Creative Resilience and going OFFLine during Lockdown

As part of Voluntary Arts’ Creative Network, I was recently invited to talk with Nick Ewbank, Chair of ISR’s External Advisory Group, about everyday creativity in the context of the response to COVID-19. In particular, we were looking at David Gauntlett’s definition and how he emphasises the idea of ‘making is connecting’, and advocates the importance of the internet for creative people.

Nick subsequently published his own compelling, and more nuanced, understanding of everyday creativity and its potentially vital role in helping to heal the damage done by the lockdown, in an article last week for Arts Professional. In calling for a paradigm shift, Nick argues that the ‘initial goal should be to reach a shared, science-based understanding of the central importance of everyday creativity in our lives’.

Certainly, the cultural sector has done much to try to support people through what has been a distressing period, if we consider the ways in which theatres, museums, dance companies and musicians inter alia have made their work available for free online. However, the way people have applied themselves to creative challenges at home, supported by various initiatives such as Voluntary Arts’ Get Creative at Home or Fun Palace’s Tiny Revolutions of Connection, is potentially more significant, most especially because not everyone has access to the internet or smart technology. If nothing else, what the pandemic has laid bare is the stark digital divide that pertains in the UK; wherein large swathes of the population remain isolated, unable to benefit from these online cultural resources and opportunities.

In my own recent article with Tristi Brownett, we argued that community cultural festivals can be important generators of wellbeing through their ‘collective effervescence’. Even if physical distancing means festival spaces are not open to us at the moment, community initiatives are heartwarmingly proving that people are not socially distanced. They remain collectively effervescent, and creative in their resilience. The Leigh Film Society volunteers, for example, have been busy delivering orange bags containing DVDs to families who do not have access to online streaming services. Meanwhile, in Leeds, Mini Playbox is a community partnership project between artists distributing boxes of creativity, activities and fun during lockdown. The emphasis here is on OFFline activities for families and individuals within communities, and this is happening within communities all over the UK.

The value of everyday creativity, both online and off, should be at the heart of a resilient, sustainable, caring society that supports, protects and nurtures the health and wellbeing of all its citizens.

Prof Owen Evans is a Professor of Film in the Department of Media at Edge Hill University.


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Emerging from Lockdown: Shared Experience as we (re)commune together

Since late March we have been separated from those whom we love, our friends and even our business acquaintances. We stand two metres apart in our shopping queues. We see poignant, yet often painful, pictures on our televisions of grandparents with spread hands on panes of glass trying to ‘meet’ their grandchildren. On our daily walks out, we actively try to avoid those walking towards us; we step into the road and apologise, or cross over to avoid any kind of contact. In all these different forms of interaction, we are worried about our vulnerability when coming into contact with others. Stories on the news about continuing death rates from the virus running into the hundreds each day, does little to ease the nagging doubts.

In his book Creative Fidelity, first published in 1964, the French philosopher, drama critic and playwright, Gabriel Marcel, reflects on how, as human beings, we are in relation to others. Of course, Marcel was not writing during a global pandemic, but he was writing at a time when he saw an increasing tendency towards our human relationships being marked by a kind of utility, resulting in forms of what we might call distancing. In trying to counter such tendencies, he argues for relationships marked by openness to others, and which are signified by a certain exposure or vulnerability that he refers to as ‘porosity’ or ‘permeability’.

To encounter another, he writes, is to,

‘devote our attention to the act of hospitality…Hospitality is a gift of what is one’s own. i.e. of oneself’

Gabriel Marcel, Creative Fidelity (p. 28)

While we are rightly constrained from offering hospitality to each other in the way in which we commonly understand it (inviting people into our homes, sharing meals, and so on), Marcel is thinking more of a kind of hospitality to the other which he describes as disponibilité, commonly translated as ‘availability’. Being available – freely, emotionally, temporally – has still been possible to do.

As restrictions are eased, there is a risk that as we relate to each other, we will be warier, or in Marcel’s words, we will be ‘present, yet in a mode of absence’ (p. 33). What is clear, though, is that the possibilities for what Marcel calls our ‘communion’ with each other will be based on our shared experiences. As he writes:

‘What brings me closer to another being and really binds me to him [sic]… Is the thought that he has passed to the same difficulties as I have, that he has undergone the same dangers… It is only in these terms that a meaningful content can be ascribed to the term fraternity

Gabriel Marcel, Creative Fidelity (p. 8)

Perhaps it’s almost impossible, at the moment, to think of relationships in Marcel’s terms; but perhaps it has never been more urgent and important.

Prof Amanda Fulford is the Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.


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