Conference Plenary Panel: Resisting Catastrophe: Performances of the Crescent City

American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) conference 2022

Plenary Panel: Friday 4th November 2022, 3.30-4.45pm

We’re looking forward to revisiting New Orleans next week to co-chair a plenary panel of key voices from arts and resilience in the city, for the 2022 ASTR conference, which is being held in the city. We’ll invite our panellists to reflect on the importance of performance to understandings and practices of the city, and we’ll think through some of the challenges of narratives that romanticise and catastrophise New Orleans.

Click here for details of our panelists and here for the conference schedule for the day.

Conversations across St. Charles

On 20th February 2022, we went to the intersection of Girod Street and St. Charles Avenue to watch the Krewe of King Arthur roll by. A little daunted by the aggression of some of the throwing of throws we witnessed on Canal Street earlier in the day, we approached with some trepidation (though Patrick was intent on getting a branded throw for is son, Arthur). As we approached, it became clear that the atmosphere here was much different to that on Canal Street: families were gathered, conversation was flowing and people were helping each other to catch and collect throws.

Crowds gather to watch the Krewe of King Arthur

A few minutes after arriving, we noticed three girls across the street trying to attract the attention of those opposite. Making eye contact, they bounced small bouncy balls across the street when the parade came to a halt every now and again. This became an ongoing means of communication across the space; a silent performance of community, joy and collaboration evolved over the next couple of hours. Hand signals, reaching to catch, eye contact, pointing, occasional vocal calling and much laughing came together to create a conversation between strangers; the girls and (what we took to be) their parents on one side, a slowly rotating/changing group of parade goers of all ages on the other. There was no hierarchy, no competition. The game was inclusive, spontaneous and joyful; participants laughed, feigned exasperation if a catch was missed, and actively looked to reengage one another if the conversation was interrupted by the passing of floats or marching bands.

An elderly couple dance on a balcony opposite our position. They laugh with one another and with those in the crowd who spot them and dance ‘with’ them from the pavement. They, and we, sing to familiar lyrics played by passing trucks or brass bands. These performances create and enact communitas; people are brought together through joyful practices that encode a sense of (perhaps temporary) belonging, equality and understanding. This is an experience of being together in time and space, of being part of something bigger than one’s self. Though perhaps an idealised reading of carnival – and one that needs more critical attention to some more problematic gendered representations of sex, sexuality and race, the performances on Girod and St Charles suggest means of understanding the political potential of carnival beyond its excessive consumption and histories of segregation.

This impromptu community of participants cut a striking difference to the seeming aggression of earlier encounters between parade goers and float riders. The ball game seemed, by design or accident, to enable revellers to participate in the embodied experience of carnival with a greater degree of connection to one another, rather than clamouring for only for the ‘magnificence’ of receiving a particular set of beads, a doubloon or two, or a sought-after handmade gift. This social performance lent weight and clarity to the experience: carnival became visible as an opportunity to connection across race, class and age lines.

Reflections on Travelling

Preparing to travel internationally for the first time in two years, in a global pandemic, has been an anxious time. I have been concerned both about a last minute COVID-19 infection scuppering the best laid plans of this research trip (some 12 months in the planning and execution), and about catching the virus while abroad. The former manifested in self-imposed isolation in advance of the trip. The latter continues to guide how it feels to be in another country, at a busy time in the Crescent City.  

Reflecting on the historical development of airport buildings and importance of architectural design to the embodied experience of travel, geographer Peter Adey argues that historically airports offered means of building and experiencing civic and national identities. He suggests that they held a role beyond their travel function:

Airports were places to not only travel through but places to travel to and, importantly, view from… It is vital, therefore, that the contemporary fascination with such sites should not release the airport terminal from its historical role as builder and purveyor of interest and identity (2008: 44)

I like airports. I have always been struck by the strangely out-of-time experience of them, the potential of the journey ahead, the excitement of travel. This is not to ignore the climate emergency and the problematic role air travel plays in this. And so, arriving at Newcastle International Airport I am struck by the familiarity of the experience: the mundanity of processes and practices of the place, and the way that transitioning through the liminal space of the airport seems ‘in’ my body. The process is like picking up a highly practiced hobby after a long break: I am rusty, but it comes back swiftly. 

The mundanity of the experience and the ease with which I slipped into the practices of the space – belt removing, coin searching, laptop placing, arm lifting, belonging scooping, screen scanning – served to alleviate the anxiety of the build-up. (The negative lateral flow test that enabled me to engage in the practice of airport transition may have helped too, of course). I found a near empty bar, bought a beer, sat by a window overlooking the airport apron and turned to my laptop to work. 

After an hour or so, I glanced up and spotted a bight dot on the horizon. As the plane approached the runway, its wings see-sawed quite violently but the plane landed safely, and I thought little of it. My wife messaged shortly thereafter: “So windy”. I boarded the flight and buckled in; as we taxied for take-off the captain mentioned it was a bit blustery so there may be some turbulence but, in the end, take-off was uneventful and the flight smooth. 

Cutting through the clouds as we came in to land, the mood on the flight changed a little as the clouds darkened and the plane began to be buffeted by the wind. The wheels came down and we approached for landing; the plane was see-sawing and being pushed around. Maybe 15 feet from the tarmac a gust hit the plane and suddenly we were pushed back into the seats, the pilots making the engines roar as we accelerated hard and lifted in a steep climb away from Heathrow.

A sharp bank to the left felt as though the wings were almost vertical (they weren’t, of course) and the turn was prolonged; there was complete silence for a few minutes until the captain’s calm announcement: ‘Sorry about that Ladies and Gentlemen, we got hit by a pretty big gust as we came in to land there and so performed what we call a “missed approach”. We’ll come around now and try again…’ 

I realise how tightly I have been holding the seat in front of me. This was not so much ‘in my body,’ though the experience of it was powerfully embodied: I braced muscles, uncrossed my legs, planted my feet on the floor, pressed my back into the seat, gripped the seat in front of me. The ‘fight’ between the embodied experience and the desire to hold on to the logic of flying as safe and trust in the pilots’ skill was pronounced, particularly when coming in to land the second time.  

Approaching Heathrow, the first time.

The missed approach reminds me how strange it is to be travelling again after more than two years of pandemic restrictions; it asks questions about risk and research travel. It is all too easy to look at research fieldwork in New Orleans, the ‘Big Easy,’ the ‘Birthplace of Jazz’, and think of fun, frivolity, and hedonism. As the Beyond Borboun Street podcast recognises, the importance of tourism to this city means that it is forever at risk of being defined through a particular set of restricted and reductive practices and understanding.  

However, Adey’s argument that airports hold a bigger function than might be first apparent makes me thing about how this is a city that can reveal new understandings of performance and resilience. We have known this since before our first PCR visit in 2018, but Covid-19 and Hurrican Ida have again raised the prospect that New Orleans’ performance cultures afford ways of thinking about place and crisis that can impact understandings internationally. 

Nevertheless, the jet-lagged early mornings (even on day 4 as I get set to publish this blog), asks questions of what the embodied experience of travel might reveal about ways of thinking and being in a place, far from home and catapulted there as such speeds that the body cannot really process it. This then might ask us to be particularly attentive to how we balance the positive impact of our work (we know, for instance, that our research influenced Covid-19 responses in the city) against the pressure is places on our families and on the planet.  

Reconnecting: New Orleans, February 2022

It is February 2022 and we are back in New Orleans to research intersections between performance and emergency preparedness. One of the prompts for this trip, as well as re-engaging in longterm conversations with the city, was our sense that New Orleans has been and continues to be extraordinarily impacted by the pandemic. Indeed, the city feels different this time – businesses that were once thriving and seemed powerfully secure have closed, practitioners have lost their livelihoods and public health has struggled to keep up with the pressures of the virus. Yet, at the same time, as we argue in our interim report Performance and Pandemic Response: Invitations to Innovate, with the #SleevesUpNOLA campaign the city has responded with creativity, skill and performative acumen to the challenge. So, in part, on this trip we are interested to explore New Orleans’ processes and practices of pandemic response.

Families prepare for the arrival of Mardi Gras parades, St Charles Avenue, New Orleans, February 2022.

During our time in New Orleans, we are meeting with arts, culture and hazard mitigation professionals, surveying key sites in which arts and culture bearers have addressed the pandemic and other challenges that have arisen since the last time we were here. We will feed back our findings to colleagues in the city and also in the UK and internationally, to demonstrate specific ways in which arts and culture enable new and vital means of pandemic response. 

As part of our ongoing AHRC-funded project Social Distancing and Reimagining City Life, we expect to publish this work in briefing and policy documents that we hope will inform ongoing responses to the pandemic, and to planning for future responses to public health challenges. Indeed, it was gratifying to hear from the current Hazard Mitigation Administrator, Austin Feldbaum, that our research to date has informed and led to innovations in the city’s pandemic response strategy (conversation with investigators, 18 February 2022).

The work will critically inform our ongoing publications on the city, significantly a co-authored book we are developing with LSU Press to rethink city resilience through performance cultures in the city of New Orleans. In this book, we address the ways that challenges in a city are rarely neatly delineated. Of course, Covid-19 is a major and ongoing frame to thinking about city resilience at this time; but equally, New Orleans continues to grapple with the climate emergency, with underlying ‘stresses’ of race and economic inequity, and emerging ‘shocks’ such as Storm Ida (August 2021) that the city is still actively engaged in recovering from.

Blue tarpaulin protecting the roof of a house in the Treme, New Orleans, February 2022.

We are in New Orleans from 17th-25th February. If you are engaged in thinking through or responding to Covid-19, or other such ‘resilience’ challenges, through arts and culture, emergency or resilience planning, or public health in or beyond the city, and you would like to be involved with this work, we would love to hear from you.

Invitations to Innovate

In case you’ve not yet had a chance to engage with our interim project report, and we wholly encourage you to do so, we thought it may be helpful to distil some key findings from it here. The report focuses specifically on how arts practices in cities can be useful to future pandemic emergency preparedness and response.

Mobile Vaccination Clinic outside O2 City Hall Newcastle, Oct 2021

In the report, we have identified five key emergency challenges that arts are already engaged in addressing:

1. Reach communities in and across a city.

2. Re-work city spaces for safe public access.

3. Engage local populations with key public health messages.

4. Manage perceptions of life during Covid and of vaccination.

5. Connect people to alleviate isolation.

In addressing these challenges our research finds that:

* Covid-19 has underlined the vital role arts practitioners play in identifying and responding to local and city challenges both creatively and at speed.

* The pandemic reveals, starkly, the lack of channels of communication between academics and professionals in the arts and in emergency and resilience management.

* To understand how the arts comprise pandemic response, we need to resist conventional and often simplistic definitions of arts practice.

* Arts venues offer strategic engagements with communities that can be beneficial to sustaining social distancing and communicating its importance at city level; this affords connections and relationships not always available to municipal structures. Emergency planning processes, policy and practice can account for this in pandemic planning and physical distancing strategy.

* ‘Signs don’t work’ but performative interventions in city spaces can. Artists can make strategic, local interventions into city spaces that enable communities to practice social distancing in more sustainable and sustained ways.

* City council emergency planning policy/strategy does not (generally) join up with cultural strategies, missing an opportunity for more nuanced understandings of places in emergency contexts.

* Performance can reveal how places work in the context of their urban politics, as experienced by people in those places; experiences which elude clear articulation in written texts such as, in this context, policy guidance.

* We need more properly to understand signs as cultural artefacts, as a critical part of the place in which they are situated, speaking to people who use that place. We thus we need to develop messaging that directly addresses those people, encouraging and enabling them to incorporate restrictions into their daily experiences and modes of being in the city.

There are more challenges and more means of response – we invite you to share your thoughts on this or examples of interesting cultural practice addressing the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic with us here.

The full interim-report can be found here.

Our Crisis Response Journal article can be found at https://www.crisis-response.com/Publisher/Article.aspx?ID=618551.

Project Update, September 2021

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.

Masks

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.

Reference

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.

Half-Hidden Signs

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.

Collaborating: Travelling and Meeting in Pandemic Times

Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan

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’.

References 

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. 

Beginning

Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan

Bristol, a case study city for our work on COVID-19 city social distancing strategy.

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.. 

(Andrews and Duggan, 2021, p. 198)

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. 

References 

Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan, 2021, ‘Towards “Strategy as Performance” in Hazard Mitigation: Reflections on Performing City Resilience in New Orleans’ Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance Volume 26,- Issue 1: Performance, Resilience and Resourcefulnesshttps://doi.org/10.1080/13569783.2020.1844563 

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. 

Funding Success: UKRI/AHRC COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve been awarded a UKRI/AHRC COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant for our project Social 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)

Reporting: New Orleans 2019

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.

Outcomes

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’ [1]

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.

Recognition

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.” [2]

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.

City Hall

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)
  • City Planner
  • 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.

Participants:

  • Executive Director
  • Deputy Director / Director of Place and Civic Design
  • Director Artist Services
  • Creative Director
  • Strategic Development Director

Site Visits 

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.

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[1] Citations from Ryan Mast, Hazard Mitigation Administrator (NOHSEP) (2019), letter to directors (full correspondence available on request).

[2] 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)

Publishing: ‘Situation Rooms…’

We are excited to announce that the first. academic publication from Performing City Resiliance is out:

‘Situation Rooms: Performing City Resiliance in New Orleans” (Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan)

The essay is available open access via http://liminalities.net/15-1/ (and attached below) – do please have a read and let us know what you think. We’re excited to be follow-up this work with another visit to the ever fascinating and beguiling New Orleans in June!

Essay: Duggan_Andrews_resilience

 

Presenting

In October 2018, we presented some of our initial findings from New Orleans (2018) at the SALUS annual Healthy City Design international congress on ‘Equity and resilience: Creating healthy cities for all’.

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You can see our talk here: http://www.salus.global/article-show/processes-and-practices-for-performing-city-resilience-in-a-healthy-city

A longer version of this paper is being published shortly by the journal Liminalities; we will provide a link to that once it’s out.

Returning (to New Orleans)

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We are delighted to announce that we have secured funding from the University of Surrey for a return research trip to New Orleans. In this second visit, our work will focus on developing interdisciplinary perspectives on performance, the arts and resilience in New Orleans that can be operationalised in both practice and policy. We will be working with artists, NOLA culture bearers, cultural organisations and stakeholders in city resilience.

We’d love to hear from anyone we met on our last visit, as well as anyone new who is interested in this work. We will be in New Orleans 1 – 12 June 2019. Contact information here.