways of thinking through questions of place, the pandemic, and urban resilience.
Ideas from these publications will form the foundations of the next phase of the project: interdisciplinary workshops to develop practical ways of using our research. We’ll work with colleagues across our case study cities, and beyond. Details of these free workshops will be forthcoming in October and early November. If you might be interested to be in conversation with us, please do get in touch. Both the publications are open access and available via the links above, or through our Publications page.
Some other things:
– On 15th October, we are sharing our work to an interdisciplinary audience at Pervasive Media Studio (Bristol). The event is open to all and will be an opportunity for conversation about the work in an open and welcoming environment (online or in-person). Find our more here: https://www.watershed.co.uk/studio/events/2021/10/15/art-and-performance-pandemic-response.
– We are continuing to develop our climate emergency focused Albuquerque project. We hope to be able to share more concrete news on this very soon.
It’s just after eight in the morning on our last day in Glasgow. The early light is greying a little with cloud. On the street below our apartment, a man slips the collar from his dog and it runs on ahead. People are out, walking, cycling, but there are long moments when the streets are noticeably empty. A man walks past at a steady pace. He wears a temporary mask under his chin. We’ve seen this before in our past days in the city, it seems smart, allowing people to raise or lower their masks easily when going in and out of buildings. It is a sign that people are going in and out of places, which itself marks a particular stage in the slow, staggered process of unlocking. It is a trick, a technique, smoothing one’s journey through a city. In contrast, we have become acutely aware that our practice of finding and fixing masks at entranceways resembles something of an operation.
We realise, of course, that this small practice is not likely to be happening only here. We remind ourselves that we see little of the world at present, and that our lives as researchers, our daily understandings of places, and our restricted movement in and between places, will inform our reading of the cities in and with which we are working on this project. While it may be a familiar practice here and elsewhere, that seems likely to reflect the cultures and practices of those places. Chandini Raina MacIntyre et al. reflect on the significance of mask wearing in ‘countries without a culture of mask wearing’ (2021, p.200). In these contexts, they found that ‘negative issues experienced while wearing masks reduced the likelihood of people wearing them’ (ibid. p.205). Practices that reduce these issues may well reveal a route to more-sustained mask use and more sustained engagement with the population-based responses to the pandemic that are so critical to containment. We watch the street a while longer, caught by the significance of these small individual practices and the significance of smoothing the interruptions of the pandemic for sustaining city life.
As we come out of our first field research in Glasgow, we’re developing two pieces of academic writing about interventions into city thinking that emerge from the work of arts organisations. Where one will look at ways in which arts programming might be useful to city emergency planning, the other will focus on the ways in which specific artistic and everyday practices in cities invite us to reimagine social distancing in those cities and beyond. Alongside these articles, we will share an emerging data-set that reports on artistic practices and programmes in Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle, which are about or which have directly responded to the pandemic.
Chandini Raina MacIntyre, Phi-Yen Nguyen, Abrar Ahmad Chughtai, Mallory Trent, Brian Gerber, Kathleen Steinhofel, Holly Seale (2021) ‘Mask use, risk-mitigation behaviours and pandemic fatigue during the COVID-19 pandemic in five cities in Australia, the UK and USA: A cross-sectional survey’, International Journal of Infectious Diseases, 106, pp.199-207.
We are in the south of Glasgow, an area called Pollokshields, and have followed a painted green line on the road behind Tramway to the entrance of The Hidden Gardens. There, partly obscured behind blooming flower planters, is a chalk board with a beautifully hand-written sign inviting us to ‘Remember FACTS: F face covered, A avoid crowds, C clean hands, T 2m apart, S self-isolate if needed’.
The sign is ‘inviting’ because it is both aesthetically considered and because it requires one to get close enough to see past the flowers and read its detail. It is a sign that asks the viewer properly to engage with it, in order to enact its wishes. This sits in marked contradistinction to more ‘institutional’ or ‘municipal’ messaging signs which tell or demand something of viewer in quite mechanistic terms. Of course, we understand the potential need for such public health messaging but, based on our observations, such signs often seem to have little impact on people’s behaviour around them.
In Glasgow, we have been struck by the relative lack of such municipal signage (in comparison to Newcastle, for example). This has caused us to consider the relationship between ‘formal’ social-distancing messaging and more informal, homemade invitations to abide by the ‘FACTS’ or rules of the places we are encountering.
In leadership and business contexts, theories of collaboration have multiple modes, models and definitions of what for many in the arts, and beyond, comes organically. For instance, business theorists Colbry, Hurwitz and Adair have developed a ‘grounded theory’ understanding of collaboration that differs from traditional ‘leadership’ models. For these scholars, collaboration is ‘any on-going interpersonal interaction not characterized by a significant power imbalance with the express purpose of achieving common goals’ (2014: 67). Since we first began working together in 2016, our work has always been dialogic and conversational, truly ‘collaborative’ in the non-hierarchical sense captured above. But what such theories perhaps lack, is proper account of the processes that underpin such collaborations. That is, our methodological practices have been about being in a place, together and over a period of some hours, days or weeks.
Where we have been trying to understand the relation of a city to its arts ecologies and practices (and vice versa) being ‘in conversation’ with that place – experiencing performances, walking the streets, meeting the people, eating local food as a shared practice – has been vital. We are ‘in conversation’ literally (with people in a place) and more experientially (being there). This has been at the centre of our work together and with participants and stakeholders in all our projects.
More practically, when writing, we have often sat in-front of the same screen, passing a laptop or keyboard between us as we thought, talked and typed iteratively. Very often this has involved working in non-traditional workspaces: arts centre foyers, cafes and restaurants, parks and public thoroughfares, pubs and bars. Such practices have enabled us to work in unusual patterns and at odd times of the day.
In New Orleans, for example, we would regularly ‘end’ a day of research or workshops by heading to a favourite happy hour or for dinner, determined to decompress and move away from work and onto convivial discussions of family, art, politics or food, perhaps, only to find ourselves caught by an idea, question or possible action that would revive energies and see us working well into the night. Other times, it would be early morning coffee and breakfast that would seed this move into work; our field research has always involved living in self-catering apartments for this reason. Affording one another private space when needed but the informality of shared living space (as opposed to highly trafficked areas of hotel lobbies), we have found such accommodation provides opportunities for happenstance conversation, debate, writing and planning not often granted in other contexts. Perhaps unorthodox, potentially time intensive, these ways of working have been enormously generative for our work on Performing City Resilience. So Covid-19 has been a shock to our research practices, requiring us to renegotiate how and where we collaborate.
This has been a journey of discovery, hesitation and frustration but we have found our way into it and now have a working practice that’s, well, working. It took time… and now we are planning our first field research for the new project we may need to journey to rediscover ways of working in-person (in Covid-secure ways). This return to embodied work – to being in the same place and time as one another and others, alongside the practicalities of getting there (including risk assessments, specific travel ban exemptions and ethics processes) raises real and relevant questions for our project more broadly:
What does it mean to travel now (April 2021), practically and politically?
Why are we meeting, do we need to do so?
What does it mean to think about travelling in the context of sustained social distancing?
How can we return to travel and to in-person collaborative working in ways that are generative, productive and safe?
What does social-distancing do to experiences of a place in relation to living, working or visiting that place?
As well as attending to the analysis of our online, digital, archival research to-date, these questions will colour the complexion of our meeting as we grapple with the implications of ‘sustaining social distancing and reimagining city life’.
Beyond that, this trip marks a step change in this research project, an initial move away from digital archive trawling, Zoom performance watching and MS Teams meetings into ways of working and researching that are more familiar. Yet this ‘familiarity’ has been defamiliarized by a year of not meeting, a year of being physically distant from almost everyone around us. Early in the pandemic, psychologist Nisha Gupta contended that
While social distancing is empowering in theory, it can also feel disempowering as a psychological reality due to the loneliness, restlessness, and panic that arises as the days slog slowly and uncertainly (2020: 594)
We have all undoubtedly felt emotions akin to those described above in the last year and craved a return to ‘normality’, to social and physical contact, but what is perhaps less commonly part of the (popular, news media) debate is what that ‘return’ will feel like. What anxieties will arise as people begin to return to spaces of work and collaboration, leisure and community. The need for us to each request (at senior levels) institutional permission to make our impending research trip happen, reveals new practicalities and practices necessary for collaborative working at the moment. Such shifts in daily patterns of living and working, point to wider anxieties about being in proximity to others as the current lockdown lifts. This, in turn, foregrounds the impact of social distancing on the practical mechanics of lived experience and the potential for the emergence of fear and restlessness, a ‘panic that arises’ as the days accelerate towards busier streets and a return to ‘normal’.
Colbry, S., Hurwitz, M. and Adair, R., 2014. ‘Collaboration Theory’. Journal of Leadership Education, 13:4, pp. 63 – 75
Gupta, N. 2020. ‘Singing away the social distancing blues: Art therapy in a time of coronavirus’. The Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Special issue on COVID-19), 60:5, 593 – 603.
We began work on social distancing strategy and reimagining city life at the close of 2020. In those early days, we found ourselves unsettled by setting out on this work in winter – preparations seem the stuff of earlier months. In that particularly uneasy winter of COVID-19, we became especially aware that our work was starting many months into the pandemic. We would need to join existing conversations, take account of initial responses and subsequent revisions, and attend to the now rich strategies that are framing social distancing in UK cities. Looking ahead, we will need to be aware of further revisions and to consider the ways that these emerging strategies operate in the current context of COVID-19, and may help address future pandemics.
We are fascinated to know how strategies change, how alterations are trialled and implemented, and what further changes might be made – now and for the future. We are particularly interested in changes that might be made through engagement with ideas and practices of performance and by attending to the ways in which we might understand and develop strategies for the practise and, thereby, the performance of a city.
This new project builds on our established research and practice on the intersections between arts and resilience strategy, and, specifically, our work in New Orleans (2018-). Earlier this year, we reflected on the ways in which performance can contribute to contemporary investigations of the process of developing city hazard mitigation strategies. Drawing on our work in New Orleans, we developed,
a model of strategy development as performance, which can operate in arts practice/management and in city hazard mitigation. Through this, we identified such aspects as terminology, form, place, principles for engagement, the importance of individuals and the rethinking of familiar practices as vital elements in investigating and informing the performance of strategy..
Where that research focused on planned processes of strategy development (the generation of five-year city resilience strategy documents), this project explores the ways in which city strategy is developed and revised to engage with a live and ongoing situation, in this case, COVID-19. Specifically, we are working with three UK cities (Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle) to understand city-specific strategies of social distancing and the potential to develop these by drawing on intersections between arts and resilience strategy and practice in each city.
Research in allied fields recognises the value of accounting for local distinctiveness in strategy development, and the risks of more overarching approaches. Writing on lockdown strategies from an interdisciplinary perspective in Transactions in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), David O’Sullivan et. al find that, globally, ‘[m]ost responses to date have been applied uniformly, without consideration of the variance in risk or in case numbers that occurs regionally.’ (2020, p.968) They suggest that focusing on geography can ‘give a distinct advantage of allowing a tailored response that is more effective at minimizing harmful side-effects.’ (ibid) As cities or regions may experience varying risks or case numbers of COVID-19, so they may also vary in the performances that contribute to the daily practise and understanding of those cities or regions.
In investigating social distancing strategy through performance analysis in our three case study UK cities, we seek to discover effective means of strategising distancing that attend to local nuances, to the situated practices in and of those cities. In particular, and building on our established methodology, we will explore mutually productive intersections between resilience and arts strategists, to develop means of enabling social distancing over a sustained period and, in the process, allow for intersecting approaches to city strategy generation.
This is a project that seeks to understand how we might sustain social distancing in cities. It is, necessarily, concerned with distance, duration, with staying the course, or rather, enquiring into the course, attending to its form and its ways. Perhaps it was important that we began this work at a time when the duration of separation was being keenly felt. In the UK, as the new year unfolded, we listened to news of the crowds that gathered in the snow on Town Moor in Newcastle, of parties broken up late in the night. In recent days, we have followed stories of the ‘Kill the Bill’ protests in UK cities, responding to the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill. With the partial release of lockdown conditions (March 2021), we watched images of public gatherings in parks, city squares, and on beaches.
In undertaking this project, we are reflecting on the limits, the impossibilities and the inevitabilities of social distancing. We are looking for ways in which we might begin to re-think and re-imagine what it is to be distanced from others for a time. We are questioning appropriate means of supporting life at a distance for a sustained period. Looking ahead, we are considering what will follow from the end of distancing in the three case study cities, what the removal of ‘distancing’ will involve and what the form and implications of distancing might be, should it be reintroduced in individual cities, in response to COVID-19 or future conditions.
David O’ Sullivan, Mark Gahegan, Daniel J. Exeter, Benjamin Adams. 2020, ‘Spatially Explicit Models for Exploring COVID-19 Lockdown Strategies’, Transactions in GIS, 24, pp.967-1000. DOI: 10.1111/tgis.12660.
We’re delighted to announce that we’ve been awarded a UKRI/AHRC COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant for our projectSocial Distancing and Reimagining City Life:Performative strategies and practices for response and recovery in and beyond lockdown.
We’ll be sharing more information very soon but, for now, here’s the Project Summary:
COVID-19 has transformed city life: we now urgently need to develop imaginative ideas and creative practices to understand and address its impact on how we live and work in cities. Performance theory and practice offer innovative, proven, yet under- explored means to achieve this. This project will provide new models for understanding and practising city life, helping people cope with social distancing, both practically and emotionally.
Working with strategic decision-makers in Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle City Councils (confirmed), we will investigate everyday innovations (social performances) and artistic interventions (aesthetic performances), to understand how performance can reimagine and facilitate city life in times of social distancing, and how performance theory and analysis might contribute to more nuanced, creative and sustainable strategies and practices for response and recovery across five urgent areas: social cohesion, new behaviours, community resilience, perceptions of environment, and crisis management.
Working with artists, arts venues and officers from hazard mitigation, sustainability and resilience, the project will lead to new understandings of the place and function of performance, broker creative thinking on response and recovery, and make strategic recommendations for arts strategy, pandemic planning and hazard mitigation policy. Impacts will be scaled, primarily, through Core Cities, a network of eleven UK cities, and arts strategy organisations.
This project builds on the investigators’ recent work in New Orleans, which led the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to fundamentally change their hazard mitigation policy and practice, and to significant changes in strategies for major arts organisations (www.performingcityresilience.com)
In June 2019, we returned to New Orleans for the second phase of our work with the city for the Performing City Resilience project. In Phase One (2018, including a visit in March/April of that year), we had surveyed arts and hazard mitigation strategy and practices through interviews, site-visits and by attending events. We report on that work here and published initial findings in an open access article here. That article theorises the significance of ‘Situation Rooms’ in New Orleans, and considers how we might rethink the form, practice and designation of these places in New Orleans and in cities internationally.
Our objectives for Phase Two were to:
Disseminate ideas from the survey phase, principally those published in the article, to inform arts, resilience and hazard mitigation policy development in New Orleans.
Further develop our thinking on the ways in which performance can be useful to the creation of new and more critically nuanced understandings of city resilience, leading to new publications.
1. Changes to Emergency Preparedness and Hazard Mitigation strategies
As a direct result of our work, the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP) is engaged on ‘a long-term path of embedding arts and cultural practices in our strategic planning’. This is being enacted through fundamental changes to NOHSEP’s long term strategic planning and policy-making processes. Steps taken to achieve this include recognising that:
Art and culture ‘should be appropriately represented in critical planning and policy’
Emergency ‘preparedness and resilience work can benefit from greater [engagement with] the arts’
‘[E]mergency management … can also be understood through art and culture’ 
Other initiatives emerging from our research and work with stakeholders:
NOHSEP invited the Arts Council of New Orleans to review proposals for its Comprehensive Recovery Plan.
Successful urban development projects will now need to explicitly address arts and culture.
NOHSEP partnered with a local arts organization on a successful NEA grant application.
2. Innovations in city-wide arts planning
As a direct result of our work with the Arts Council of New Orleans, a cross-arts/culture committee has been established to allow city-wide planning of cultural strategy (particularly in relation to Mardi Gras). As the first formal city-wide arts and culture planning committee, this is a significant change in local practices and a major opportunity to establish structures for collaboration across and between arts stakeholders in the city.
To acknowledge Duggan and Andrews’ “significant contribution” to hazard mitigation in the City of New Orleans, NOHSEP made the award of Challenge Coins at a gathering of key City Hall stakeholders (2019).
The Arts Council have noted how they “valued the opportunity to think about new ways of working and new areas of practice with established and emerging partners in New Orleans” and that “the international perspective of the [PCR team] created a particular sense of opportunity, urgency and a new call to action.”
Meanwhile, the Southern Rep Theatre report that our work has “expanded [the] scope for our vision … represent[ing] a fundamental shift in our own understanding of the role of the arts in our city’s fabric”. And the Marigny Opera House commented that we “have done a remarkable job… manag[ing] to initiate dialogue among the performing arts community about identifying, developing and maintaining areas of resilience for the cultural community…. caus[ing] us to consider and reconsider our strategies.” 
Performing City Resilience: Workshop Programme 2019
In seeking to contribute to strategic development in the city, we offered a series of workshops with organisations and institutions in New Orleans, particularly those who would be able to cascade ideas to organisations/departments with which they worked. Workshops were developed to address specific findings from our 2018 survey about organisations, their aims and objectives, and pressing concerns.
We developed this workshop in dialogue with the Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP). Specifically, this enabled us to situate the workshop in the existing NOHSEP-led process of developing the City’s new five-year Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Workshop participants included:
Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP)
Senior Hazard Mitigation Specialist (NOHSEP)
Programme Co-ordinator (NOHSEP)
Chief Landscape Architect (Parkways)
Deputy Director of City Planning
Commander of New Orleans Police Department
Principal Planner (City Planning)
Planning Co-ordinator (New Orleans Fire Department)
Assistant Planning Administrator (City Planning)
Senior Advisor (Mayor’s Office)
Coastal Resilience Manager (Resilience Office)
Web Manager (Chief Administrative Office – IT)
Chief of Staff (Chief Administrative Office – Land Use)
Arts Council of New Orleans
In this workshop, we worked with Arts Council staff to identify the ways in which their existing practices might speak to and advance resilience strategy in New Orleans. In addressing challenges to arts practices in the city, we proposed a series of interventions that the Arts Council could make in their working practices. We facilitated the development of these ideas as they relate specifically to the urgent concerns and strategic aims and objects of the Arts Council. Our priority was to develop innovations that could implemented quickly and easily.
Deputy Director / Director of Place and Civic Design
Director Artist Services
Strategic Development Director
Working with senior hazard mitigation officials and executive directors from the Arts Council, the Southern Rep Theatre and the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, we facilitated a site-visit workshop at arts and cultural venues in the city (The Historic New Orleans Collection, Art of the City: Postmodern to Post-Katrina and Music Box Village). This was designed to situate and place into conversation the ways in which arts and city stakeholders understand, articulate and contribute to city resilience. Through a series of facilitated exercises, we revealed and invited reflection on common challenges, and discussed the ways in which cross-sector working might be deployed to address those challenges.
Community Engagement Events
In a series of gatherings, we shared our research on arts and resilience with arts and cultural stakeholders and community-members across the City, hosted at the Arts Council of New Orleans, the Southern Rep Theatre, and Treme’s Petit Jazz Museum. Through these events, we generated a body of comments and reflections on the challenges facing the city, and the ways that arts cultural practices and organisations are already in engaged in addressing these – in ways that might go unnoticed but that are, potentially, vital to the City’s future. This body of work was fed back to decision makers within City Hall and will be informing our forthcoming publications.
 Citations from Ryan Mast, Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP) (2019), letter to directors (full correspondence available on request).
 Citations from Aimee Hayes (Southern Rep Theatre), Alphonse Smith (Arts Council New Orleans) and Dave Hurlbert (Marigny Opera House), letters/emails to directors (full correspondences available on request)