1,000 paper boats, one simple message. #safepassage. An installation created by students, academics and businesses within Exeter to creatively respond to the ongoing refugee crisis and an attempt to create a buzz around the issue. ‘Speed-Stating’ was a further step in enhancing this buzz. While walking through Princesshay I was approached by a student who encouraged me to think about changes I would make to my nation. I spent 30 seconds at each station discussing the make-up of my territory, laws, culture, traditions and of course, the flag! All quite straightforward until I received a phone call from an unknown number… I was asked to walk through the shopping centre, encouraged to look around and think about how my laws and culture would affect these people going about their everyday lives. This call posed many questions, yet gave no answers resulting in this experience lasting considerably longer than just the 2 minute phone conversation. What interests me is how this was engagement was achieved, what its results are and how this intervention was enabled, as geographers are known to critically engage with how activists engage with particular crises and the success they have (Chatterton and Pickerill, 2010).
The success of this event was reliant on the space it emerged in as I was encouraged to walk through and observe my surroundings. However, it also exceeded this space as it signified the broader issues at national and international scales with the ongoing refugee crisis. Chatterton and Pickerill’s (2010) work on everyday activism have emphasised the complex processes that are involved in this negotiation of space and it is key for activists to embed this practice within their campaigns. I would argue that the success of this event was due to the collaborative work that went on between students and staff at Exeter University which provided insight for both sides into new ways of raising awareness of the refugee crisis.
Kaleider, an organisation in Exeter that co-ordinates space for residents to allow people who usually work independently to have conversation with others to enable a collision of ideas. Pratt (2008: 113), writing about ‘Creative Cities’, suggests that “being creative in a vacuum is not productive” demonstrating the importance of the production of ideas and the consumption of ideas. Staff from the Geography Department were aiming to engage with people around asylum issues but required the ‘performance’ that the drama students brought to the project for their ideas to be consumed by the public. Concerned with the binary of ‘campus’ and ‘city’, Comunian and Gilmore (2015) emphasise the role that ‘third spaces’ such as Kaleider can bring in enabling creative and academic knowledge to interact and for this knowledge to be consumed by people within the city. This knowledge creation process enabled the ‘Speed-Stating’ event to be a success and alongside other projects such as ‘safe passage’ and future collaborations, a ‘buzz’ has been created in the city where issues around asylum are brought to attention.
Chatterton and Pickerill (2010) Everyday activism and transitions towards post-capitalist worlds, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35: 475-490.
Comunian, R. and Gilmore, A. (2015) Beyond the Creative Campus: Reflections on the evolving relationship between higher education and the creative economy, London, Kings College London.
Pratt, C. (2008) Creative Cities: The Cultural Industries and the Creative Class, Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 90(2): 107-117.