Community gatherings

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down live performance and public gatherings over the past 6 months, the arts and cultural sector has been finding new ways to adapt and change in order to be able to present cultural experiences safely. City People recently hosted an accelerator to develop ideas for how we can continue to present opportunities for people to connect with each other while being at a safe physical distance.

Supported by the City of Sydney with a small business COVID-19 grant, the two-day planning meeting brought together nine participants, from artists to arts practitioners in large and small cultural organisations, who gathered (at a social distance!) to explore the challenges. A number of ‘provocateurs’ were also on hand to inform and challenge participants on the impact of COVID-19 on health and safety, business and street culture.

The group discussed what continuing COVID-19 restrictions present for artists, producers or placemakers in creating festivals, community events or activation in our city’s major event spaces, town centres and neighbourhood parks and streets.

A live webinar was later presented to summarise some of the challenges and opportunities that are also of relevance to science engagement practitioners. Hosted by Michael Cohen, City People, Director, the webinar featured an overview of the accelerator’s themes followed by a discussion with Fiona Winning, Head of Programming at Sydney Opera House; and Chris Fox, Director of Studio Chris Fox.

While the participants agreed that the power and joy of being part of a crowd is irreplaceable, where does that leave us? If ‘communitas’ online is not the same as being together physically to enjoy cultural experiences in the public domain, and community connection is integral to our mental health, how can we create continued access to Covid-safe, outdoor cultural activities?

Any public events that involve live gatherings and outdoor artforms need to adapt and change. Participants in this accelerator identified a bunch of ideas for how.

City People has published an Accelerator Insights Summary and Insights Report that aims to reflect the discussion, ideas and concepts that emerged. Download the report

Some of the insights shared include:

  • Why COVID-19 is the opportunity to prioritise arts and culture in public spaces
  • What can creative placemakers (eg artists, art practitioners, event organisers, urban designers, policy makers) consider in activating public spaces during COVID-19
  • How we reimagine art form not just reconfigure audiences.

The City People-led accelerator has identified a desire for optimism and a willingness to consider how to reconfigure art practice, not just audiences, to respond to regulations that are aimed at restricting the transmission of COVID-19 in the community. There is much that the science engagement community, that was recently challenged to adapt National Science Week online, can learn from this report.

Feature image of Michael Cohen, Fiona Winning and Chris Fox courtesy of City People.