Stop, Look, Listen!

Stop! Look! Listen!
Reaction to Corona Virus lockdown, mid-March, 2020

Things are moving too quickly. As a long time home educator, someone who’s lived
with very little income, vegetarian, with a garden that is based on permaculture
principles; a tech person, good with digital tools (beyond the usual social media),
including tech used for education; and a maker, particularly of what used to be
termed “home crafts” – this lockdown is making me frustrated. There are so many
people telling everyone else about all these fabulous new ideas, projects, how-tos;
miraculously discovering how we can live on so little; how our children can learn
without school, how great creativity is for mental health.
It’s driving me crazy, if I’m honest. The problem with all this fabulous outpouring of
“wow, look at what life can be” is that those who are doing the outpouring are
ignoring those experienced in it. They may be intending to create a whole new
world, but surely they must realise that there was this world all along? Just that we
were considered a bit kooky, yoghurt knitting crunchy mamas with their beardy
hippy partners and feral children. (we are crocheting and have feral children, but
now everyone does so we’re not so weird).
There are also those who normally work elsewhere and have found themselves with
the time to spend helping others way more than they used to and are spending all
their waking hours doing volunteer work. Independent companies are turning their
hand to new products (gin to sanitiser), or offering their skills for free. These small,
local, niche businesses are run by dedicated people who are doing something they
love, and are doing whatever they can to help the community they love, hoping
that they will still be there for them when it all calms down and they can still make
a living. These are also some of the people that should be involved in the new world
The arts establishment, particularly organisations that are expert at getting
funding, needs to change as they don’t seem to trust the poorer in society. This is
now echoed across sectors, not just in the arts. It has long been a problem,
perhaps now is a time to change that?
If they get funding to do fabulous work, then go ahead, I look forward to seeing it,
I have no problem with organisations (or indeed people) who have money making
their own choices as to where the money goes. But if they got the funding
specifically to help “poor” communities? Then they have to work for those
communities, not themselves or other arts organisations. They have to respect
those they are funded to lead towards more arts – I see the benefits, I want to
encourage people, but we can’t force people, especially those who have no time or
money, and have more serious things to worry about. If we are to promote it, then
“culture” should be for all – we should not be saying which arts, which bits of
culture, for which people; we should be asking them what they want to see and do
with regard to the cultural assets in their communities. They could be asked: what
are the assets? Who should manage them? Are they yours? Encouraged to see the
benefits of engaging with their heritage and arts provision, encouraged to see that
they too are providers of arts projects if they want to be, and that the benefits work
for one person making a pompom at home as much as for a crowd of people to see
a classical concert or a comedy play at the theatre.

If you want to help the people, ask the people, then do what they ask. If you are
paid to help them, trust that they know what they want. That may not be what you
think, but you are not them. Help them do what they want, gain their trust in
return. By all means, show them all the other wonderful things that you want to
show them, you can help them get there, when they are ready.
Helping everyone access cultural activities and assets near where they live, as well
as helping them do something beyond day to day life, on their own or with others,
is rewarding and should be the focus. Working with the community where the
community is; giving tiny opportunities to start with and big opportunities, at no or
low cost, to aim for.
I am heartened to see the new Arts Council Let’s Create report and intentions for
the next 10 years. As it is so new, it is yet to filter through, but I really hope this is
the start to resolving the problems that have been seen in the arts for many years.
Helping everyone move towards a more creative future can only be done if they
have access and time, with encouragement for the inclination. If we can provide
small, quick, activities at groups already established, or right now, provide
something at a distance, then we can spend that time listening and receiving ideas
on what everyone wants for the future. I have ideas for the future, they won’t be
the same as someone in a different situation to me, but they might be similar
enough that we could work together. I may look up to a brilliant artist and want to
learn from them, with technology as it is today, that can be done. Free courses,
free meeting spaces, encouragement to “play” together can all be easy steps
towards the future, while listening to those who have already lived the life many
may want to live now.
Those who have popped up, out of the blue, and provided all the new, exciting,
content, have the skills and time/money to do it – they must be encouraged to not
disappear back to “normal”. This is the new normal. They must be included in the
conversation alongside those experienced in the simpler ways of life that suit the
planet and that are already working within communities. We can all work together,
if we stop, look and listen to each other.