Taking a step back: reflections on covid-19

Equal Arts Carers’ Cultural Adventures’ Group flying their handmade Korean flags Photographer Dani Giddins
Equal Arts Carers’ Cultural Adventures’ Group flying their handmade Korean flags. Photographer Dani Giddins

All of us are still thinking through the implications of this immense international crisis. In the spirit of offering up questions and sharing what is currently influencing our thinking, we're sharing here a few blogs and articles, and works of art, from people who have been taking a step back and reflecting on the experience and implications of covid-19. Thank you to everyone who has sent us things to read and watch.

Slowing down...

It can be hard to resist the urge to act, especially when the atmosphere of crisis surrounds us. But there may be real value in stopping to reflect, or just stopping. Nina Simon, who specialises in making civic and cultural organisations "of, by, and for everyone", reflects here on how to slow down precisely to work out how to act. Here is a short radio programme from BBCRadio4, in which Verity Sharp interviews Prof Josh Cohen about the value of idling, which has its own relationship with creativity and problem solving, as Cohen explains. Community/participatory arts expert Francois Matarasso has written prolifically since the outbreak considering a huge variety of implications for creativity and culture - his reflections include the call to 'pause' from Gruppo Pause, and what it means to engage in a 'fallow' period. Gilly Angell, one of the founders of CHWA's critical friends, the LENS, explores similar territory in her recent conversation with us:

…if you’ve self-isolated over years as I’ve done, you do slow down to a very, very different pace.

Shifting focus...

All creative and cultural organisations – like everyone – have had to shift their focus, and redeploy resources and energies. Slung Low in Leeds have reflected in ArtsProfessional on using their skills in a whole new way to support the local Council's efforts to reach those most affected by the crisis. In Greater Manchester, the Combined Authority is bringing its cultural, health, social care and community partners together to deliver packs to vulnerable young people across its ten boroughs. In fact a multitude of arts and heritage organistions across the country are creating and delivering physical packs to people who can't access the vast (and sometimes overwhelming) online offer, from Suffolk Artlink's seed packets to Hip Hop Heals' guide to writing.

While the English National Opera costume department turns its skills to making PPE, Performing Medicine working with actors to advise healthcare professionals trying to commmunicate through the cumbersome equipment, and redeploying their work on a Circle of Care – a relational framework developed in collaboration with healthcare professionals at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust:

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the multi-directionality of care feels important between housemates, neighbours, healthcare professionals and communities. It is not enough to'feel' caring – care needs to be demonstrated and embodied through actions and behaviours. Circle of Care identifies a set of skills that can help to support the flow of care and remove any obstacles in its way.

The Nederlands Dance Theater have perhaps found a way to evoke this flow, using their collaborative skills in a new way to speak to human connection, even in lockdown.

Asking the big questions...

This crisis has lifted the lid on huge questions about equality, access to care, how we socialise with each other, who is lonely, who is vulnerable, who and what we value... and what the state should look like. It both illuminates and exacerbates the inequalities already threaded through our societies. Disability Wales' guest blog from the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (co-written by Catherine Hale, Alison Allam, Victoria Clutton and Leonora Gunn) explores the "mixture of hope and hurt" their online community are experiencing as they watch the world's response to lockdown, a sudden raft of resources for people stuck at home, which serves in part to remind this community of "how much I was (and still am) forgotten". Dr Frances Ryan also focuses structural inequalities in relation to disability in her recent Guardian article.

If we have felt stymied by limited visions for how the world might operate, we are now seeing policy shifts around the globe that suggest (as Rebecca Solnit explores here) radical change is not as impossible as we suspected. Perhaps in this time of upheaval, the doors might be open to different voices. Nesta have also collected a spectrum of predictions and considerations for the future, covering the possibilties of change – positive and negative – in a series of contexts: political, economic, sociocultural, technological, legal and environmental. Stephen Pritchard goes some way to exploring the role of artists in expanding this vision, creating what he calls 'critical utopias' - or possibilities in place of impossibilities:

We need to reimagine art as social action; not just as objects of beauty and means of beautification. [...] Critical utopias are imagined worlds and imagined futures that individuals or groups of people firmly believe are worth striving for - possibilities in place of impossibilities.

A Covid Considerations blog series curated by the Ideas Alliance explores opportunities for change from the personal perspectives of people working alongside communities:

We know that times of crisis can also be fertile breeding ground for radical change, but what happens next will be determined by the stories and the truths we choose to tell. A door has opened, and there is a chance to reimagine how we relate to one another.

If covid shows anything it is that we are irrevocably entangled with each other. Artists and cultural organisations across all over the world are addressing the issues coronavirus reveals in their own countries and globally. Perhaps this moment offers an opportunity to connect, whether literally or imaginiatively, with people and ideas from other spaces. In a recent Guardian interview the artist Mika Rottenberg refers to "a strong connection between the climate emergency and the coronavirus one", and expresses both "fear is that we become more conservative, build a wall around ourselves,” and the hope that art can be both "a response and something that can illuminate a path forward". In a similar vein, the Happy Museum are continuing their longer-term exploration of the potential for museums to help us navigate towards a more equitable and ecologically sustainable future; like us they have pulled together a collection of work to help think through this question.

A number of colleagues working in socially engaged practice have explored what might evolve from this crisis. Jess Plant, Director of our sister organisation, the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, has written about the implications for criminal justice and the arts. Rosie Dow, one of the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance's directors and programme manager for YLab in Wales, reflects here on implications for arts and health. Damian Hebron from Nesta discusses the central role of third sector organisations.

Shaping the future

Solnit suggests that "It is too soon to know what will emerge from this emergency, but not too soon to start looking for chances to help decide it". In that vein, the Guardian's Iman Amrani has recently posted a call-out for our ideas: what do we want the future to look like?

Joanna Hedva's Get Well Soon may help us towards some answers:

Now might be a good time to rethink what a revolution can look like. Perhaps it doesn’t look like a march of angry, abled bodies in the streets. Perhaps it looks something more like the world standing still because all the bodies in it are exhausted—because care has to be prioritized before it’s too late.

Perfect Loop Love gif from the Slow Gif Movement. via GIPHY


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