East Midlands CHWA Gatherings, June 2020

 High Peak Community Arts’ Project eARTh; participants working with artist Caro Inglis
High Peak Community Arts’ Project eARTh; participants working with artist Caro Inglis

CHWA Regional Champions for the East Midlands, Rachel Howfield Massey (Arts Derbyshire) and Laura Phillips (Derby Museums) hosted gatherings for regional members on Monday 8 June and Thursday 11 June, between 10.30-noon.

This was an opportunity for CHWA members to meet with other culture and health professionals from the region, find out how everyone is doing and think about what the development of CHWA activites could look like in the East Midlands.

After introductions and before collectively exploring the question, Rachel presented this image and provocation to the group...

Image of northern town. Credit Rachel Howfield Massey

Is creativity for wellbeing being revalued by participants and how do we harness this new enthusiasm?

This is a big question. Even for artists, who practice the skill of imagining for a living it is hard to imagine what we don’t yet know. We tend to create by rearranging things that are within our experience – and none of us have experienced a pandemic before. 

Cast your mind back - three months ago on 14th March, UK retailers were appealing for people not to panic buy toilet roll, paracetamol and hand gel. Everyone was afraid and no-one could imagine what would happen next. We were encouraged to wash our hands and keep our distance. We were soon to learn new terminology like ‘self isolate’, ‘social distancing’. We got behind the slogan ‘Stay At Home’ and were moved to tears by what came to be known as the ‘NHS Clap’. Spontaneous cultural community events sprang up on a tiny local street-by-street level and artists responded in the only way they know how – offering their creative ideas and skills locally or globally online with kindness and generosity. It helps us to help.

Theatres, ballets and operas introduced free streaming, TV programmers changed their schedules, TV presenters broadcast from home. There has been an explosion of creative offerings online, libraries reporting more demand for books and poetry, galleries curating shows online. We were suddenly inundated with creative ways to pass the time. 

Since then we’ve learned more terminology and slogans. Social distancing which once felt so frightening and awkward now feels natural, lockdown is being ‘eased’ and we pay attention to the ‘R rate’. New Government guidance that is open to wider interpretation has led to feelings of inequality.  The sense of a shared enemy that brought many people together has dissolved and left a bitter taste for those at most risk, as once again it is the most disadvantaged who suffer. For some the initial energetic thrill of fear and urgent sense of community in the early days of lockdown has given way to a feeling of resigned disappointment. It’s no coincidence that Black Lives Matter has risen to the fore at this time, as intolerable injustice is exposed raw for all to see and feel. 

So where does this leave arts and culture? Are we right to feel inspired and hopeful that there were spontaneous expressive outbursts of singing, dancing, artwork in windows and enthusiastic embracing of online cultural offerings? Are people now more ready than before to make room for creative expression and cultural consumption? 

Or are we beginning to contract back into our own self-interested bubbles, preparing to fight for our individual livelihoods and futures, battening down the hatches for the financial storm ahead?

How do we imagine this next phase of continued financial and health uncertainty? We don’t know what funding streams will be available or which institutions will re-open their doors and when. We do know that the people are still there, and that if they’re presented with something they like they will embrace it – so do we stay local? Do we start from scratch and imagine a whole new way of working whilst retaining our core values – or do we try to work out ways to continue a version of what we did before? 

Perhaps we take confidence in the words of artist Arthur McTaggart* ‘Creativity has moved in with us’ 

*this quote was taken from the Creativity and Wellbeing Week Webinar, Re-Imagining the Future  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIO-lPjYL-o&t=2221s 

Rachel Howfield Massey

Arts and Health Coordinator, Arts Derbyshire and CHWA Regional Champion (East Midlands)




Meeting Notes

Read the collective meeting notes from the gatherings in June 2020 here