Creative Community comeback – online discussion

I attended this online presentation which looked at the implications of Covid-19 on the creative community in Derby with an aim to help find solutions and provide support. A number of speakers recounted their own experiences and how they had adapted to cope with the challenges of remaining creative during lockdown. I give a quick summary below of their inspirational stories and tips for survival in a new world.

Rebecca Davis – artist

Rebecca was instrumental in setting up the Portland Inn Project in Stoke. The local community wanted a space to interact so she obtained a short term arts council grant to renovate a pub that had been closed for a long time. She also obtained Creative Civic Change funding. Her understanding was that there was a wrong judgment about Stoke and she aimed to create a counter-narrative through setting up the project. The project was mostly directed by young people to be a true voice for the community.

Her experience of lockdown has mostly been the cancellation of workshops and she has found herself returning to doorstep local conversations to find out the new needs of the community. This has helped new families connect with the project but on their own terms. However, it has been difficult to replace the value of the communal space. To counter this Rebecca has started sharing architectural plans for the building with the community.

Another initiative she put in place was sending out a creative pack every week to keep local children creatively engaged during lockdown.

The top priorities for the project post-lockdown are:

  • Address the concerns around the attainment gap felt by parents, young people and schools
  • Improve digital access for young people
  • Become more visible – to address the increase in anti-social behaviour that has increased during Covid-19.

Ruchita Shaikh – Executive Director, Art Core

The response of Art Core to Covid has involved short, medium and long term plans. Their online exhibition has been ongoing and they have engaged with a rich variety of artists both nationally and internationally.
They have also engaged with John Newling who has been posting regular updates on his blog on the Uncertainty project. Art Core has noticed some impressive connections being made during lockdown and the organisation aims to expand its virtual offer in light of what they have experienced.

They have noticed that footfall during the day in Derby has been reduced so they are considering how to attract more people during day when lower numbers of people are in the city.

As we come out of lockdown Art Core has a number of exhibitions, residencies, studio/project spaces and open calls planned.

Julie Batten – People Express, South Derbyshire

Julie tried the digital route when lockdown started but with no resources and the fact that her community wasn’t asking for a virtual offer, they did not go down the online pathway. Therefore they turned their offer into a wellbeing centre and set out to ring their community every day, in particular, local autistic adults who were missing the face to face contact.

All projects were stopped but the organisation funders were very supportive and helped the organisation survive. Julie is passionate that post-lockdown, People Express will look better than it did in the past.

An interesting initiative she is considering is Covid-19 secure training for artists, to give confidence to the community that artists adhere to safe working practices.

Jemma Burton, Junction Arts

Jemma indicated that Bolsover, in particular, had been hit very hard by Covid-19. Her immediate reaction was that the online presence of other organisations was impressive and overwhelming in its quality.

Junction Arts has recently engaged with 6 care homes on the Our Poems project. They had identified a gap in northeast Notts in terms of its representation in poetry, hence local poems were added to map. The project was extended to working with local community groups.

In addition, Codes is a 3 year project that involves curiosity boxes being sent to 10 local schools.

The organisation priorities for the future include asking local people what they want from a community arts charity, as well as blending their online and physical offer. Most importantly they aim to improve their resilience by ensuring that their work remains relevant for the local area as we are unlocked from Covid-19.

Mike Brown, Leisure & Tourism, Derby City Council

Mike gave an inspiring insight as to how Derby is responding to the national decline of the high street. His brief for a number of years has been how to revitalise Derby city centre. The council has a £45M vision for new cultural venues across the city. New propositions include popup shops that will be populated by small artisan entrepreneurs and he has been working with Art Core to create artist studios in city.

Make and Trade is an exciting new initiative to enable the upper floors of shops in the city to be used for creative businesses. Short and and longer term tenancies would enable a diverse range of creatives to use these spaces.

We need to be aware that creative business is the fastest growing sector in UK but Derby has a significant lack of creative spaces.

The new vision is to use culture as a catalyst to invigorate urban spaces.
This would mean retail being less dominant in Derby and visitors would be enticed by a more experience-based draw.

David McGravie (Head of the Art School at Derby University) made an important point that the visibility of graduate art students is low in Derby.
Most students leave the city after graduation and head to Nottingham, Leicester and London due to the lack of enterprise creative spaces for them in the city. The Make and Trade project may have a significant impact on this creative drain.

Debbie Porter, Arts team, Derbyshire County Council

Debbie summarised that the council digital move had worked well and that they have enhanced their grant application web page. However, the council-run Arts Derbyshire website has been seriously lacking development in the past few years. However, Arts Derbyshire is now a charity and they aim to overhaul the web site and have plans for a possible virtual gallery and purchase space.

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