A new series of case studies will be reflecting on the impact of the lockdown on communities and the ways Creative People and Places projects adapted to work with them. Caroline Griffin shares the story.
When the lockdown was announced in March, there was a feeling that the arts were now ‘closed for business’, with venues and galleries closed and public gatherings prohibited. Of course, this was the case for a large part of the arts sector – but it was not the case for Creative People and Places (CPP) projects. These places are driven by community engagement and community need – and those communities were still there, but with radically different needs and urgent concerns about how to get through lockdown while keeping safe.
Of course, the initial impact of the lockdown was devastating for CPPs, which had to adjust their ways of working in response to this new and unexpected context. Many had to cancel long planned events and all had their processes of engagement and means of communication, with their communities and within their teams, swept away. Each programme had to undergo its own journey to rebuild in this new context, whether that be working with communities to make Zoom consultation a possibility, working with artists to take projects online, or providing support and development to staff teams suddenly working in dramatically changed circumstances.
What was quickly evident was the resilience of the CPP projects. The terms of their core Arts Council England funding meant that they were able to continue working without furloughing staff as they had a clear remit to continue developing and delivering work in partnership with their communities in this new and challenging context. Creativity and innovation surged as CPPs explored a range of new ways of working, both to deliver arts projects and within their own teams. We saw a flurry of digital projects using every tool we could to engage communities – WhatsApp, Facebook Live, Zoom, you name it, a CPP somewhere used it.
There was an awareness, though, that digital does not work for everyone. Digital-fatigue was quick to set in when people stuck in their homes found themselves trying to home school children, work, communicate with loved ones and entertain themselves through screen-based experiences. As time moved on, a range of hybrid-projects come to the fore – where a digital interaction powered and enabled real-life making, 1-2-1 socially distanced conversations, and the Covid-safe delivery of physical artifacts, such as art packs, to use in the home.
Responding to need
New local needs emerged that CPPs had to respond to. Artists were among the hardest hit as lockdown was first announced, with many having no work or income. Schemes and projects were designed to create new opportunities for communities to work with artists, providing new contexts and frameworks for this to take place.
Different types of partnership were developed. In some places CPPs and foodbanks found themselves to be natural partners, distributing art packs through foodbank networks to families stuck at home with few resources. Working patterns changed as well. CPPs had to learn to work together remotely and many changed their delivery plans – for example delivering project work for a period and then taking a break from this to allow for flexible planning around the changing criteria for lockdown and social distancing.
The speed of learning was dizzying. The CPP National Peer Learning and Communications programme started hosting regular Zoom conversations where people working in CPP could come together and share what they were doing and what they were learning. The digital experience was just one of a range of topics that came up in these conversations. We also discussed our local role, how to work with artists, what it meant to be isolated (for our communities and for us) and where our work fits in when people are worried for their heath, their financial security, the education of their children and their future careers.
Sharing the knowledge
CPP is an action research programme with learning at its core. Projects are encouraged to try out new approaches to engaging people in the arts: to take risks, evaluate and adjust. Peer learning is a critical element of this approach, supporting CPP projects to pause, reflect and benefit from their collective experience.
In this context the National Peer Learning and Communications Programme commissioned writer Kathryn Welch to prepare a set of case studies exploring the learning from CPPs through lockdown. The series, Creative People and Places in Lockdown: Responses and Learning, will be published between now and December on the CPP website, alongside videos capturing some of the conversations and projects that have informed them.
Case study 1 is called ‘Working with Artists through Lockdown’ and explores approaches to delivering on the community need through artist engagement and opportunity development.
Case study 2 is called ‘The Role of Digital Engagement in Place-based Projects’ and explores the notion of Physical Place/Digital Space in the context of projects delivering work developed by and for a local or hyper-local community.
Later in the series we will be publishing case studies on ‘Isolation and Touch’ and how CPPs worked on physical presence during the period of social distancing, and one on the ‘Community Value and Relevance of the Arts in a time of Crisis.’ Sign up for the CPP newsletter to be notified when these are published, and to find out more about the learning emerging from Creative People and Places.
Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places programme (CPP) is about more people taking the lead in choosing, creating and taking part in arts and culture experiences in the places where they live. There are 33 projects, each located in a place where people are least likely to engage with arts and culture.
This article, written and sponsored by Creative People and Places, is the final one of a series exploring ways in which we can all embed inclusive engagement practices in our work.