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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Creative Response to the Covid Emergency

Given the seriousness of the crisis we are now in I have sent this proposal to Creative Scotland and a number of other arts organisations. An enormous number of people are embarking on weeks, months, or years of isolation and constraint. 

Imagination, empathy and innovation will be crucial to how we adapt to this as a society. There are people who have personal experience of dealing with such situations – the chronically ill – who can share their creative practices. As we move from a venue-based culture to one in which we need open, accessible, welcoming creative platforms. 

The proposal was sent on Monday 16 March . For now I have added some initial suggestions for a Creative Tool-kit. I'd welcome your ideas. 

A Creative Response to the Covid Emergency

Those of us with auto-immune illnesses have been aware of an event like Covidvirus for years and reflected on its likely impact. The ill and disabled have an accumulated wisdom of how to deal creatively with constraint and pain. This should be shared as widely as possible.

If plans to isolate some or all people over-70 – and possibly also the vulnerable – for a long period are confirmed, we will face a social emergency that art should respond to. That response needs to begin immediately with discussions that anticipate the new needs this crisis will produce. Our venue-based culture may be severely impacted as some art centres and theatres close for a period of weeks or months. We will need alternative platforms or dissemination. Social exclusion and anxiety will rise dramatically. Culture has to re-focus on those isolated at home. My work as artist in residence with Paths for All tells me that such measures would affect tens of thousands of walkers.

For the past 2 years I've been developing projects that address the house-bound, those with illnesses which Covid targets, and those with constrained walking. These offer empathic accounts of pain and use imagination to connect to nature. Working on recent projects I’ve assembled a loose team of disabled artists with creative skills that are relevant to this crisis. At this time it would help if invisible illnesses and chronic conditions could be integrated into creative strategies. My team and have imaginative responses to issues around the experience of being housebound. 

We suggest discussions begin immediately on a creative response to the Covidvirus crisis, and for Creative Scotland to show leadership in considering how we address mass isolation, widespread anxiety, and potentially a rise in mortality. There will be understandable concerns about how art venues survive, but we need to show flexibility to deal with the wider social crisis and connect people to creativity, comfort, and support social solidarity.

We can offer activities such as indoor walking and movement exercises, audio, bibliotherapy, and video, to keep people connected to nature, support mental health, alleviate anxiety, and encourage the creation of a system of social support and solidarity. Our team includes practitioners working in schools and care homes which are cancelling all creative activities. There are ways we can support them to maintain some creative activity. 

There are bound to be concerns around people receiving provisions, loneliness, and also how pets are cared for. Arts organisations are not used to focussing on an issue like isolation, which the chronically ill deal with every day. We need to foster a national sense of empathy and solidarity. Creative Scotland, Paths for All and other organisations can support people who cannot leave their home and use creativity to respond to the emergency.

In the applications that I prepared which was based around this kind of work I began to develop the basis of a collaborative creative tool-kit which could now be expanded. We know practitioners and organisations that can contribute to this, ensuring it is a broad-based project. The knowledge and experience of the disabled can be key to helping society adapt. 

Art is about problem solving and as a community we need to respond. Using my ongoing residency with Paths for All, my working relationships with Lapidus, Deveron Projects, and others, my team would like to apply for emergency funding to draft a simple proposal, rapidly, with your help. 

I’d envisage one outcome being a multi-organisation platform focused on those in isolation promoted by CS and partners, which a number of artists can contribute to. For instance, providing a poem-for-the-day, approaches to loss and grief, positive activities connected to landscape, and other simple activities and resources.

I would suggest that there isn’t time to go through the normal grant application procedure that takes months: together we need to organise a response now. I’d encourage an immediate consultation process with CS officers and hubs like the CCA and SPL. A creative tool-kit would not be expensive to produce. Mail-outs from organisations like Paths for All, Deveron Projects, CCA, SPL etc will reach a wide audience. We can devise a simple opt-in approach, gathering relevant creative responses to the specific issues I have identified and others that arise.

Alec Finlay


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