School of Cities / Event

Securing the future: Reimagining public spaces, opportunities, and supports for creative arts in a post-pandemic world

Securing the future: Reimagining public spaces, opportunities, and supports for creative arts in a post-pandemic world

Join us for an exploration of systemic barriers to freelance arts work, heightened artist precarity in pandemic times, and both personal and collective responses that envision – and call for – a cultural sector that promotes and sustains freelance artistry. 

This special event features two short presentations by Melissa Wong, Director of Programmes, Arts Emergency; and Assistant Professor of Music, Music Education, Boston University; with Discussant Ely Lyonblum, Strategic Research Development Officer, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. 


“1,243 Voices: Live Performance Artists’ Experiences of Covid-19 and Hopes for the Future” – Melissa Wong

Description: This presentation delves into the findings of a large-scale survey of freelance artists across the UK about their experiences of Covid-19 and their hopes for a post-pandemic future, conducted in late 2020 by the independent funder Jerwood Arts. The findings reveal their lived experiences of an unlevel playing field in the pre-Covid cultural sector, how the pandemic amplified these inequalities, and a collective desire to rebuild the sector in a way that reflects the values and diversity of its workforce. Together, they form a powerful appeal to commissioning organisations, funders, and policy-makers for a new deal for the freelance artist workforce.

“Time to Just Be: Drumming Installations in a University Art Gallery” – Dylan Gareth Smith

Description: In this autoethnographic presentation, a drummer/professor explores his rationale for and experiences of drum kit free improvisation in biannual installations in the community space of a US university art gallery open for free to the public. Time to just be in music is a rare commodity and antithetical to hyper-capitalist neoliberal forces driving goals of the university sector. Such musicking moments model for students, colleagues and others the holistic, healing potential of creating art without expectation or extrinsic reward. With audiovisual examples the presenter discusses pedagogical, political and personal privileges and affordances of correspondence in and with democratized timespace.

Discussant bio:

Active as an arts educator and producer, Ely Lyonblum is the Strategic Research Development Officer at the Faculty of Music, University Toronto. His projects, largely focusing on cultural equity, range from the history of sound recording, American Sign Language performance art, and storytelling through music. Ely trained as a documentary filmmaker at Goldsmiths, University of London, and completed a PhD in Music at the University of Cambridge. He has over a decade of experience curating and co-producing events with not-for-profit collaborators, and contributing to the development of training programs for artists. Ely’s work has been presented and exhibited by the MIT Media Lab, CBC Radio 1, the Smithsonian Institution, the British Library, and have been shown at music and arts festivals across six continents.

Speaker bios: 

Melissa Wong has worked in cultural strategy and policy across the UK, Canada, and internationally. Her work focuses on social justice within and through the arts, from grassroots to systems-level approaches. She has delivered research, evaluation, and consultancy projects for cultural institutions such as Arts Council England, Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Dance Assembly, Creative Scotland, Sardegna Ricerche, Arterial Network South Africa, Jerwood Arts, and the European Commission. She is currently Director of Programmes at Arts Emergency, an award-winning charity that supports young people from underrepresented backgrounds to break into the creative and cultural industries. Contacts/socials: melissa@arts-emergency.org

Gareth Dylan Smith is an English drummer, writer and editor, based in the USA. He drums with Welsh alt rock artist Stephen Wheel, in electro-fusion outfit Build a Fort with Zack Moir, as half of percussion duo MUD Drums, in new wave band Black Light Bastards and with pianist Austina Lee. He delights in making music among streams and trees. Gareth recently completed an album of duets – Permission Granted – being released on Androphonic Records. Recent publications include A Philosophy of Playing Drum Kit: Magical Nexus (Cambridge). Gareth works as Assistant Professor of Music, Music Education at Boston University. Contacts/socials:,, Bandcamp

About The Creative Community Commons (CCC) Speaker Series  

 An affiliated branch of the School of Cities, the CCC exists to provide a node of open participation and the free exchange of intellectual resources and expertise among academia, the arts sector, community leaders, civil society, the private sector, and the public sector who share interest in:  

  • Arts and culture as a sector within every human community  
  • How the arts and culture sector interact with the other sectors in our communities (like the environment, housing, immigration, public health, and transportation)  
  • Connecting with others working and creating spaces for connection. 

Please contact Laura Menard ( for more information on this or other CCC events.