Creativity amidst COVID-19 – Leading a social recovery

by Apr 10, 2020Arts Advocacy, Creative Arts Industry0 comments

“Artistic practices are long-standing sanctuaries that allow space for personal reflection.  The arts can nurture individual expression and ‘stillness’ whilst at the same time promote social cohesion.  Few other industries possess this dual ability, which is why the arts are so relevant right now.  “

The onset of COVID-19 has challenged our local, national and global communities profoundly.  If artists are given a platform, and take the opportunity, we can meet these challenges and sustain our own practice whilst supporting our broader communities.  Why?  Because artists of all disciplines are creative problem-solvers.  The arts build communities, prompts reflection, and nurtures self-expression.  In this era of physical distancing and social anxiety these qualities will become increasingly valued and important.

There are tough times ahead – many creative practitioners are facing serious threats to their livelihoods as their income has moved to zero.  The creative sector must support one another and continue to advocate for external support.  We need to ensure that artists aren’t left behind and promote the rich return-on-investment that creative practice delivers to communities.  But we also need to take this opportunity to look forward, because the world will not be the same after COVID-19.  If we, as creative practitioners, work together to harness the unique qualities of the arts, we can address challenges that society is facing.  We have the opportunity to influence a seismic shift post COVID-19 where the world will increasingly value the arts, and communities can move towards their creative potential.

Promoting social recovery, avoiding a social recession

The industries most immediately impacted by COVID-19 include those that connect us to one another:  transport, hospitality, sport, tourism, and the arts.  A defining factor of COVID-19 is the physical isolation which many are experiencing.  The term ‘social recession’ has been used to describe the detrimental effects that physical distancing could have on community cohesion and individual well-being.

Do we risk losing the glue that binds us together?  Communities have re-expressed themselves in a variety of ways – from video-conferencing board games to social-media headshaving challenges.  Such activity suggests a newly defined appreciation of social connectivity.  The arts in particular brings people together to experience creativity and celebrate community, and there have been some wonderful innovations already in this challenging time.  In the music world, Sydney DJ Hot Dub Time Machine has streamed live shows freely to over 30,000 Australians.  In Queensland, music teacher Alastair Tomkins has called for musicians to stand outside their front door and perform The Last Post at 6am on Anzac Day.  These are wonderful examples of how the arts have met a societal need.

Many artists have adapted their activity to continue generating income.  With my own practice, I moved classes of kindergarten students to videoconferencing, and witnessed the pure joy that students experienced when they were able to see one another for the first time in two weeks.  The ritual of dancing and singing together was immensely powerful for the students, their parents, and me.  Such opportunities have their limitations – for example, they cater only to those who have online access.  However, I am optimistic that artists will find ways to support those most vulnerable (as artists always do), and I suspect these activities won’t be forgotten.

Finding stillness

Other industries have also innovated to meet societal challenges – for example, gin and whisky distilleries have become hand sanitiser factories, and hoteliers have transformed their premises into convenience stores.  This fast-paced culture of change has created immediate social benefit and protected the livelihoods of those affected.  However, it also risks magnifying the overwhelming feeling that many in our communities are experiencing.  Constant reports about COVID-19 coupled with an endless stream of how industries are changing their practice has caused many individuals to report anxiety and unrest.  How do we provide space for communities and individuals to synthesise the world amidst all the overwhelming information that is being pushed upon?

I believe the artists are uniquely positioned to meet this challenge.  Whilst activities such as attending a performance or participating in a weekly art class promotes social interaction, they also prompt critical and creative thought, nurture self-expression and can be cathartic.  Artistic practices are long-standing sanctuaries that allow space for personal reflection.  The arts can nurture individual expression and ‘stillness’ whilst at the same time promote social cohesion.  Few other industries possess this dual ability, which is why the arts are so relevant right now.  There is a greater need for individuals to paint pictures, learn an instrument, watch a play, and read a book.

Leading by reflecting

The world will be different after COVID-19 – an appreciation of social connectivity will likely be higher, and there will be a greater need for opportunities to create and reflect.  In my home city of Canberra I’ve been inspired by the way hundreds of artists from diverse disciplines have come together.  Individuals have had space to reflect upon their personal challenges through video-meetings, whilst fostering dynamic coordinated responses to immediate challenges.  If we translate this reflective approach to the broader community, artists may be able to do more than achieve a social recovery, but lead positive societal change.  If we get this right, we have the best opportunity to maximise immediate and much-needed support for individual artists and arts organisations, whilst also ensure the there is a profoundly deeper appreciation of the arts that outlasts COVID-19.

Michael Sollis is a creator, artistic director and teaching artist based in Canberra, Australia.  He is Artistic Director, Education for Musica Viva Australia who are currently working hand-in-hand with musicians to develop innovative solutions to ensure that musicians can continue to perform, and that music stays in the lives of students across Australia during COVID-19.