Creativity amidst COVID-19 – Leading a social recovery
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
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.
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
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.