UNESCO RILA Spring School 2021

The Arts of Integrating: MayDay

17-28 May 2021

Spring Schools in the time of Covid

In 2020 the world changed: covid-19 lockdown meant gathering in person was impossible for the UNESCO RILA Spring School, our key annual engagement event. Unable to navigate how to meaningfully move the 3-day festival online in the short time available to us, with a heavy heart we cancelled the whole event. We held a couple of online sessions for the contributors only, but we all dreadfully missed the feeling of being together and the chance encounters that the Spring School environment generates in abundance.

Now in 2021 we still find ourselves in a world where large gatherings are impossible. But with a year of experience behind us we have embraced the online space, and indeed found it has opened new opportunities to engage with participants across the world.

“The Arts of Integrating: MayDay” has expanded to take place over two full weeks, 17-28 May 2021.

We’ve borrowed language to make the international radio distress signal.

The dictionary tells me that Mayday comes from the French: m’aider.

English gained the word from the French speaking helpers.

Help – Hilfe – it gained from German speaking assisters.

Charity came via the Romans.

Our 2021 programme is full of action and reflection. We explore the ways in which the arts are used to express distress and wellbeing. Many of our sessions provide care and relief through creativity to all of us during this trying time of covid-19.  We will hear reflections and stories from those who help and have been helped in the creation of refuge, from those who understand their stories as those as people seeking sanctuary and those who understand themselves as aligned to and connected through critical reflection and practical or artistic work to the movements of people saying ‘Refugees Welcome’. 

Get ready to try your hand at photography, play-writing, debating, listening, walking, poetry, and meditation. To counter the increased amount of screen time a lot of us are facing, we have taken steps to care for your eyes, your mental health and your social needs, through a variety of online and offline well-being extras, including yoga, a cookery lesson and an open mic session.


Sign up for discussions, workshops, performances, presentations, collaborative art and more, celebrating and creating language, art and integration in all its forms.

The programme is free and open to everyone. You don’t have to attend the whole thing, just drop into the sessions you want to.  More information and the whole programme can be found on our website and you can register via Eventbrite.

We’re happy to answer any questions about the Spring School or our other events – just email the UNESCO RILA Secretariat at unesco-rila@glasgow.ac.uk

We hope to see you next week!

Our past Spring Schools

In 2017 the UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts (UNESCO RILA) was established.  The Chairholder is Prof Alison Phipps, and the team, comprising of two artists in residence, research associates and coordinators, is housed within the School of Education. Several of us had worked together before on the Researching Multilingually at Borders AHRC Project  or on associated projects funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund. Part of our commitment as an UNESCO designation was to host an annual conference.  Fine we said: you didn’t say what kind of conference…

We held our first Spring School 9 – 11 May 2018 out in the community at the Kinning Park complex and the Pearce Institute. For three days, the venues were transformed into an international knowledge exchange festival, where anybody interested in migration and related topics could share creative and/or linguistic practices. It was distinctly a non-conference.

“The Arts of Integrating: Stories of Refugee Hospitality and Agency” was a collection of arts-based interventions, keynotes and workshops as well as academic papers, that blended, in experimental form, both artistic and academic forms of presentation.

Oh. Did we mention the food? Catering was provided by Küche a multicultural kitchen in Glasgow, who have pretty much catered all our events since then.  Food, as always, became the thing around which all else revolved. Küche is a social business creating food led events, community projects and multicultural catering in collaboration with people navigating the UK immigration system. Their mission is to provoke discussion, promote integration while celebrating minority cuisines. As their chefs cooked onsite for us, heads kept turning throughout the day wondering what that delicious smell was. We had to shoo folk out the kitchen more than once!

For a taster of the 2018 event, view our snapshot video here: Spring School Promo

The next Spring School in 2019 was inspired by the exquisite one-woman performance Wind Resistance by Scottish artist Karine Polwart. Themed “The Arts Of Integrating: Labouring And Resting” we took over the Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre 1-3 May 2019.

People move, birds fly and change their song to adapt to new environments, objects circulate and there is constant resourceful traffic in ideas. We aimed to capture this resourcefulness with a focus on the arts of ‘labouring and resting.’ What is the work of integrating, who does it and how? How do new forms emerge and how are the old, precious forms of culture, art and language shared? How do languages shift and adapt, how do people learn new languages and translanguage? What does it mean to make culture, food, art in a new place, or with new people as part of integration?

A snippet of our activities over the three days is below – keep an eye out for the Welcome Hut  and our feedback Baobab tree! UNESCO RILA Spring School 2019 Day 3 (3 May 2019)

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