Community Art In A Time Of Covid

As you’re no doubt aware, things are a little … unclear at the moment. We’re not locked down, but loads of people aren’t comfortable with the thought of nonessential socialising, like workshops or gigs. At the same time, we’re missing them and the specific emotional sustenance that comes from in-real-life connection. How can community artists bridge the gap between an activity made safe through digital distancing, and their desire to reach out to people?

It looks to me like hybrid project delivery is becoming a clear way forward, which can mix these elements: live digital workshops, pre-recorded instructional videos, materials kits delivered by post, and community displays either in our streets or online. Here are some thoughts about the pros and cons of all of that, based on work I’ve done so far since lockdown started.

Freelancer's desk
Our homes have become our workplaces, and our laptops are the portals to every aspect of our working and social lives.

Live connection via Zoom or similar group working platforms

Pros:

  • People get to meet in real time and hopefully have fun!
  • There are a lot of good functions to use as teaching tools and as ways to facilitate new relationships (screen share, annotate, breakout rooms)
  • You can record sessions (with participant permission) again as a simple way of collecting evidence for reports to funders

Cons:

  • Inaccessible to many, due to poor internet connection, Zoom fatigue, and other discomforts particularly difficulty processing online social cues for neurodivergent participants
  • No in-built auto-captioning facility on Zoom, though captions can be added if you are able to afford a speed typist. Streaming to third party live transcription services  is not without hitches
  • Combination of live talk, chat function and possibly captions as well creates utter chaos for any blind participant using a screen-reader app
  • Fatiguing for the artist as well!

Think about:

  • Having a tag team where one person delivers the Zoom workshop, and another one bridges between the Zoom and a live conversation on Facebook where people can access activities in text-only form. This is how the Tees Women Poets run their monthly writing group.
  • For a comprehensive look at providing access to digital meetings, check out this guide from disability artists and activists Little Cog.

Pre-recorded instructional videos, and handouts

Pros:

  • People can access the information at a time that suits them, and as many times as they want
  • It remains useful indefinitely, for both artist and commissioning organisation, beyond the funded life of a project
  • Can be a beautiful and fun thing to make, and to watch

Cons:

  • Making them requires an entirely new skillset for many artists, and the learning curve is steep
  • You need the kit – new iPad, tripod, ring light and clip-mic, anyone?
  • Downloadable patterns for craft projects are only useful if people have access to a printer

Think about:

  • Captions! So many organisations are putting out instructional videos on their social media, from the Royal Academy to local arts entrepreneurs, but not everyone is making them accessible through captioning. Try free online captioning for short videos.
Summer Streets zine
One of 15 tiny poetry zines I made for Summer Streets festival, in a project which combined one-to-one Zooms with physical making.

Postal kits

Pros:

  • It’s gorgeous and exciting getting something in the post
  • It is the bridge between a digital encounter and a material one

Cons:

  • Make sure your in-house packaging process is safe for Covid
  • For some artforms the postal costs might be prohibitive
  • Hard to see how this would work for people teaching pottery, for example
  • May not be able to send all equipment needed, e.g sharps, scalpels for collage

Think about:

  • The additional time needed to make up packages rather than take a big bag of stuff to a workshop – if you’re freelancing, factor it in to your fee!

Community displays

There have been some lovely projects emerging that build on our initial lockdown enthusiasm for putting stuff in our windows, such as Bloominart’s community gallery in Hartlepool.

Pros:

  • Fosters community, provides a talking point for neighbours
  • Democratises art, brings it out of galleries and into community ownership

Cons/ideas:

  • Same problem with access to home printers might arise for template-based arts activities

Think about:

  • How to build and prove audience as well as participation? Can we think about organising socially distanced street-viewings as well? As we move towards winter, what creative possibilities might exist around lit windows, silhouettes and ‘stained glass’ effects? Can we translate these ideas to non-domestic settings?

 

Later this year, I hope to set up a CUBO club using postal kits, as something to offer people who are still keeping social distance as we enter the dark months. Perhaps by the time we get there, it will no longer be needed, but my feeling is that this hybrid way of working will be with us for a long time. What do you think? And how do you plan to adapt?

4 thoughts on “Community Art In A Time Of Covid

  1. Recently I have had one-to-one and group meetings on Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Microsoft Teams. The latter is what my university uses for seminars, conferences, meetings, informal groups such as the poetry circle, and so on. They’re planning dual delivery for next academic year, mixing classroom and online. I believe groups can meet on FaceTime too, but don’t quote me; but there are other meeting platforms too, I’m sure.

    1. Yes, I’ve used Zoom (up to 100 participants on paid version), Skype (last I heard max 8 people), and Google Hangouts (seems like everyone needs a gmail account). Haven’t used Teams, but I saw Facebook/Messenger was trailing group chats in Rooms. I think the Gmail one has in-built auto-captioning. There’s also Slack, which I’m keen to try for joint working projects, as it seems to combine a video chat platform with the shared document filing system of Dropbox. The options for a group of people working as a team are perhaps broader than for a public event where you need a ‘venue’ that is likely to be familiar to the maximum number of participants – Zoom very quickly cornered this market, and is well on the way to becoming a verb of itself, like Google and Hoover!

  2. Thanks for sharing! To be honest I have found the incessant zooms meeting monotonous. We use teams at work for Office related calls and meeting, I have attended Online parties via Skype (Turnout was more than 70 people) , Zooms for poetry sessions and Instagram live too. Nothing beats physical interactions but we continue to fashion out new ways of living in our new normal. Book sales have continued unhindered via Online sales and postal delivery so it hasn’t been bad in that respect. I think it’s left for Creatives to weigh the pros and cons and fashion out a method that works on an individual basis. I have definitely learnt something new. Thank you Kirsten!

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