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Performance as City Pandemic Response: 'Invitations to Innovate'



As part of our Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) research project 'Sustaining Social Distancing and Reimagining City Life', Stuart Andrews and I have published an interim report on our research findings: 'Performance as Pandemic Response: Invitations to Innovate'. The report can be found here: Looking at the value and importance of performance and the arts to city #pandemic #preparedness and #response processes, the research builds on our wider Performing City Resilience research (particularly in #NewOrleans) to identify 5 key challenges facing #emergencyplanning professionals. Partly responding to calls for new approaches and ways of thinking from within emergency planning, we offer a series of 'invitations to innovate' in relation to the challenges identified. We're inviting conversations on #resilience #cities #emergencyplanning #performance. A press release about this work can be found at: Coinciding with the release of the report, we are delighted to have an article in The Crisis Response Journal's latest issue, that can be found at:
Performance as City Pandemic Response:
Invitations to Innovate
Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan
Interim Report, September 2021
Performance as City Pandemic Response:
Invitations to Innovate
Authors: Stuart Andrews and Patrick Duggan
September 2021
Interim Report from Social Distancing and Reimagining City Life: Performative strategies and
practices for response and recovery in and beyond lockdown.
This research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part
of the UK Research and Innovation’s Covid-19 Rapid Response call.
Cover image: Rainbow’s End, by Zoe Allen and Allan Dixon, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, August
2021. Image by S. Andrews.
All images by Andrews and Duggan, except where otherwise identified.
© Andrews and Duggan, 2021.
All rights reserved
Available at:
Suggested citation: Andrews, S. and Duggan, P. (2021), Performance as City Pandemic Response:
Invitations to Innovate, September 2021. (Newcastle, UK: Performing City Resilience). Available at:
Key audience: This report is intended for colleagues in city emergency and resilience management who
are working on pandemic strategy and response. It may also be useful to those engaged in related areas,
such as arts and performance professionals, and city planners. Drawing on academic research and
analysis, it is intended as a document for professionals whose work in some way addresses the pandemic.
In setting out an approach to pandemic preparedness and response, this document offers a broad
reading of the ways in which artistic and everyday ‘performances’ of cities can speak to emergency and
resilience planning.
This is an interim report, a working document inviting conversation about the ideas included here. It is
intended to contribute to current practices and advance preparations for future pandemic response, not
critique current or recent practice.
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Executive Summary
To engage effectively with pandemic measures, we need to find and sustain new ways of
livingand thrivingin altered conditions. As nation states and cities impose measures to
control the virus, so they ask people in affected areas to find new ways of engaging with
those places, and to be sensitive to any changes in restrictions. This emphasis on control
seeks to limit viral transmission, but it offers limited guidance on effective means of living in
a city in the context of pandemic measures. There is a pressing need to identify new ways of
living and working in cities in the context of pandemic restrictions, both now and for the
future. At the same time, emergency planning professionals are calling for new and novel
approaches to preparedness and response planning in light of the pandemic.
This interim report emerges from an eighteen-month project to explore intersections
between arts and emergency and resilience strategy and practice in UK cities. As such it is
directly focused on developing new and novel approaches to sustain, and reimagine, city life
in the context of a pandemic and related restrictions.
Covid-19 has underlined the vital role arts practitioners play in identifying and responding
to local and city challenges both creatively and at speed. Throughout the pandemic, artists,
arts organisations and networks have been responding imaginatively to restrictions,
rethinking familiar places and practices, and creating entirely new modes of engagement
with local and city communities. In some contexts, this work comprises informal invitations
and guidance, in others it involves sustained local leadership to directly address local needs
that have not been met. Elsewhere, artistic programming has provided flexible, responsive
means through which people can recognise and understand different experiences of Covid-
19, and thereby live with greater knowledge and understanding. The arts are rarely credited
as offering a strategic contribution, and yet, internationally, there are established examples
where the arts have been directly engaged in precisely this work as pandemic response.
What is missing is a means of connecting such crisis-focused strategic arts responses to city
emergency and resilience planning measures.
The pandemic reveals, starkly, the lack of channels of communication between academics
and professionals in the arts and in emergency and resilience management. There is very
little work that brokers connections between these stakeholders in given cities. Beyond the
arts, there is limited public or professional understanding of the ways arts practices and
performance research methods make sense of the ‘everyday’ (social) and ‘aesthetic’
performances in and of cities. This report is part of a wider ongoing project, Performing City
This project is supported by funding received through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as
part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19 fund set up to support projects which
contribute to our understanding of, and response to, the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts.
Resilience, that directly addresses the contribution of arts practice and research to city
resilience strategy and practice. By researching ‘performances’ of a city, we can reveal the
ways in which arts and culture can inform recommendations for city management.
To understand how the arts comprise pandemic response, we need to resist conventional
and often simplistic definitions of arts practice. There have been long-running debates on
the value of the arts, notably in terms of their ‘intrinsic’ or ‘instrumental’ value. Our
argument is more fundamental and more urgent: we need clear definitions of what arts
practices are now, what they do (especially in a city in crisis) and how this relates to
emergency and resilience strategy. Too often arts practices have been poorly defined,
poorly valued, and assumed to be a luxury, rather than an active critical force in the
management and practise of a city.
Cities face very particular challenges in a pandemic. The UN observes that, with their
population size and ‘global and local interconnectivity […] urban areas have become the
epicentre of the pandemic’.
Arts practitioners living and working in cities are particularly
able to address the acute challenges faced by urban areas, recognise impacts on familiar
community and/or city practices, and develop responses that reimagine those practices in
the context of the pandemic and associated restrictions, whether these are imposed
formally or adopted as local good practice. In attending to the performance of the city
through the crisis of a pandemic, arts practitioners are well placed to envision and enact
steps to the future city, specifically by addressing identified agendas, notably the UN
Sustainable Development Goals.
In the pandemic, arts practitioners internationally have demonstrated compelling,
imaginative and rapid responses to changed and changing conditions. In response, it is
vital to create mechanisms to build arts thinking and practice into strategic city processes of
pandemic mitigation, preparedness and response. The work of securing a city now or in
future pandemics will benefit significantly from attending to a breadth of perspectives.
Specifically, Covid-19 has revealed a vital opportunity to build dialogue between
practitioners engaged with strategy and practice in the arts and those in emergency and
resilience planning. Similarly, and as we address elsewhere, engagement with emergency
and resilience practitioners can be of significant value to arts practitioners, enabling them to
understand the ways in which their work contributes to the life, and the resilience, of a city.
While this interim report speaks to city emergency and resilience staff working on
pandemic planning, it necessarily points to wider opportunities to engage with
United Nations, 2020. Policy Brief: COVID-19 in an Urban World. July 2020. Available at:
See: Andrews, S. and Duggan, P., 2021. ‘Towards Strategy as Performance in Hazard Mitigation: Reflections
on Performing City Resilience in New Orleans’ in Research in Drama Education, 26.1.
performance thinking in emergency and resilience work more broadly. As an interim
report, this is a ‘living document’ intended to invite and stimulate discussion, collaboration
and innovation. As such, the work here will inevitably develop as our research progresses.
Many of the findings speak to the value of building local connections with people and place,
and developing locally distinctive plans. Such work will take time to instigate, and involve a
significant shift in focus by arts and emergency/resilience professionals alike. Yet, a renewed
understanding of and engagement with arts practitioners creates new kinds of relationships
in a city and offers significant opportunities to grow sophisticated local approaches to ideas
and practices of mitigation, preparedness and response.
This report offers a series of ‘invitations to innovate’ in emergency and resilience planning
to address pandemics. Based on our research on arts and resilience strategy and practice in
Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle, we focus these ‘invitations’ on five intersecting pandemic
response challenges:
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 each challenge, we:
1. Reveal critical recent research that recognises the need for responses to the
2. Identify case study arts projects to demonstrate ways that arts practice can speak to
the challenge,
3. Offer invitations for ways that emergency and resilience professionals might engage
with local arts practitioners to address the challenge in their city. We frame these
invitations in terms of advance preparedness and immediate response.
This work is intended as a starting point, to stimulate conversation and action to facilitate
connections between arts and emergency and resilience practices. While, ordinarily, we
might recommend slow, iterative collaboration on emerging projects, the context of the
pandemic means we are keen to highlight actions that can be taken in the immediate
moment to address pressing challenges. We recommend fair engagement, compensating
arts practitioners and organisations for their time, knowledge, skills and expertise. We also
recommend building a mutually-beneficial collaboration, where arts and EP practitioners
can each reflect on and enhance their practices.
For more information on models of bringing arts and emergency and resilience practitioners
into productive conversation, please contact us (see Contact Information, below).
Executive Summary ....................................................................................... 4
Contents ........................................................................................................ 7
Performance as Pandemic Response .............................................................. 8
Project Background .......................................................................................... 8
Performance, Arts Practice and Emergency Planning ...................................... 9
Towards Innovation and Novel Thinking ....................................................... 12
‘Invitations to Innovate’ in Emergency and Resilience Planning ................... 14
1. Reach Communities in and Across a City ................................................... 15
2. Re-Work City Spaces for Safe Public Access ............................................... 17
3. Engage Local Populations with Key Public Health Messages ..................... 19
4. Manage Perceptions of Life During a Pandemic and of Vaccination ......... 21
5. Connect People to Alleviate Isolation ........................................................ 24
Conclusion: An invitation to get involved ..................................................... 26
Beginning City Conversations ........................................................................ 27
Contacting Artists and Companies ................................................................. 28
Key Ideas for Further Discussion .................................................................. 29
Contact Information .................................................................................... 30
References .................................................................................................. 30
View across the Tyne River, towards Newcastle, from BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.
Performance as Pandemic Response
Project Background
Covid-19 has transformed the ways in which we live and work in cities. As a result, there is
an urgent need to understand how to practise, make sense of and sustain city life in the
context of pandemic prevention measures, particularly physical distancing. At the same
time, emergency preparedness and resilience planning work in cities has gone from being
on ‘the periphery’ of public consciousness to ‘to being right in the centre’ of daily
Building on our work with New Orleans’ Office of Homeland Security and Emergency
in December 2020, we began work on an 18-month UKRI Covid-19 Rapid
Response project: ‘Sustaining Social Distancing and Reimagining City Life: Performative
strategies and practices for response and recovery in and beyond lockdown’. In consultation
with emergency preparedness and resilience planning colleagues in Bristol, Glasgow and
Newcastle city councils, the study seeks to broker new thinking, strategy and practice
between arts, emergency planning and resilience strategists. We are developing new
understandings of the ways cities can take account of arts thinking and practice, particularly
performance, in pandemic preparation and response.
In our work to date, we have become acutely aware that a new professional and public
understanding of the arts and city arts practices is needed. There is a very real disconnect
between understandings of arts practice by arts practitioners and researchers,
and by those outside this field. It can be complex and time-consuming to ‘read’ arts
practices in a city as critical reflections on - and responses to - its pressing challenges. Yet,
such work often reveals active, local, situated understandings of a city or a community in
that city. Indeed, even the form and operation of arts venues in a city can be instructive in
revealing how arts practitioners understand and contribute to the life of a city.
Too often,
the value, importance, and socio-cultural impact of arts practices are overlooked or absent
in resilience theory and practice internationally; ‘performance thinking’ is not routinely
incorporated in strategic planning, thinking and research.
This interim report draws on the analytical work of the first phase of the research. This has
included: interviews with resilience and emergency planning professionals, artists, arts
Gillman, J., 2021. Interview with authors. 27 April, online.
See: Performing City Resilience, n.d. ‘New Orleans’. Available at:
orleans/ and Performing City Resilience, n.d. ‘PCR Impact Statements from New Orleans’. Available at:
See Andrews, S. and Duggan, P., (2019), ‘Situation Rooms: Performing City Resilience in New Orleans’,
Liminalities: A journal of performance studies, 15.1.
organisation leaders and arts producers in the UK; analysis of social and aesthetic
performances; and analysis of observations during field research in our case study cities.
Performance, Arts Practice and Emergency Planning
Many artists in cities are engaged in addressing those cities, their communities, and
challenges. They are, therefore, ideally placed to help understand and respond to the
current pandemic and face future crises. Performance offers a vital mode of making and
researching arts practice in a city in order to understand how practitioners conceive of and
respond to critical challenges. It can reveal innovative ways of practising places, even during
strict population controls, and be used to investigate both artistic and everyday practice,
and points where these intersect. When understood as ‘strategic interventions’ in
cities, such practices can be useful to the development of pandemic-focused, emergency
planning policy and strategy.
Very early in the UK’s Covid-19 pandemic experience, it became clear that ‘social distancing’
was going to be in place for a long period of time, would be re-deployed for further ‘waves’
of the virus and, crucially, would have profound and lasting impacts on people’s perceptions
Our research is equally interested in social and aesthetic performances:
Social performance: everyday innovations that have emerged since lockdown, unfold in a discrete
timeframe, and for an intended audience. Examples include: formalised performances, e.g. clapping for
NHS/key workers; and incidental performances, e.g., in the UK, a flautist teaching a pupil though closed
window, a dancer performing for neighbours while taking out bins, Captain Tom Moore walking for the NHS.
Aesthetic performance: artistic practices created since lockdown that respond to Covid-19 (rather
than, for example, filmed versions of pre-existing work). Examples include: GIFT Festival 2020/2021; BBC
Culture in Quarantine; Forced Entertainment’s #EndMeetingForAll.
A mural in Glasgow ‘wears’ a face covering. June 2021.
of themselves, others and the places they live and work.
The all-pervasive nature of
reporting on the pandemic meant that daily experience was ‘claustrophobic’ physically and
emotionally; living was ‘likened to “a prison”’; the pandemic became inescapable in and
beyond people’s homes: ‘It’s all over the news, it’s all over your phone, it’s all over the TV,
it’s basically everywhere you turn’:
The inability to go to work, or for some the significant restructuring of work patterns,
including balancing home working with home schooling, combined with worry over
the virus itself, meant that many participants felt “overwhelmed” or
“scared”… According to participants, “the biggest problem we’ve got is we don’t
know when it’s going to end” and the sense of “‘powerlessness’ this had fostered”.
The ‘stay at home’ order and wider implementation of social distancing nationally resulted
in widespread ‘emotional and psychological losses’ that were ‘particularly acute for those
living in more urban, densely populated cities’.
In that context, sustaining social distancing
long-term, or reimposing it after periods of its easing, is likely to prove complex in terms of
enforcement and potentially psychologically detrimental to those experiencing it. At the
same time, emergency planners are seeking new approaches to preparing for new waves of
Covid-19 or the emergence of new pandemics in the future.
One new approach is to take account of the strategic work artists and arts organisations are
doing in cities and to consider their practices as strategic interventions in place, space and
community. The importance of accessing cultural production during the pandemic is clear.
Indeed, cultural policy scholar M. Sharon Jeannotte has recently argued that there is
significant global evidence that ‘cultural activities during the pandemic were highly valued,
widely supported, and pursued resolutely despite the many obstacles placed in the way of
both creators and consumers’.
Jeannotte’s analysis focuses principally on the ways in
which people turned to the consumption of cultural production as a means of escape and
entertainment, alongside exploration of the ‘creative [ways cultural producers used] digital
platforms, particularly social media, to try to recapture and connect with audiences
and patrons’.
Jeannotte goes on to argue that the pandemic has revealed the need for ’culture, arts,
heritage and media’ to be more socially and politically valued as we emerge from the
See Williams, S.N., Armitage, C.J., Tampe T., Dienes, K., 2020. ‘Public perceptions and experiences of social
distancing and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic: a UK-based focus group study.’ BMJ Open, 10.7.
Ibid., pp. 3 5.
Ibid., p. 4.
Jeannotte, M.S., 2021. ’When the gigs are gone: Valuing arts, culture and media in the COVID-19 pandemic’,
Social Sciences & Humanities Open, 3.1, p. 5.
Ibid., p. 4.
pandemic, to be ‘assigned a more prominent role in the “new normal”’.
Of course, such
‘valuing’ may take many forms but as yet it has not been taken seriously as a strategic
practice in relation to emergency planning. Our work seeks, in part, to address this gap in
thinking and practice. This report (and accompanying article in Crisis Response
) is intended to invite new ways of thinking about pandemic response and recovery
processes. In a society in which the value of the arts is being increasingly undermined, there
is an opportunity to give both creative practice and academic performance research a
crucial role within our ongoing responses to Covid-19.
In his recent essay, ‘Exercising for Mass Vaccination’, for Alert: Journal of the Institute of Civil
Protection and Emergency Management, Alexander L. Thompson highlighted the
importance of ‘Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response (EPRR) expertise’ to the
planning and implementation of the UK’s vaccine roll-out in 2021. In particular,
Thompson highlights the ‘design and provision of scenario-based workshops and exercises’
in this planning:
The former to investigate [workshops] and develop contingencies and mitigations for
each programme area or work-stream, and the latter [exercises] to offer a safe
environment within which to test processes in real-time.
Such practices were vital to developing safe and efficient working methods for the ‘end-to-
end processes for administering Covid-19 vaccine’ to circa 1000 people per day in each UK
vaccine centre.
More broadly, these exercises are ‘fundamental’ to emergency
preparedness internationally. The liveness of the exercises – their ‘real-time’ experience – is
critical to their success, demanding participants think on their feet as they respond to the
‘cast members[’]… unique script[s]’. This work puts performance practices at the core of EP
business. This is not mere poetic mapping but rather raises an important synergy between
the areas of practice at the core of our research. Scripting, casting, rehearsal and reflection
are established and powerful processes in understanding complex systems, developing
highly skilled ‘actors’ in the delivery of efficient, safe and effective programmes of
work. Our work takes this synergy between the disciplines further to argue that
performance can be useful to emergency planning thinking and to city pandemic strategy.
Ibid., p. 5.
Andrews, S. and Duggan, P. (2021). ‘Performance can be vital to emergency preparedness.’ Crisis Response
Journal, 16.3.
Thompson, A. L., 2021. Exercising for Mass Vaccination. Alert: Journal of the Institute of Civil Protection and
Emergency Management. Spring 2021, p.23.
Towards Innovation and Novel Thinking
There is ample evidence that performance thinking and practice comprise powerful ways to
understand what it means to live with and through crisis, and that performance can and
should be taken seriously in the context of city resilience and emergency preparedness
Meanwhile, colleagues within emergency planning are seeking innovative
approaches. For instance, James Gillman (Interim Head of Service, Connected City; Bristol
City Council) has argued for the need to place a city’s cultural offer at the centre of its
resilience planning.
Moreover, Gillman identifies the potential for performance to offer
modes of conceptualising, representing and expressing the experience of risk (especially the
pandemic) that can help cities process crises and plan for new ones.
Similarly, Head of Resilience at Newcastle City Council, Helen Hinds has argued persuasively
for the need to ‘expand’ the disciplines ‘in the room’ when developing emergency
For Hinds this responds to a need to develop ‘entirely new ways of thinking
about the current crisis’ and future methods of emergency preparedness.
This call for
innovative expansion of thinking in emergency planning is echoed in international
professional and academic literature too. For example, in Crisis Response Journal, Lagadec,
Hough and Langlois have argued that Covid-19 has revealed that:
in a systemic, hypercomplex and mutating context, no one should expect to be the
central and unique focus point – the distribution of expertise, questions,
perspectives, dynamics and operations has to be rapid and wide. The goal is not to
find ‘the’ overarching and magical solution, but to navigate creatively within black
See, for example: Duggan, P. and Peschel, L., eds., 2016. Performing (for) Survival: Theatre, Crisis, Extremity.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan; Andrews and Duggan, 2019 & 2021.
Gillman, J., 2020. Letter of support. AHRC/UKRI Covid-19 Rapid Response grant application.
Interview with authors, 27 April 2021.
Meeting with authors, 18 August 2021, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Hinds, H., 2020. Letter of support. AHRC/UKRI Covid-19 Rapid Response grant application.
Graffiti in Glasgow expressing some frustration at the Covid-19 pandemic. June 2021.
holes amid huge disorder, where traditional maps have been lost, sensemaking is
difficult and the horizons are shrouded or invisible... the way forward should be a
collective endeavour, anchored upon intelligence, creativity and trust.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a global context in which there are ‘no previously-
learned answers that can be applied.’
In conversation with our key stakeholders, we would
nuance this a little. SARS, MERS, Ebola and flu have all taught lesions. Rather, then, we
might argue that the Covid-19 pandemic saw an inability on the part of some policy makers
to transfer those lessons from one context to another: the maps were indeed lost. The
situation, therefore, requires creativity, complex problem solving and critical thinking across
disciplinary boundaries that are not necessarily (or not normally) part of the Emergency
Preparedness landscape. Indeed, we might even go so far as to say that
‘[a]ddressing the consequences of global destabilisation creatively is a matter of national
In our work, we are particularly interested to think through the consequences of
such ‘creative’ approaches in the context of developing strategic approaches to sustaining
social distancing, and the implications of this for how we understand, live and work in a
As artists respond to Covid-19, they discover ways of practising life and work in our changed
cities. Indeed, artists are exceptionally well placed to help reveal, articulate and encounter
the ‘questions [that] have been overlooked, [that] are unseen.’
Relatedly, performance
analysis provides an innovative methodology to understand the creative ways those living
and working in cities are reimagining and making sense of daily practices through pandemic
measures, notably including mask-wearing and social distancing.
Educationalist Laura J. Hetrick has argued that the arts are ‘a way of coping with discomfort,
trauma, uncertainty, and a lack of wellness in life’ and so must be taken seriously as a
cornerstone of strategic responses to and planning for pandemics.
Moreover, the arts
provide mechanisms by which communities and individuals can think through the
complexities of a given situation or context. Performance, we suggest
and demonstrate below, can be a process of pandemic response.
This is in part because aesthetic performance has the capacity both to envision and embody
new worlds and to think through the world as it is experienced in the present moment,
often at the same time. Performance practitioners are thus always already engaged in
thinking through the contexts from which their work emerges. This is true at the level of
Hough, E, Lagadec, P, Langlois, M., 2020. ‘Leadership in Terra Incognita: Vision and action’, Crisis Response
Journal, 15.4, p. 16. Our emphasis.
Ibid., p. 17.
Ibid., p. 16. Our emphasis.
Ibid., p.17.
Hetrick, L.J., 2020. Embracing Uncertainty Through Embracing the Arts. Visual Arts Research 46.2, p. vi.
individual pieces of practice and at the level of curation or artistic programming. In the
‘Invitations’ section below, we explore the ways in which performance and artistic practice
attend to thinking through the social, political and emotional consequences of the Covid-19
pandemic in ways that might be helpful to emergency planning going forward. In modelling
these practices as strategic interventions into understandings of place and community, we
offer a means through which a city’s cultural assets can offer ‘additional and different sets
of visions and capacities’ in emergency planning and strategy.
In the below, rather than strictly ‘recommending’ ways forward, we offer invitations to
emergency planning professionals and arts strategists in cities, to think in nuanced ways
about what constitutes strategic emergency planning. The intention in this interim report is
to invite conversation, debate and interdisciplinary development of thinking and practice.
Colourful huts, erected outside Bristol Old Vic Theatre, enable outdoor socialising within social distancing
parameters. July 2021.
‘Invitations to Innovate’ in Emergency and
Resilience Planning
At this mid-point in our research on social distancing and reimaging city life in UK cities, we
are releasing a set of ‘invitations’ for emergency planning and resilience professionals. In so
doing, we seek to begin a conversation in the UK and beyond on the ways that
‘performance’ might offer new methods and new ways of thinking about emergency and
resilience planning. As such, we aim to meet the established call for new emergency
preparedness and resilience planning methodologies and practices, particularly for
pandemic planning and response.
Hough, et al., 2020, p. 15.
This a working document, a sharing of emerging thinking. Unlike much academic publishing,
these are ideas in progress: we will build on this work in the second phase of the research,
where we will explore interdisciplinary implementation of ideas. Our purpose here is to
freely share this information as quickly as possible with as wide an audience as possible, to
help inform continuing responses to Covid-19, reflections on pandemic response in the UK
and to bring new voices, practices and perspectives to pandemic planning.
These are open invitations: you are welcome to work, re-work and reimagine each invitation
as you and arts colleagues think is useful. The invitations below address phases of pandemic
preparedness and response, although they may also be used in and beyond pandemic
planning. They do not address pandemic mitigation.
We frame these invitations in relation to specific challenges that may be important in
pandemic planning and response: reaching communities, re-designing places, engaging
people with public health messaging, managing perceptions of Covid-19 and vaccinations,
connecting people to alleviate isolation and loneliness.
Understanding emergency planning through performance, and taking seriously the
work a city’s artists, cultural organisations and arts leaders do as strategic engagements in
city thinking, offer opportunities to:
1. Reach Communities in and across a City
Many arts practitioners and organisations will already be familiar with people and places in
a city, they will already understand local concerns, particularly those that are difficult to
address or to resolve. Some will have facilitated arts projects in which individuals and
groups express issues, challenges and concerns. Local knowledge, local connections and the
trust of local people are not easily or quickly won. Nevertheless, as psychologist Nisha
Gupta has convincingly argued, while ‘social distancing’ is vital to stop the spread of the
virus, connecting people and communities within and beyond local contexts during a
pandemic is equally vital to combat isolation and maintain wellbeing.
Reflecting on the
capacity for arts practices (particularly, in their argument, music) to offer a ‘bonding power’
to individuals and communities kept apart by the pandemic, Gupta comments that:
Physical distancing can certainly be experienced as a psychological distancing
without intentional efforts to offset the isolation... frequent virtual check-ins
with one another—particularly those that are most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as
Further project publications will report on this work more fully in 2022.
Gupta, N., 2020. ‘Singing Away the Social Distancing Blues: Art Therapy in a Time of Coronavirus’, Journal of
Humanistic Psychology, 60.5, pp. 594 - 595.
our beloved elders— [is essential] to preserve our sense of intimate community
bonding in this time of self-quarantining...
By building meaningful relationships with community arts groups, emergency and resilience
planners can develop a critical means of understanding how to broker knowledge with key
stakeholder groups in the context of a crisis. This may help the process of disseminating key
information, although this offers a rather mechanistic approach. It would be stronger to
offer means of engaging communities in processes of identifying processes of local response
to crisis.
Early in the UK’s first lockdown, Slung Low (Holbeck in Leeds, UK) curated a public
exhibition of pictures made by local residents. Cable-tied to lampposts for people to explore
during the one permitted act of daily exercise in public, the exhibition offered
entertainment, distraction and joy in a Covid-secure way. It was a small contribution to
making physical-distancing more sustainable. Later, the company became a non-means-
tested food distribution centre, building a ‘volunteer army’ to support the diverse and often
at-risk communities of Holbeck.
In June 2020, Sung Low produced a one-off theatre
performance for families, staged in their carpark. Actors performed from the back of a
flatbed truck for audiences in family bubbles in individual tents, who listened through
headphones. The performance offered the community something ‘to look forward to, a
Ibid., p. 595.
Alan Lane (Slung Low’s Artistic Director), interview with authors, 13 April 2021.
A neon sign on outside of Slung Low’s venue, Holbeck, revealed during their 2020
Christmas show, offers a rallying call to local communities during the pandemic. Photo by
Simon K Allen
change of activity, a moment of respite’.
This was performance as a mechanism for
sustaining life in lockdown.
In the current pandemic, councils have identified specific difficulties gaining access to ‘hard
to reach’ communities.
Engaging with existing arts organisations allows emergency and
resilience professionals to begin conversations on ways of working and means of
communicating. Richer and more nuanced connections are more likely with a history of
connection, but the context of pandemic response still allows for new conversations to
To engage arts practitioners with this challenge:
Preparedness: Develop sustained connections with arts groups as part of community
engagement practice, to build trust and enable people to contribute to the planning
of actions for their local area in a crisis.
Response: Meet with arts groups to plan and develop modes of engagement that
echo the groups’ existing practice(s) and invite groups to advise on community
engagement strategy.
2. Re-Work City Spaces for Safe Public Access
Requirements for physical distance pose critical challenges for the management of public
space. Where population measures (including requirements for mask-wearing and
physical distancing) rely, in large part, on individuals self-managing their use of space,
creative measures can help stimulate engagement with and commitment to those
Artists have long engaged playfully with spaces, particularly in cities. In Exeter, the artist-
researchers group, Wrights and Sites published ‘mis-guides’; first An Exeter Mis-
Guide (2003) and, later, A Mis-Guide to Anywhere (2006). These books offered short
instructions on activities for anyone to conduct in a city, suggesting a means of
defamiliarizing the everyday and thereby helping reveal new understandings of place, and
practices of that place.
Alan Lane, cited in Morton, J., 2020. ‘Slung Low Stage a Treat for Local Families’, South Leeds Life, 29 June.
This assertion and other very similar ones were expressed to us at committee meetings we attended in
March, April and May 2021. These included cross-council meetings with representatives from across key
pandemic response areas of a council (e.g.: public health, resilience, social services, education), and multi-
council meetings with resilience and emergency planning representatives from multiple cities.
Such performative approaches have been a critical feature of arts practice, especially in
cities. As performance scholar Sharanya reflects, performative walking practices can
(and must) take account of the ‘urban politics’ in which they take place, both historic and,
for emergency planners, contemporary – such as lockdowns and associated restrictions on
movement. Embodied analysis of city practices reveals ‘the performance (text)’ of the city,
those things which ‘cannot be assimilated into [formalised] text’.
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.
As city councils seek to manage public spaces, so they ask the public to defamiliarize their
experience of a place, to attend to it in new ways. While this can be informational and
appear restrictive, so too it might it invite alternate, perhaps playful, understandings of
place, and of the city, as it is understood from that place. In the context of reflecting on
Covid-19 and looking to future pandemic planning, if we begin by asking how artists might
understand restrictions on a place, we might better understand the creative possibilities
from those restrictions.
How people perform in a place – formally and informally – pertains precisely to emergency
planning and resilience concerns, including physical distancing protocols and encouraging
populations to engage with pandemic control measures in effective and sustainable ways.
As they respond to Covid-19, arts practitioners discover new ways of living, working in and
reimagining our changed cities. This need not be complicated – simple yet creative
performative interventions in public spaces can be extremely effective. For example, when
meeting with Core Cities’ Emergency Planning Group, it was observed that painted hearts in
Bristol’s green spaces had generated excited selfie-taking, social media friendly
engagement which heightened the effectiveness of this physical distancing measure. By
contrast, simple circles in other cities’ green spaces had been less effective. Performative,
creative approaches to reimagining city life afford opportunities for new ways of thinking
about developing emergency responses and creating engaging modes of practising them.
To engage arts practitioners with this challenge:
Preparedness: Invite artists to develop a culture of creative marking of places at
times of transition. From the design of pedestrian one-way systems or signage on
hoardings around building sites, reveal creative means by which a city is in close
conversation with residents and visitors.
Sharanya, 2017. 'A Manifesto to Decolonise Walking'. Performance Research, 22.3, pp. 86 - 88.
Response: Engage artists to intervene in public places in material ways. These
interventions should offer playful transformations of those places and that draw
people’s attention to the place, to their position within this and the position(s) of
others. Such work might involve transforming existing elements (painting or adding
chalk designs to buildings, roads or pavements, inviting others to transform the space
in playful, if temporary, ways). It may involve introducing elements that bring new
perspectives and new ways of navigating the space (new walkways or seating that
allow people to be part of the same space, physically distanced).
3. Engage Local Populations with Key Public Health Messages
Covid-19 has demonstrated the need for clear messaging of prescribed behaviours in public
spaces during a pandemic. Yet, in emergency planning and resilience contexts, we have
been acutely aware of a perception that ‘signs don’t work’. In our own research, this was
evident in observing a busy UK city centre street where signs addressing pedestrians and
calling for social distancing (often modelled on road signs) seemed to be being ignored, and
perhaps not seen by those on the street. As Helene-Mari van der Westhuizen et al.
observe of mask-wearing,
During the covid-19 pandemic, wearing face coverings is being rapidly introduced as
a public health intervention in countries with no cultural tradition of doing so. For
successful uptake, such interventions need to be grounded in the social and cultural
practices and realities of affected communities, and campaigns should not only
inform, but also work to shape new sociocultural norms.
We need more properly to understand signs as cultural artifacts, 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.
In Bristol, Rising Arts Agency, a youth-led creative agency committed to ‘radical social,
political and cultural change’,
produced a series of billboards in the city that reflected on
the role of artists and people of colour in the city. The work used spaces that might more
usually be associated with corporate messaging, to speak to people on streets in Bristol
about the practices of that city, and those who were involved in those practices. In being
developed and driven through creative practice, the signs offered arresting engagements
with the city that stand out from more municipal street furniture and signage. Such work
points to the potential of signs, and existing advertising spaces, as opportunities to rethink
van der Westhuizen H, Kotze K, Tonkin-Crine S, Gobat N, Greenhalgh T., 2020. ’Face coverings for covid-19:
from medical intervention to social practice‘, BMJ 2020; 370 :m3021 (Published 19 August 2020).
See Rising Arts Agency, n.d. ‘I want to know more’. Available at:
the present, to find new meaning in challenging contexts. It demonstrates the ways that
signs can both reveal critical messages and also step beyond those messages, to speak to
people in and from a city about that city.
Outside BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, an art gallery on the bank of the River
Tyne in Gateshead, we observed a mask-wearing child walking the paths of swirling shapes
that have been painted onto the flagstones.
In and among these shapes, words from
public messaging have been included in painted circles: ‘Hands, Face’, ‘Save’. The work is
playful, it both fragments familiar public health messaging but also invites new readings of
the familiar words, and places these in relation with other messages about climate and the
fate of the bees. Thus ‘Save’ invites reflection on who might need saving, and who might do
the saving.
As BALTIC’s website states, the piece ’asks us to playfully explore our own
lockdown journeys, negotiate conflicting information and consider to what extent we should
follow the rules and which we might break along the way.’
Such practice reminds us that while recognising the importance of public health messages,
signs do not need to take conventional forms. Indeed, for signs that are very familiar and
poorly taken up, alternate, playful, inviting reworkings can engage people with
requirements in new ways.
Allen, Z. and Dixon, A., n.d. Rainbow’s End, (BALTIC, Gateshead). See BALTIC, n.d. ‘Play on the Square: Free
drop in’. Available at:
The installation was commissioned by BALTIC Young Programmers, ‘a diverse group of 13-15 year olds’ from
Gateshead who wanted to create a ‘playfully disruptive’ work that ‘would reflect some of their experiences
over the past year and celebrate young people as makers, producers and leaders.’ (BALTIC, n.d. ‘Play on the
Square: Free drop in’. Available at:
Rising Arts Agency, billboard posters, Bristol. July 2021.
To engage arts practitioners with this challenge:
Preparedness: Work with artists in cities to reflect on the ways that signs can
become critical constituent parts of the fabric of a city. Look for ways of avoiding
written signs. Identify valuable places for playful, engaging signs in a city, in which –
during a pandemic – a city can appear to speak to and with itself about urgent
Response: Consider the life-cycle of messaging in sustained pandemic conditions, and
the ways in which initial signs or messages might be productively and/or playfully re-
worked later in the pandemic. Recognise that familiarity with instructions may not
lead to continued action or adherence; collaborate with arts practitioners
to begin city projects that might retain public interest and commitment.
Rainbow’s End (Allen and Dixon), BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. August 2021.
4. Manage Perceptions of Life During a Pandemic and of Vaccination
Perception management seems critical to pandemic planning, response and ‘recovery’.
Cultural theorists Stefani Brusberg-Kiermeier, Lisa Kalkowski, and James McKenzie argue
that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed a complex social relation between the need for
‘productive’ fear (to maintain engagement with public health protocols and prevention
measures) and what they term ‘horror fatigue’.
The latter is caused through exposure to
‘the continuous anticipation and imaginary staging of counterfeit horrors… [which make
people want] to blank out the real horrors… of the virus’.
As a consequence, they argue
(citing Duggan), people are
foregoing the “knowledge-generating potential of affective experience” (Duggan
2017: 41)… Covid-19 seems to produce complex – if not downright contradictory –
emotional states.
This relates to the political management of pandemic response, perceptions of risk in public
spaces and vaccine take up. As such, perception is critical to pandemic preparedness and
response, and performance offers a means through which we might
return embodied experiences to public perception of pandemic management. For example,
in New Orleans, vaccine centres are turning the process of getting ‘jabbed’ into a social and
cultural experience that is of the city: those attending encounter live brass bands
and are offered free, local food favourites.
Elsewhere, the cultural history and
infrastructure of the city is deployed to encourage vaccination as celebration: in the
#SleevesUpNOLA campaign, Mardi Gras Indians and other culture bearers dance in masks to
represent vaccination as being part of the city‘s culture and identity.
New Orleans is
deploying social, cultural and aesthetic performances as pandemic response.
Brusberg-Kiermeier, S., Kalkowski, L., and McKenzie, J., 2021.Fear and Anxiety in Contemporary British
Cultures: An Introduction’, Journal for the Study Of British Cultures, 28.2, n.p., forthcoming.
See, for example, Poche, K. and Ravits S., 2021. ‘Free beignets and brass bands are rewards for getting
vaccinated in New Orleans this week’ in Gambit (25 May):
See, for example: The City of New Orleans (@CityOfNOLA)., 2021. ‘The #COVIDVaccine is our shot to get
back to the #NOLA we love. #SleevesUpNOLA’ (4 May). Available at: and City of New Orleans n.d. ‘COVID-19
Vaccines’. Available at:
Screen grab of New Orleans’
#SleevesUpNOLA campaign. 4 May
In Tower Hamlets (London), a similar approach can be seen with the ‘summer vaccine
festival’ where live music and free food offerings encouraged demystification of vaccine
‘horror’ stories in a welcoming, celebratory, child friendly and, crucially, walk-up
Such approaches to perception management deploy artistic and cultural
practices and infrastructure as central and fundamental tenets of pandemic emergency
planning strategy, without instrumentalising that deployment. The practices that artists and
arts organisations are already engaged in can be strategically useful to city emergency
planning processes. Given that the closure of venues has significantly impacted on the arts,
creating alternate sites and opportunities for performance can also provide artists
with vital funds and with chances to reach established and new audiences.
To engage arts practitioners with this challenge:
Preparedness: In conversation with arts organisations, artists and residents,
identify key artistic and cultural practices in the city or region and the practitioners or
organisations who deliver these. Engage key stakeholders from these groups in the
development of emergency planning strategy (through conversation, workshops,
walking tours or informal interviews etc) to embed their understandings of
place, community and celebratory cultural practice.
Response: Deploy cultural practitioners at key sites to ‘celebrate’ processes and
practices of pandemic response or recovery. Knowing the local contexts of the city is
key; responses need to engage the distinctiveness of the city in managing perceptions
of risk, social activity and/or vaccination uptake. Practices could include: discrete
festivals; regular ‘music, food and vaccine’ events at a local bar or café; pop-up and
walk-in events with performances; or other informal practices appropriate to the
local community.
See Rawlinson, K., 2021. ‘Music, fast food and mud at London’s summer vaccine festival’ (30 July). Available
5. Connect People to Alleviate Isolation
Internationally, ‘lockdown’ measures offered limited opportunities for individuals to gather
and connect with others. In the UK, the ‘stay at home’ order and wider implementation of
social distancing measures resulted in widespread ‘emotional and psychological losses’ that
were identified as being ‘particularly acute for those living in more urban, densely populated
Jenny M. Groarke et al, identify that, in the UK, ‘[r]ates of loneliness during the
initial phase of lockdown were high’ and that rising ‘rates of loneliness... may increase
prevalence of mood disorders, self-harm, and suicide, and exacerbate pre-existing mental
health conditions’.
Elsewhere, Joanne Ingram et al. find that ‘even relatively short-term
social isolation—specifically reduced social contact with those outside the household—has a
negative impact on cognitive abilities/executive functions’. They suggest that ‘if lockdown
conditions continue to be used in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, strategies to
alleviate cognitive decline during prolonged restrictive conditions should be considered’.
Williams et al., p. 4.
Groarke J. M., Berry E., Graham-Wisener L., McKenna-Plumley P. E., McGlinchey E., Armour C., 2020.
Loneliness in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: Cross-sectional results from the COVID-19 Psychological
Wellbeing Study’. PLoSONE, 15.9:e0239698, p.1
Ingram, J., Hand, C.J., Maciejewsk, G., 2021. ‘Social isolation during COVID-19 lockdown impairs cognitive
function’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 35, p. 945.
Curious Monkey, a Newcastle-based
performance company, reimagines
Newcastle Quayside with Curious
Caravan. Producing a space for stories
and experiences to be shared, a place to
gather. August 2021.
The UK order to ‘stay at home’ (March 2020) included allowances for work, medical care,
one daily excursion framed as ‘exercise’, or shopping for ‘essentials’.
These restrictions
significantly reduced the breadth of practices of a city, while asking individuals to engage in
singular, limited practices. While perhaps this offered useful clarity, it also resisted the
potential to engage in practices that might be productively less rigid and therefore more
In response to pandemic restrictions, artists and arts organisations developed ways of
initiating, maintaining and re-imagining connections between people and the places in
which they live. Sometimes, this work has involved replaying or adapting past projects; in
other cases, the pandemic and associated restrictions led artists to develop entirely new
projects and practices. In Glasgow, the Learning Team at the Citizens’ Theatre runs activities
with local communities in the Gorbals area of the city. Where the pandemic limited
community group activities, particularly those for women, the Team established a new
project, Through My Window.
Team members invited women in the area to perform
through open doors and windows at a particular time and date, connecting them to others
through a local community event, while remaining secure at home. As Through My Window
demonstrates, arts practitioners, particularly those who regularly work in specific places and
with particular communities or audiences, bring performative skills together with their local
knowledge, and experience of attending to and intervening with such spaces in ways that
are transformative. Such practitioners may be well situated to pivot to address emerging
challenges, at times with groups who may be particularly vulnerable in a pandemic.
Where some artworks have taken place outside, others exist online, using the internet to
enhance life in specific cities, or areas of cities. In Bristol, the performance and festival
producers, Mayk hosted a live 'house party’ on Spotify.
Mayk invited people in the city to
connect in a collective digital space, from their own domestic contexts. On one level, the
work comprised a playlist, played by people across the city (and perhaps beyond) to create a
shared, collective performance in the city. Yet, Mayk augmented this playlist by running a
live social media feed. The work reimagined a disco in simple, playful ways, enabling those
‘at’ the party to join in as they chose. The work invited people to perform their home as a
disco for a night in the city, ‘You can play it as loud or soft as you want. You can hide in the
other room if you want. Dress up or down.’
The event was durational, allowing people to
drift in and out, in concentrated or distracted ways over time. It allowed for individual
responses and renegotiations of the event, as participants could ‘attend’ with friends in
See Gov.UK, 2020. ‘Prime Minister's statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 23 March 2020’ (23 March).
Available at:
See Citizens Theatre, n.d. ’Through My Window’. Available at:
See MAYK, n.d. ‘This is not a party’. Available at:
other places in and beyond the city, and curate their experiences through public or private
chat messaging.
To engage arts practitioners with this challenge:
Preparedness: Become familiar with artists, producers and organisations who
demonstrate innovative practices of audience development, who work outside
familiar venues, who perform work in unexpected venues or multiple forms.
Response: Contact artists who are making work in the pandemic that responds to the
conditions of daily life. Meet to discuss the ways that people might be connected in
creative, engaging and playful ways despite restrictions. Contact practitioners with
close links to communities to discover how they are continuing to work in changed
circumstances. Consider partnering with arts practitioners as a means of engaging
effectively with specific communities.
Conclusion: an invitation to get involved
Before we began work on this project, we ran a strategy development workshop with senior
colleagues from departments across a city. We asked how the arts in that city helped them
do their job. There was a rather awkward silence. Then we asked them how the arts were
important to their personal, individual understanding of the city. They spoke, compellingly,
of the rich arts and culture of the city, citing both specific arts events and everyday
performances on city streets. Our work on pandemic planning involves bringing together
these two questions, asking how the second can inform the first. It is too easy to value the
arts in a city and not allow it to inform the daily practice of managing emergency and
resilience preparedness and response. Whether in enhancing long-term planning, or
emergency response, our research to date points to the critical, tangible contribution of the
arts to emergency and resilience response.
‘Kids Only’, a creative, playful intervention into Kelvin Way, Glasgow, which was pedestrianised to offer more
space during the pandemic. June 2021.
In this interim report, we have begun to identify some ways in which the arts offer means of
addressing critical challenges in a pandemic, and indeed in crises more broadly. Our
invitations are broad: suggestions rather than 'recommendations’, they will benefit from
nuancing at local levels. The value of this work is situated locally, developed in conversation
with arts and resilience stakeholders: it is borne of familiarity with interconnecting working
practices, in innovations that may take directions entirely unanticipated by this report.
In the remaining nine months of the project, we invite emergency and resilience planners,
and arts professionals, to contact us; we’ll talk with you about your city, the challenges
facing your city in the context of Covid-19 and the ways our research might be useful in that
In 2022, we will be running workshops for arts and resilience professionals, to share project
findings and invite participants to reflect on these in the context of their cities and
professional contexts. These activities will address ways of reading and responding to arts
practice in the pandemic as means of thinking in new ways about pandemic preparedness
and response. They will look towards engaging, and paying, artists to run specific projects in
a city to address specific pandemic challenges, and so enrich understandings of the arts as
pandemic preparedness and response. If you are interested in participating in one of these
free workshops (virtually or in person), please contact us (see Contact Information, below).
Beginning City Conversations
Alongside our invitation to get involved in the current project, and our focused invitations
above, we offer a broader invitation, a starting point through which to engage with arts
practice in the city in which you work in resilience and emergency planning:
Where you are reading and responding to arts practice, we invite you to:
focus on work made in, or in response to the city or a place in that city.
take account of arts practice that changes your understanding of that place.
identify artists who are responding to Covid-19 in ways that transform your sense of
the pandemic.
use these findings to help inform your selection of future arts
practices for collaborative work on pandemic response.
Where you are working with artists, we invite you to engage in the following:
Identify and develop connections with a range of artists who work responsively
with the place in which you work. Try to include artists who work in different
ways, in different forms, who respond in innovative and transformative ways to the
city in which you work, or an area of that city. Find the work that transforms your
experience of the city. In a crisis, when transformative thinking may be essential,
these are the artists you will need.
Set as open a brief as you are able. Invite artists simply to ‘make work’, or if that feels
too open, to ‘make work in response to specific and current conditions’. You might set
a specific pandemic challenge, but be as open as possible, look for artists to engage
with rather than ‘fix’ a challenge.
Value processes of making as much as a ‘final’ performance. Asking an artist to do
work reflecting on the city in pandemic conditions may be as instructive as any final
event, and significantly faster. This may inform your sense of what arts practice
might be valuable. Commission artists to run workshops with you and your team.
Engage in conversation with artists and organisations and pay them for this
work. During our work on this project, we paid artists a flat rate of £100 (GBP) for a
conversation of approximately an hour.
These invitations are emerging, limited, and intended to stimulate activity rather than make
the process appear daunting. Alongside these invitations, we offer a word of caution. It is
easy to become mechanistic about the ways in which one might work with artists in the
context of identifiable and pressing challenges. It may be tempting to want to limit, control
and focus the work of artists to address particular urgent needs (and at times there is space
for this work). However, this approach involves asking artists to limit their thinking, to
restrict the ways in which they, as people living in a place, bound up in the conditions and
challenges of that place, attend to that place. We would caution against limitations on arts
practice that restrict its potential to transform.
Contacting Artists and Companies
Artists will be facing their own personal and professional challenges during a pandemic, and
these may be augmented by other separate or associated concerns. They may or may not
have time or capacity to help, but they may well know other artists or organisations to
contact. Ensure you engage with artists from key communities in the city and be aware of
the risks of maintaining particular power relations and established exclusionary practices
when choosing artists to work with. Artists will not necessarily expect emergency planners
to get in touch, so if you are interested in engaging artists, it may be useful to send this
report as a way of framing discussion. Pay artists for their time. We recognise this may be a
challenge, so we suggest you focus on conversations to begin with, then think about
workshops, then look to larger projects.
Key Ideas for Further Discussion
This report sets out our thinking and initial findings in some detail; the list below
summarises some of our wider, live findings. These echo the above and extend points in
some areas. We are continuing to explore and refine these but share them here as part of
our invitation to join us in conversation, and to develop future actions and innovations. We
hope they offer interesting discussion points:
Arts venues offer strategic engagements with communities that can be beneficial to
sustaining social distancing and communicating its importance at city level;
emergency planning processes, policy and practice can account for this in pandemic
planning and physical distancing strategy.
Through the pandemic, individual artists, organisations and networks have
reimagined their role and practices in ways that can may be usefully disseminated
nationally as a list of arts workers with experience of engaging in early crisis
Arts organisations are often engaged in both individual interventions and sustained
programming practices. They can address pressing challenges and attend to
longform issues.
Artists, arts organisations and culture leaders know their audiences and communities
in nuanced, complex and trusted ways. This affords connections and relationships
not always available to municipal structures.
Locally situated arts practices reveal new ways of understanding and reimagining city
life during and ‘post-’ pandemic; this work can be advantageous in sustaining social
distancing, communicating with ‘hard to reach’ communities and enlivening city
spaces in safe, engaging ways.
‘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.
In engaging the public, playful approaches to safely practising a city can provide
compelling means of addressing risks in creative, embodied ways.
Local arts networks provide efficient and facilitated means of engaging with arts
workers in a city, including individual artists and organisations of all scales. This
allows for swift reflection and action in response to crisis situations, making such
networks rich bodies of practitioners/organisations who are directly engaged in
addressing city challenges before, during and after an emergency or crisis.
Crucially, 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. At the same time, emergency planners are open to
and actively seeking out opportunities for interdisciplinary modes of working and
strategy development.
Contact Information
More information about our research can be found at
Dr Stuart Andrews:
Dr Patrick Duggan:
We can also be contacted via:
Allen, Z. and Dixon, A., n.d. Rainbow’s End, (BALTIC, Gateshead).
Andrews, S. and Duggan, P., 2019. ‘Situation Rooms: Performing City Resilience in New
Orleans’, Liminalities: A journal of performance studies, 15.1.
Andrews, S. and Duggan, P., 2021. ‘Towards Strategy as Performance in Hazard Mitigation:
Reflections on Performing City Resilience in New Orleans’ in Research in Drama Education,
Andrews, S. and Duggan, P., 2021. ‘Performance can be vital to emergency
preparedness.’ Crisis Response Journal, 16.3.
BALTIC, n.d. ‘Play on the Square: Free drop in’. Available at:
Brusberg-Kiermeier, S., Kalkowski, L., and McKenzie, J., 2021. ‘Fear and Anxiety in
Contemporary British Cultures: An Introduction’, Journal for the Study of British Cultures,
Citizens Theatre, n.d. ’Through My Window’. Available at:
City of New Orleans n.d. ‘COVID-19 Vaccines’. Available at:
Duggan, P. and Peschel, L., eds., 2016. Performing (for) Survival: Theatre, Crisis, Extremity.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gillman, J., 2020. Letter of support for AHRC/UKRI Covid-19 Rapid Response grant
Gillman, J., 2021. Interview with authors (27 April, online).
Gov.UK, 2020. ‘Prime Minister's statement on coronavirus (COVID-19): 23 March 2020’ (23
March). Available at:
Groarke, J. M., Berry, E., Graham-Wisener, L., McKenna Plumley, P. E., McGlinchey, E.,
Armour, C., 2020. ‘Loneliness in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic: Cross-sectional
results from the COVID-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study’. PLoS ONE, 15.9.
Gupta, N., 2020. ‘Singing Away the Social Distancing Blues: Art Therapy in a Time of
Coronavirus’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 60.5.
Hetrick, L. J., 2020. Embracing Uncertainty Through Embracing the Arts. Visual Arts
Research 46.2.
Hinds, H., 2021. Meeting with authors. (18 August) Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Hinds, H., 2020. Letter of support for AHRC/UKRI Covid-19 Rapid Response grant
Hough, E., Lagadec, P., Langlois, M., 2020. ‘Leadership in Terra Incognita: Vision and
action’, Crisis Response Journal, 15.4.
Ingram, J., Hand, C. J., Maciejewsk, G., 2021. ‘Social isolation during COVID-19 lockdown
impairs cognitive function’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 35.
Jeannotte, M. S., 2021. ’When the gigs are gone: Valuing arts, culture and media in the
COVID-19 pandemic’, Social Sciences & Humanities Open, 3. Morton, J., 2020. ‘Slung Low
Stage a Treat for Local Families’, South Leeds Life, 29 June.
Lane, A., 2021. Interview with authors (13 April, online).
MAYK, n.d. ‘This is not a party’. Available at:
Morton, J., 2020. ‘Slung Low Stage a Treat for Local Families’, South Leeds Life, 29 June.
Performing City Resilience, n.d. ‘About’. Available at:
Performing City Resilience, n.d. ‘New Orleans’. Available at:
Performing City Resilience, n.d. ‘PCR Impact Statements from New Orleans’. Available at:
Poche, K. and Ravits, S, 2021. ‘Free beignets and brass bands are rewards for getting
vaccinated in New Orleans this week’ in Gambit (25 May):
Rawlinson, K., 2021. ‘Music, fast food and mud at London’s summer vaccine festival’ (30
July). Available at:
Rising Arts Agency, n.d. ‘I want to know more’. Available at:
Sharanya, 2017. 'A Manifesto to Decolonise Walking'. Performance Research, 22.3, pp. 86 -
The City of New Orleans (@CityOfNOLA)., 2021. ‘The #COVIDVaccine is our shot to get back
to the #NOLA we love. #SleevesUpNOLA’ (4 May). Available
Thompson, A. L., 2021. ‘Exercising for Mass Vaccination’. Alert: Journal of the Institute of
Civil Protection and Emergency Management. Spring 2021.
United Nations, 2020. Policy Brief: COVID-19 in an Urban World. July 2020. Available
van der Westhuizen H, Kotze K., Tonkin-Crine S., Gobat N., Greenhalgh T., 2020. ’Face
coverings for covid-19: from medical intervention to social practice‘, BMJ 2020; 370 :m3021
(Published 19 August 2020).
Williams S. N., Armitage C. J., Tampe T., Dienes, K., 2020. ‘Public perceptions and
experiences of social distancing and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic: a UK-
based focus group study.’ BMJ Open, 10.7.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
COVID-19 has transformed the ways we live and work in cities. There is now an urgent need to understand how to practise, make sense of and sustain city life in the context of pandemic prevention measures. Emergency preparedness and resilience planning (EPRP) has been at the heart of city responses to the current crisis. As we ‘emerge’ from the fervour of the last 18 months, there is an opportunity for us to build what Helen Hinds has referred to as a need for ‘entirely new ways of thinking’ about pandemic planning, and EPRP more broadly (letter to authors, May 2020). Taking account of perspectives, practices and strategies from the arts in EPRP processes reveals valuable ways of enabling and sustaining pandemic control measures and reimagining city life.
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Studies examining the effect of social isolation on cognitive function typically involve older adults and/or specialist groups (e.g., expeditions). We considered the effects of COVID‐19‐induced social isolation on cognitive function within a representative sample of the general population. We additionally considered how participants ‘shielding’ due to underlying health complications, or living alone, performed. We predicted that performance would be poorest under strictest, most‐isolating conditions. At five timepoints over 13 weeks, participants (N=342; aged 18‐72 years) completed online tasks measuring attention, memory, decision‐making, time‐estimation, and learning. Participants indicated their mood as ‘lockdown’ was eased. Performance typically improved as opportunities for social contact increased. Interactions between participant sub‐groups and timepoint demonstrated that performance was shaped by individuals’ social isolation levels. Social isolation is linked to cognitive decline in the absence of ageing covariates. The impact of social isolation on cognitive function should be considered when implementing prolonged pandemic‐related restrictive conditions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated health care systems and economies around the world, but at the same time it has focused attention as never before on the cultural sector and on the role of digital technologies in disseminating content to locked-down, stressed-out and bored populations. This article proposes a four-part conceptual framework that uses economic, social, creative, and sustainability lenses to examine the immediate impact of the pandemic on creators, curators and the media. After reviewing a sample of policy and creative responses to these challenges, it discusses the possible implications for how governments and citizens value the creative sector.
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Objectives: Loneliness is a significant public health issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in lockdown measures limiting social contact. The UK public are worried about the impact of these measures on mental health outcomes. Understanding the prevalence and predictors of loneliness at this time is a priority issue for research. Method: The study employed a cross-sectional online survey design. Baseline data collected between March 23rd and April 24th 2020 from UK adults in the COVID-19 Psychological Wellbeing Study were analysed (N = 1964, 18-87 years, M = 37.11, SD = 12.86, 70% female). Logistic regression analysis examined the influence of sociodemographic, social, health and COVID-19 specific factors on loneliness. Results: The prevalence of loneliness was 27% (530/1964). Risk factors for loneliness were younger age group (OR: 4.67-5.31), being separated or divorced (OR: 2.29), scores meeting clinical criteria for depression (OR: 1.74), greater emotion regulation difficulties (OR: 1.04), and poor quality sleep due to the COVID-19 crisis (OR: 1.30). Higher levels of social support (OR: 0.92), being married/co-habiting (OR: 0.35) and living with a greater number of adults (OR: 0.87) were protective factors. Conclusions: Rates of loneliness during the initial phase of lockdown were high. Risk factors were not specific to the COVID-19 crisis. Findings suggest that supportive interventions to reduce loneliness should prioritise younger people and those with mental health symptoms. Improving emotion regulation and sleep quality, and increasing social support may be optimal initial targets to reduce the impact of COVID-19 regulations on mental health outcomes.
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Objective This study explored UK public perceptions and experiences of social distancing and social isolation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Design This qualitative study comprised five focus groups, carried out online during the early stages of the UK’s stay at home order (‘lockdown’), and analysed using a thematic approach. Setting Focus groups took place via online videoconferencing. Participants Participants (n=27) were all UK residents aged 18 years and older, representing a range of gender, ethnic, age and occupational backgrounds. Results Qualitative analysis revealed four main themes: (1) loss—participants’ loss of (in-person) social interaction, loss of income and loss of structure and routine led to psychological and emotional ‘losses’ such as loss of motivation, loss of meaning and loss of self-worth; (2) criticisms of government communication—participants reported a lack of trust in government and a lack of clarity in the guidelines around social distancing and isolation; (3) adherence—participants reported high self-adherence to social distancing guidelines but reported seeing or hearing of non-adherence in others; (4) uncertainty around social reintegration and the future—some participants felt they would have lingering concerns over social contact while others were eager to return to high levels of social activity. Most participants, and particularly those in low-paid or precarious employment, reported feeling that the social distancing and isolation associated with COVID-19 policy has had negative impacts on their mental health and well-being during the early stages of the UK’s ‘lockdown’. Conclusions A rapid response is necessary in terms of public health programming to mitigate the mental health impacts of COVID-19 social distancing and isolation. Social distancing and isolation ‘exit strategies’ must account for the fact that, although some individuals will voluntarily or habitually continue to socially distance, others will seek high levels of social engagement as soon as possible.
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This essay explores the abundance of art flourishing as a therapeutic antidote to the COVID-19 pandemic and panic arising across the world. Specifically, I discuss how the act of viewing, making, and sharing music, street art, paintings, graphic art, cinema, and digital videos can serve as a therapeutic vehicle for empowerment, solidarity, and collective action as most human beings strive to adopt practices of extreme social distancing as the recommended community mitigation strategy to help save lives before a vaccine is developed. This essay explores how therapeutic art-making can promote physical, mental, and social health at a time in history when all of these are under threat by COVID-19. I root these claims in theoretical literature from art therapy, as well as in inspiring and heart-warming examples of the beautiful coronavirus art that has already begun to fill our digital landscape with motivation, resiliency, and hope, though the crisis is still in its early stages.
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Exploring place, performance and city resilience in contemporary New Orleans, this essay is the first academic publication from the Performing City Resiliance project run by Duggan and Andrew's. In open access journal Liminalities: a journal of performance studies. See
Performing City Resilience is a collaborative research project that investigates interrelations between theories, practices and strategies of city resilience, and those of performance. In this essay, the authors explore ways performance might conceive of and contribute to practices of hazard mitigation strategy to better understand how these might lead to a resilient city. They focus on their research in New Orleans, working with the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness during its development of the 2020 Hazard Mitigation Plan. They discuss their interventions, initial impact, and consider performance of strategy as a critical form of ‘strategy as practice’.