“Such is hope, Heaven’s own gift to struggling mortals; pervading, like some subtle essence from the skies, all things, both good and bad; as universal as death, and more infectious than disease!” Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby
Nearing the end of week one of the Covid-19 lockdown and at Entelechy Arts it’s business as usual, albeit in new ways: everything different, everything the same.
I’m learning about how these strange times that we are living through can change the ways that we work with words and the emotions that they convey. That its ok, maybe even necessary, to experience fear and uncertainty at the same time as joy, hope and excitement.
Now is a time for attention to detail; a time for the small particulars. Recently a reviewer in the New Yorker wrote about how the time and care that Lucy Ellman lavishes on her narrator in her recent book, Ducks, Newburyport, seems to be like a form of political speculation: “Every individual is owed an unending devotion, and that such devotion, applied universally, might change the fate of the world.”
Maybe one of the qualities of unending devotion is attentiveness. Attentiveness is one of the components of care, along with responsibility, competence, responsiveness, and trust. All qualities needed for the co-production of a work of art.
One of my mentors, Meet Me participant, Pauline Hale, has recently spoken about the impact of attentiveness when artist and participant are engaged in the joint act of creation:
“Because you’ve got an intimate feeling with what you’ve been discussing it will grow bigger. Because you’re getting that person to come out: your drawing them out of themselves. You find other parts of yourself that you had forgotten about from twenty or thirty years ago. The good thing about that, when you do that, is that you’re not half a person anymore. You become whole.”
When creating stuff together we can grow into our true selves. We can feel stronger and more connected.
“It’s the love that you get from other people as well. You’re a part of them. It’s wonderful. A different kind of family. Yes. Here I can be myself.” (Ted Dalby, Meet Me Participant)
At Entelechy Arts we have a plan. Seven actions that are now woven into every step that we take: prioritising need; taking care of each other and everyone we work with; keeping space for reflection; working with in partnership with others (formal and informal networks); ensuring that we have the resources to keep on going with strength, hope and purpose; communicating and sharing with our stakeholders and the wider world. Finally, and centrally, we will continue to make art. We will continue to ensure that imagination is at the service of the people.
The acts of human kindness, the actions that we are putting in place (every isolated person we work with is receiving at least two phone calls a week to chat and ensure that they continue to have their basic needs) need to be underpinned by rigorous organisational procedures. The rapid onset of changes in the day to day routine of people’s lives bought on by the Covid-19 lock-down has the potential to have a profound effect on people’s emotional and mental wellbeing with the potential to make mental health conditions worse. Already in week two of the phone calls, historical traumas are beginning to reemerge. Already people are having to come to terms with the new reality that friends are dying and there is no time to say goodbye.
For staff in our teams and the cohorts of volunteers soon to be joining us, it won’t be humanly possible to ordinarily hold all of these new stories. Writing in Middlemarch George Elliot reflects: ‘If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’ The ‘roar’ will need to be filtered. Protocols are being updated to ensure that they are fit for the new circumstances. We will have new training needs. We are planning for the long-haul. We have to ensure that we don’t burn out.
At Entelechy Arts we have always created work by moving out into the world within the delicate two-step that exists between art and everyday life.
We will survive and thrive by continuing to tell stories to each other; by dancing together; by singing together; by knitting and drawing together: sharing rhythm together: by creating art together.
We have started to test out the new ways of working. Zoom conferencing has made team meetings richer and more productive. Suddenly we are mixing the detail of our professional and human responses with the backdrop of our everyday domestic spaces. We’re testing old fashioned ‘land-line’ telephone clusters so the choir can continue to sing together, so the knitting group can still to knit and gossip together. The elder’s drama group are busy converting their ‘immersive theatre experience’ into a radio play.
“It’s so complicated to put this across” as Pauline says. “For me it‘s so special because we’ve all made it so special. We give as much as we get. It’s two way.”
So, who knows what will happen in the next few weeks and months? Maybe there’s one certainty. We will continue to ensure that all we do remains “so special”. Watch this space.
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