Last night I attended my first cultural event since January. Fittingly with our utopian endeavour and thoughts that have kept me busy during the Covid-19 lockdown, it was a utopian event – the “Long Night of Utopia” organized by my university, the Johannes Kepler University in Linz.
The event combined two or even three aims in a very elegant way. First and foremost, of course, the event honoured the widespread notion that the Covid-19 crisis could mark a turning point in a world that is facing the climate crisis – as often illustrated by various memes going around a crisis for humankind much larger than the pandemic – accompanied by a crisis of democracy, requiring us to desperately rethink the foundations of our economy and society. As remarked by many, including ourselves, utopian thinking is needed to inspire action and change. The event stimulated such thinking by a great curation of readings, e.g. of the 18th German century writer Jean Paul or the contemporary Austrian writer Valerie Fritsch, accompanied by a selection of songs performed by the choir Chorus Sine Nomine, including an intonation of the William Blake poem To see a World.
Second, the holding of a large cultural event, in the middle of the pandemic, by a large public institution, was in itself an act inspired by utopian thinking. It was organized as a safe event by all means possible: participation was based upon registration, a Covid test could be obtained the day before on a voluntary basis, the event was held outside with fixed and distanced seating, temperatures were taken and people were asked to disinfect their hands before entrance, masks had to be worn on the way to the seats, and later dinner and drinks were served to a maximum of four people sitting at one table. This sounds like a lot of measures, but none of them felt uncomfortable or inhibited the enjoyment of cultural performances. On the contrary, it was enlightening – after so many months of lacking cultural inputs – to be able to endorse oneself in art and enjoy conversations afterwards, while feeling fully save (well, at least if you picked a table with negatively tested colleagues :-)). This even was surely a model for more to come – and we should seize these opportunities as long as the weather permits. It could also be a model for teaching at least during the months of September and October – why not use the outside space of the campus? Possibly a tent roof could be put up for rainy days? Let us continue to think out of the box – where else if not at universities?
Finally, the event was held at the newly reconstructed JKU library square, itself a bold, visionary bit of architecture marked by outdoor stairs that invite students and faculty members alike to enter the library not only as a space of thought and immersion, but also as a space for social interaction and exchange.