Invitations to Innovation

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.

_____________________

[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’.

Screen Shot 2019-02-11 at 11.39.51

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)

IMG_0789 2

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.

 

Calling (for papers): ‘Staging the Wreckage’

Patrick is co-editing a special issue of the journal Performance Research (with Gianna Bouchard, University of Birmingham, UK), entitled ‘Staging the Wreckage’. The theme has many synergies with the work of Performing City Resilience, indeed Patrick will be writing on New Orleans in the issue, and so we are very please to include the CFP here:

Performance Research, Volume 24, Issue 5: Staging the Wreckage

Deadline: 27 August 2018. Issue Editors: Gianna Bouchard and Patrick Duggan

Imagine walking into a vast and chilly aeroplane hangar.

Imagine encountering a space that is so vast that your own body’s scale and fleshy fragility becomes strikingly apparent to you in startling contrast to the volume and metallic solidity of the room.

Imagine the chill of this space.

Imagine its enveloping, sparse, metal-and-concrete scenography.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers about the death of a loved one.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers about the death of a loved one who has perished, unexplained, in a plane crash.

Imagine entering this space in search of answers about the death of a loved one who has died in an unexplained aeroplane crash, and seeing the wreckage of that crash laid out for your interrogation.

Imagine that wreckage being one of four or five staged in the same space.

Imagine the room abuzz with the activity of investigators and others mourning, picking over the wreckage in search of…

From the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001, to the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, to the images of the current refugee crisis and recent terrorist atrocities, the early twenty-first century has witnessed increased media interest in showing all kinds of wreckage to a global audience. While these particular examples are captured in images of the debris and detritus of a catastrophe, there has also been a significant turn, particularly in the UK, to the descriptions and linguistic performances of emotional and psychological wreckage, from the victims of various high-profile sexual grooming and abuse cases, to survivors and witnesses of other events. Wreckage is also increasingly made available through the rise of television dramas that deal with violence and representations of its aftermath. Theatre also often calls on stagings of wreckage to show the labour of performance, the inevitable failure of representation and the disasters immanent in human relations. Companies such as Forced Entertainment and Societas Raffaello Sanzio deliberately and provocatively perform wreckage as an intrinsic part of their theatrical practice.

The calling forth of the wreckage in these moments, whether through personal narrative, the detritus of performance or the crumpled remains of the fuselage of an aircraft is a means of trying to deal with the calamity, a way of keeping it in memory and a deliberate staging of the evidence. Once the wreckage is revealed, the resultant ricocheting of images and affect across the media and society can have a significant impact, spurring public enquiries, prosecutions, policy revisions and other forms of reflection and memorial. The loss of control implicit in the wreckage is often partially recuperated through future-oriented control of its visibility and dissemination.

This issue of Performance Research invites a consideration of these wider social and cultural contexts, as well as to more explicitly theatrical examples. In thinking about increased demands for staging the wreckage and showing the products of catastrophe, we invite contributors to consider such things as an ethics of spectatorship in relation to the wreck, documentation of the wreckage, its theatrical and performative staging, the effect of wreckage and its potential for salvage and renewal. Essentially, this issue asks: what does the staging of wreckage do? The issue is concerned not so much with the initial event but with the trace of the thing and the way that that trace is staged or performed.

To which end, ‘staging the wreckage’ may refer to or be concerned with (but is not limited to):

· re-presentation/aestheticization of the wreckage of objects, materials and bodies

· absence of/and staged wreckage

· controlled (access to) wreckages

· impossible wreckage/impossible salvage

· accident investigations: planes, cars, boats, trains and so forth

· human wreckage

· relationships

· stages after the performance has ended

· performances that represent wreckage

· medical procedures and documentations of such

· historical staging of wrecking

· ecological disasters and environmental waste

· nuclear fallout and its documentation

· staging of high-profile resignations

· the day after an election

· illness

· death and death rituals

· war

· bad museum curating

· (domestic) arguments

· performance and trauma

· therapy

· giving bad news to someone you love

· giving bad news to someone you hardly know

· trauma tourism

· the creation of trauma/memorial sites

· school nativity plays

· spilt milk

· computer viruses, technological collapse

· being set up (for a crime you didn’t commit)

· fact and fiction of crime scenes

· stock market crashes and graphic depictions of that

· detritus from a really good party

· suicide

· sporting wreckages

· postmodernity and wreckage

· modernity as wreckage (after Benjamin, for example)

· wreckage and biography

· redundancy

· reality TV (including auditions)

· symbolic presentations of wreckage

· representations of wreckage in theatre, performance, live art

· deliberate wreckage in performance (breaking/smashing the performance)

· the wreckage of performance (corpsing, interruptions, technical failure)

· corpses/dissected bodies/wounded bodies

· dementia/degenerative illness/memory loss

· the wreckage of democracy

We are inviting longer essays (from 4,000 to 6,000 words), shorter provocations (2,000 words) and artist pages (number of pages to be agreed with the editors).

Please send 300–400 word abstracts plus a 100 word bio for artists pages, critical essays, interviews, practice research essays or provocations that attend to (but are not limited to) any aspect of the above.

Schedule:

Proposals: Monday 27 August 2018

First drafts: December 2018

Final drafts: February 2019

Publication: July/August 2019

Issue contacts:

All proposals, submissions and general enquiries should be sent direct to Performance Research at: info@performance-research.org

Issue-related enquiries should be directed to the issue editors:

Patrick Duggan (University of Surrey): p.duggan@surrey.ac.uk

Gianna Bouchard (University of Birmingham): g.m.bouchard@bham.ac.uk

 

General Guidelines for Submissions:

• Before submitting a proposal, we encourage you to visit our website (www.performance-research.org ) and familiarize yourself with the journal.

• Proposals will be accepted by email (Microsoft Word or Rich Text Format (RTF)). Proposals should not exceed one A4 side.

• Please include your surname in the file name of the document you send.

• Please include the issue title and issue number in the subject line of your email.

• Submission of images and other visual material is welcome provided that all attachments do not exceed 5 MB, and there is a maximum of five images.

• Submission of a proposal will be taken to imply that it presents original, unpublished work not under consideration for publication elsewhere.

• If your proposal is accepted, you will be invited to submit an article in first draft by the deadline indicated above. On the final acceptance of a completed article you will be asked to sign an author agreement in order for your work to be published in Performance Research.

Driving

IMG_0070 PD: We’ve been told to meet Laura [Paul] at ‘Orleans and North Rampart’, outside a bar called Voodoo Lounge. The bar’s red paint is sun bleached, its walls cracked and crumbling slightly. The bar seems friendly enough but we can’t see anyone that we can immediately identify as our ‘tour guide’ [2]. Waiting outside I become anxious about having missed Laura somehow. I’m also preoccupied thinking about how much of a donation we should give the organisation (lowernine.org) if and when she does take us to the area of the city most heavily devastated by Katrina and the subsequent levee breach on the Industrial Canal. I’m probably also a bit jet-lagged which doesn’t help.

After some minutes of furtively popping our heads around the door to see if we could identify Laura (what were we expecting, I wonder? Branded t-shirts, a sign with our names on it…), she comes out and asks if I’m ‘Peter’. After the initial awkwardness of correcting her on my name, we shake hands and do introductions whereupon Laura leads us to her car, a beaten-up, well used pick-up truck (a Toyota I think) and we climb in. I get in the front passenger seat. Stuart comments on our having been noticing the size of such cars, some so large the bonnets are at chin height on him. She seems confused by the comment and I wonder about the clash of cultures that it might signal; I suddenly feel that there is something decidedly British about small talk. I notice the seat is loose and that it slides back and forth on its fixings as we break and accelerate. I hope we won’t crash.

SA: For what seems a sizeable truck, I am struck by the small size of the side windows. They appear as portholes of a kind, the view outside marked by the frame of the interior. I feel enclosed, secure but separate from the places we pass. Laura begins by talking to us both but quickly talks more to Patrick. I find I spend time looking through the rear window, seeing houses, streets and empty plots through the neat lines that in frostier climates would heat the rear window. My gaze is less directed, my view is of left, right and the road behind, rather than entirely determined by the way ahead.

PD: Immediately after we get going, Laura invites us to a barbeque for lowernine.org volunteers that she is hosting at her home in the Lower Ninth that evening. It is a disarming invitation, one that I hadn’t been expecting. I find it awkward to know what to say; it seems a beautifully generous offer that is designed, as Laura says, to help us to understand the Lower Ninth better. But we only know the area by reputation and so, unsure of how we would get there – or back – and having commitments nearer our own ‘home’ for the trip we decline the offer. I wonder if it is a choice I will regret.

The day before the drive, we had been told that people in the city were ‘done with Katrina’, bored of talking about it. We mention this to Laura and her reaction suggests that it is an over simplification at best, and a profound articulation of privilege on the other: one can only be ‘done’ with it if one is no longer facing it. On the drive from the bar to the St Claude Avenue bridge over the Industrial Canal (some 3 stop-start miles), Laura is animated about her work and what brought her to the City: she is Canadian, we discover, and was a volunteer in the immediate aftermath of Katrina but never left. She tells us that this will be the most biased tour we could ever have. I’m glad of the disclaimer at the time but its importance recurs throughout the hour and 40 minutes we spend with her.

Laura’s (near) monologue is incredibly fast and she moves from one register or topic to another without pause or acknowledgement of the shift: complaining about some erratic driving in front of us merges with statistics about the city merges with politicised commentary on the tour or the city. I find myself concentrating very hard on trying to ‘tune in’. She ‘helps’ me by intermittently but frequently moving her hand from the steering wheel to tap me on the arm with the back of her hand. Later, after the tour has ended, I’m struck by how familiar this movement and touch was but also how insistent I found it in its breaking of my personal space and in physically punctuating the monologue on my body. It also made me acutely aware of being in the car.

IMG_0077

SA: As tour groups go, this is small. I’d expected there might be more conversation, that there might be more down-time between particular stops. I find myself disconcerted by the lack of small talk, the lack of connection, of conversation. It became clear that this isn’t a place where we might have anything of particular value to say, it is about listening, being present, not negotiating, reflecting on and responding to the experience. But, of course, lowernine.org offers tours and we’ve booked a tour, Laura is keen we discover the place, that’s the purpose of all this. Yet, it was odd trying to make sense of a place from inside a car. And, it was unsettling sharing the space of a car and remaining in the mode of a tour. As the tour continues, I am struck by the contrast between the relative ordinariness of sitting in a car and the enormity of events that have had such a significant and sustained effect on the places at which we stop, and those we pass by. I wonder what it would have been like to have stayed for a barbecue, and whether we might then have all slipped from the conventions of the tour, when we would not be looking at a place through windows, but there, in person, out for an evening. I begin to think that might be more difficult, that suddenly we would need to have words with which we might engage with people and place.

 

PD: Pulling up at the bridge, Laura barely nods towards the traffic jam evolving before us and to the bridge beyond saying that we are now encountering first-hand the ‘environmental racism’ that divides the Lower Ninth from the City. The bridge is up to let a ship along the canal and we have to wait. This can take up to 30 minutes, we’re told; and we’re asked to think about the implications of that in terms of emergency services getting to a crisis given none are based on the Lower Ninth side of the canal.

Crossing the bridge I’m struck by the vastness of this manmade waterway. Even from above it is a scale that dwarfs the architecture on either side of it, and while I do not know it yet (for it will be some days until I witness it for myself) – you have to look up at passing ships from the street level. We turn a hard right immediately we exit the bridge, the car pulling up to an abrupt stop. This is the area farthest from the Levee breach that devastated this area, so the part of the Lower Ninth least impacted (though still flooded). It’s now gentrifying quickly and I’m shocked to discover that there are even AirBnB properties in the neighbourhood (an issue of some contention in the city as a whole). Laura asks us to note the vernacular of the architecture, extoling the virtues of good, old design practices that enable homes to be cool in the ferocious heat of the summer.

We drive on, crumping over huge potholes, being shaken around the cab of the truck. Still at the southern end of the district, that area ‘least’ impacted by the flooding that was a consequence of the Industrial Canal levee breach, we pull up at a shell of a home destroyed by the flooding and subsequent neglect over time. It seems to me in need of tearing down and starting again: “we could fix that up easily, it’s actually in pretty good shape”, Laura says, before explaining that the barge board [3] inner skin of the house still looks strong. A few yards further on we pull up at an abandoned home, it looks in better condition but the orange ‘Katrina cross’ still marks it out as ‘blight’. We’ve already seen a number of houses in other parts of the city that have been done up but that have kept their cross. Laura explains how the X system works, with each quadrant containing specific information in an internationally agreed code and I’m relieved that no one died here [4]. I ask if it would be ‘deeply inappropriate’ to take a photo. Laughing, Laura ribs me for the phrase but says it would be fine before thanking me for asking. I don’t really understand why one wouldn’t ask, this was someone’s home.

img_00691.jpg

We drive past two beautiful, ornate properties that we discover were built by a Steamboat captain called Doullut and designed to flood up to the first floor. I want to pause here and look more closely but we move on. We pause surrounded by (mostly) renovated houses with neat gardens and are asked to look around and remember the scene, and to look north along the 1.7 miles of Flood Street that is to our left. Later we will be asked to recall that moment, noting the extraordinary difference that 2 miles makes.

We swing right into property owned by the Port of New Orleans, a gravelly track leads up a short steep hill that we accelerate up. At the top we can see the Mississippi River and realise that we are on a river levee. A woman runs towards us along a dirt track at the top, I wonder where she has come from, how far she is planning to run, and how she is coping with the heat. After talking about the port a little, we accelerate back down the hill in reverse; the car moves unnecessarily fast in what is evidently a practiced manoeuvre but one that is unnerving nonetheless.

SA: I find myself looking back through the lines of the rear window. I become aware of lines on the land, the waterways that bisect the land, the high watermarks on houses. Laura stops to show us the industrial canal on her phone. It takes a while for her to load the map, but it’s clearly important. The canal is not natural, she explains, this isn’t the meandering way that water flows. As we pass houses, and the remains – or lack of remains – of houses, so she indicates the strategic decisions that are at play here, that led to the building of the canal, and the decisions that have followed Katrina. These streets feel a long way from the city, I wonder how many people visit the ward in their experience of the city, of how places away from the centre of a city are understood as being part of that city (and as being implicated in discussion with those central areas). We are seeing plans, decisions, structures, the work of recovery – and the limits of this work.

IMG_0073

PD: We turn to face north and begin moving up through the district, Laura waves at everyone, a friendly and familiar greeting but I can’t work out who she actually knows and who she is just greeting because it is the friendly thing to do. We stop at her house and she calls to her dogs who stare at the car, seemingly ambivalent to our arrival. We drive on. Some blocks later, we approach a house that is being renovated, there are some teenagers smiling and chatting outside it and a coach a few meters further on. This is one of the houses that lowernine.org are in the process of doing-up. It’s nearly finished. As we approach, the car slows to a stop and Laura asks how the group outside are doing. A moment later, a man emerges from the front door and waves enthusiastically, asking if we’re stopping in to have a look. Laura beckons him over and he bounds down the front steps, along the path and up to the car. They chat and Laura explains she doesn’t have time to stop. They have just hung the kitchen cabinets. The house is nearly finished. We are not introduced which feels odd: there is an odd distancing effect enacted as the man clearly notices us but we aren’t afforded a chance to say hello. The result is that I find the encounter unsettling, as though I have been unwillingly made a voyeur. Or that I am on some kind of human safari. I feel my (white, male, middle class, educated) privilege heavily weigh in this encounter and although I am here for what I would consider legitimate (research, not tourist) reasons, I cannot help but feel I am participating in something ethically troubling. We drive away and I meekly mumble goodbye. I wonder who he was. I really wanted to see the house.

Driving further north we see an increasing number of empty plots, absences in the landscape where houses used to stand. Earlier in our trip we had interviewed someone who described the Lower Ninth as ‘a bit rural’, I wonder if this is what they meant. Of course, these lots are not really empty – they have been overtaken by nature in a curious sort of way. The boundary lines between properties are discernible, either marked out by some kind of fence or, more often, by the differentiation between one lot being mowed and cleared of debris, and another being wild, overgrown, and “given back” to nature in an eerie kind of way. This is a particular kind of staging of absence and wreckage, one that acknowledges the disparity in those who can make it back to the area to work on their plot and those who can’t. These are the traces of lives not (yet) recovered. We are told that the City insists lots are cleared or that they will reclaim the land. I remember Laura’s statement that this is the most ‘biased tour in the world’ and wonder if there isn’t a more complex, nuanced element to this statement. I feel guilty for doubting it.

There are no sidewalks (although there are corners of sidewalk at cross-roads). There are no streetlights. There are very few working fire hydrants. There are uncovered storm drains everywhere: they are at least two feet wide, 4 feet long and 5 feet deep. These cavernous, gaping mouths seem symptomatic of a broken bureaucracy. They are also violent in the threat that they pose to anyone using the streets. Some stretches of the road have been resurfaced, maybe twenty meters in length. There seems no logic to the repairs and they abut other bits of the road that are potholed, cracked, riven. The pickup truck is bounced and bucked remorselessly, my seat shifts back and forward violently throughout. Piles of construction debris and dumped domestic waste are often interrupting the flow of the road. Apparently people drive to the Lower Ninth to burn out cars. It feels like a place out of time and out of place, it is dislocated and isolated. But people smile and offer a wave as we pass. Across a clear stretch of greenery we spot a large and new building. It’s a high school; we don’t go to see it properly.

We come to the other end of Flood Street. Unlike the southerly end, the scene here is one of abandonment. Scrub has grown up on what would once have been the places where homes stood. The area would clearly have been well populated. It feels lonely now, haunted by the regular and rectangular outlines of plots of land where families once lived. A little further to the west, we arrive at the very edge of the district. Marked out by a sloping grass verge, atop of which is a tall, hash, sharp line of dark grey wall that parallels the street below. The Industrial Canal and its new levee wall. We are dwarfed by the architecture, made small by its height and length. We pause under the wall, at right angles to it. This is where the most catastrophic breach of the levee system in the city took place during Katrina. I’m struck by how much the looming architecture of the levee wall makes me think of being inside a prison [5]. There is one, fairly large house to our left, its front porch addresses the levee. Stuart asks how people who live looking out at it feel. ‘Safe’, Laura says.

Canal

We drive along the levee for a few hundred meters before turning off to find our way towards a bridge back over the canal and towards the city centre. We’ve been in the Lower Ninth for about 90 minutes. We have not passed a single café, restaurant, or grocery store. Apparently a ‘drug store’ has recently opened near a bridge across the Canal. As we cross the bridge, I start to feel a bit broken by the experience. I want to be very quiet and to be with my own thoughts but I try to listen diligently to the information being imparted. We drive past what I later learn is an ‘evacuspot’ [6].

We pull up, back outside the Voodoo Lounge and get out of the truck. There is an awkward moment where we try to negotiate the handover of our contribution for the tour, neither of us really too sure of how this works. We hand over the money. Laura thanks us for our interest in seeing the Lower Ninth and in her organisation’s work. It seems a generous acknowledgement, after all it was she who has shown us around. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I cannot process the experience nor describe to Stuart how I am feeling (about and in light of it). We head into the French Quarter and it seems a million miles from where we have just been. I find that I am fairly shaken up but I can’t quite work out why. Talking about it the next morning I find it similarly unnerved. I know that I will write about it.

NOTES (relating to PD’s entries)

[1] I am in the process of developing an academic essay that, in part, explores the experience of this ‘tour’, it will be published in a special edition of Performance Research entitled ‘Staging the Wreckage’ (24:4, Summer 2019).

[2] I use scare quotes here because while this is a tour, it isn’t a commercial one. Indeed, Laura later tells us that the ‘Hurricane Katrina Tour’ run by Grey Line (and other commercial tours) is no longer permitted to go into the Lower Ninth and that the only way to see it as a ‘tour’ is with a Non-profit organisation like hers.

[3] See: https://adamickarchitecture.com/2016/06/07/historic-home-barge-board/

[4] See: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katrina_x_large.png

[5] In Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker’s wonderful book Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs presents a short essay entitled ‘Of Levees and Prisons’ which outlines the connections and parallels between the history of the development of the levee and penal systems across Louisiana and in New Orleans itself.

[6] See: http://evacuspots.evacuteer.org/ (somewhat troublingly, these figures are often referred to as ‘evacumen’)