What inclusive programming can look like in the digital age

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A day full of harr
A photo of Edinburgh, taken on a lockdown run on a day full of harr

We are entering what feels like the umpteenth week of this global pandemic. Some of us have accustomed ourselves to a “new normal” while others still struggle with conceding to a reality of social distancing, extended screen time and deep loneliness away from friends, loved ones, and family. This virus has now touched every corner of the globe and has fundamentally altered how we live day to day. How we occupy our time, how we feed ourselves, how we earn money (or don’t) has all been affected. 

But the reality is that Covid-19 has presented both opportunities and challenges for the creative community. Even before the UK governmental lockdown was imposed, panel events, literary festivals, performance gigs and creative workshops were being cancelled left and right. Our projected monthly incomes were quickly decreasing, and bank accounts dipped rapidly into the red. When the lockdown was officially announced on March 23rd, any idea of salvaging these events, let alone securing personal finances, seemed inconceivable.

As we shifted into “new” daily routines, numerous creative teams, individuals, and organisations began to migrate in-person events to online spaces. For those of us just making a start on going digital, we are learning from the successes and glitches of events we participate in or attend as audience members. Many organisations have shared their own resources to help writers and creatives navigate working in this new way, such as The Society of Authors and Creative Scotland.  

For some of us stuck in isolation, having something to look forward to once or twice a week is a real lifeline. But we cannot overlook that for others, this experience has been difficult and engaging in any sort of “normalising” of a global pandemic is just not emotionally or mentally possible at this point in time.

Still this new way of working has been a godsend for many freelancers who depend on facilitation, performance, and panel opportunities to support their work and promote books, collections, and creative organisations. Not only have previously announced events been redesigned for digital spaces, but new events have been programmed specifically for the digital. It has taken some time to get used to, but it has shown a robust spirit and drive to keep the creative community afloat. 

For instance, Quarantine Cabaret was born as a weekly cabaret livestreamed on Instagram each Saturday to “allow performers to keep doing what they do best and to allow you the audience, to continue to support them and Scottish culture.” For those who might find a synchronous experience overwhelming, there is still ample opportunity to engage in creative events. Open Book Unbound is a weekly programme from Open Book Reading (run by Marjorie Lofti Gill and Claire Urquhart and a diverse team of facilitators). Consisting of both online events and a newsletter “sharing stories, poems and online resources each week to help keep us all reading, writing and connecting while we can’t meet together in person”. Their weekly newsletters feature a plethora of poems, interviews, and podcasts to keep you busy with all things creative and literary. 

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But something has started to become apparent as more events shift online: diverse or inclusive programming has receded into the background in the midst of other Covid-19 concerns. Of course, this is an overwhelming point in history for everyone. However, as BAME people are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19, forgetting to include diverse voices from online events is just rubbing salt into an already gaping wound. These events are a tonic to the chaotic news cycle and allow us to indulge in the literary and beautiful. They offer a break from a week of staring at the same four walls. We all deserve the opportunity to see ourselves reflected in the line-ups. Diversifying doesn’t mean adding one individual cis woman, or even a single person of colour to the roster – though even this is lacking, at times. It means having a robust feature of trans, nonbinary, and BIPOC writers, while also keeping intersectionality in mind.

SBWN is not an exemplar. We are not perfect, and we are not immune to mistakes. We are four people working part-time during this crisis. We have personal lives that live beyond the work we do at SBWN. We have stresses, anxieties, and days when we don’t have the energy to think of creative solutions to what is going on in the world. But in spite of this all, we do feel an immense responsibility to help our community stay afloat during this pandemic. As such, we have reprioritised funding channels in order to programme online writing workshops, an online blog series, and an online reading event open to all genres. Our aim is to always be inclusive and intersectional with how we select our workshop facilitators, bloggers, and performers or panellists. We won’t always get it right either, but our aim is to always thoroughly assess our choices. To be of a marginalised community, does not mean all our experiences are the same, nor our needs. But all of us have a right to be represented, and based on the overwhelming response to our callouts, we can ensure you there are plenty of diverse voices ready and willing to join these online opportunities. 

It is our hope that these paid opportunities will help alleviate some of the worries that writers of colour will be faced with (the same anxieties as our creative peers who are not BAME or POC). During this global pandemic, as ever, we are having to fight to remind the literary sector that a writer can look like us. Our community deserves to be invited into these spaces, not only as performers or panellists, but as audience members who can see themselves authentically represented in the programming of these vital events. It is our hope that the gatekeepers out there are listening because you can trust us to remember what your digital events looked like during this crisis. 

We are all tasked with ensuring that opportunities are fair and inclusive. We all have networks to pull from. We all have time to discover new faces that we may not have previously been aware of through a quick social media or internet search. Simply put, we all have the means and skills to find people to ensure a more equal representation of participants no matter the creative industry we work in. A line up says a lot about the time and effort an organisation puts in to programme their events. It is an indication of personal or organisational priorities. It tells a story and feeds into a larger narrative. So, I urge you to take stock and ask yourself, what story are you telling people with the events you create? 

Andrés N. Ordorica is a Queer Latinx writer and educator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He creates worlds filled with characters who are from neither here nor there (ni de aquí, ni de allá). His fiction has been featured in Confluence Medway, The Acentos Review, 404 ink Magazine. His work has been anthologised in Ceremony published by Tapsalteerie, We Were Always Here published by 404 ink, and The Colour of Madness published by Stirling Publishing. His non-fiction has been published by The Skinny, Bella Caledonia, Medium and The Irish Independent.

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