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darts lockdown blog

How we adapted our opportunities and practice in response to Covid-19

Lots of faces of people singing on zoom - darts participants join National Theatre and Guardian singing project

For almost thirty years, darts has interacted creatively face to face with people. Rooms filled with older dancers smiling and laughing, small groups of nervous young adults trying drama for the first time, a profoundly disabled young person communicating through the smallest gesture, the look of delight and recognition as an older person with dementia hears the song they created the week before.

Lockdown
Then on 17th March 2020, in our thirtieth year, we shut our doors. Our building, The Point, normally a friendly and welcoming hive of chatter and activity, was closed. The many community halls, schools and venues across the Doncaster borough where we dance, sing, perform and make art together were also out of bounds.

Our staff and artists were – like everybody else – working from home.

True to form, we didn’t sit still for long. It has always been our nature to respond and adapt, being flexible to the ever-changing needs of our participants and whatever economic landscape we find ourselves in. We spoke to as many of our participants as we could to find out how we could connect with them, and found that almost 50% didn’t have access to the internet or did not feel confident in downloading, Zooming, Facebook Living etc. We pulled together groups of artists to collaborate and find new ways to respond to our participants’ needs.

Thanks to the amazing support to current funders, we were given the freedom not only to change the way we deliver, but also to honour planned work with freelance artists so that their future felt a little safer. With these foundations in place, artists came back with an avalanche of suggestions – brilliant ideas so people could feel connected, motivated and positive whilst stuck at home.

 

The thing I love about Community Art is the community aspect of it; I love walking into a room that’s got other humans in it and knowing that by the time we all leave the room we’ll have made something amazing and we’ll feel that we know each other and ourselves a little better. I know that I’m good at bouncing off other peoples’ Ideas and getting them to bounce off each other as they share in the joy of creation.
So, all this is making me think harder about language and poetry and how much we can all own it and share in the way we make it over the longer term. I reckon that (another cliché) when this all over we at darts will have learned new ways of making community and collaborative art that will prove very useful in the years ahead. I think there will be times of retrenchment and rebuilding for the arts and I hope the artificial split between community art and ‘high art’ will fade away. The Arts In Health sector will grow in years to come, and they’ll come knocking at darts’ door because we know how to do it!
Ian McMillan – Poet

Local context

The impact of lockdown has been significant. In an area where residents are already coping with high levels of deprivation, worklessness and mental health challenges, the pandemic has hugely exacerbated feelings of anxiety, loneliness and isolation.

Julie has been struggling. Her mental health has been up and down, needing her partner to keep her on track. She said “The creative books keep my mind off bad things and give me time and space.”’ – Conversation with participant

‘We are receiving reports of domestic violence from unexpected households. The complexities of the impact of lockdown are far reaching – many parents have lost their jobs, others are in low paid, key employment…and a number have contracted Covid-19 as a result.’ – Teacher

It’s been disorienting to not be working in the usual fashion, but adversity has produced some positive outcomes. The group [of artists] has been typically creative and innovative when it’s come to ideas as to how to interact with our participant communities remotely. It’s also been useful to reflect on our practice over the period that Creative Directions in the Community has run, and to revisit and re-record some of the creations. Additionally, On the Map, the collaborative piece that the cohort of artists produced, was a joy to work on and a revelation that we created something of such quality and immediate relevance in such a short period of time. What we need to see now are positive outcomes from interactions with the community groups. Mick Jenkinson – Musician & Songwriter

What did we do?
We took time to make sure the ideas became meaningful and were right for the situation. It was (and is) a frightening time, and it felt extremely important to set the right tone and provide opportunities that are appropriate to the mood of the nation. Over time it became clear that mental ill health and anxiety, feelings of isolation and dislocation and a general sense of frustration were all on the increase, and we felt that our creative response had a place.

Our website has now become the first port of call for over 200 online activities and resources for people of all ages. From step by step visual arts videos to Zoom dance sessions, Makaton signed music challenges to FB Live drama, there’s a plethora of creative opportunities available. Offline, we have recorded the songs that people have created in sessions and sent them out on CDs with covers created by the group. We’re about to launch the first of five interactive creative books, each designed by a different artist (including poets, writers, visual artists and musicians) which will be delivered door to door along with beautiful materials to adults whose mental health has worsened as a result of lockdown.

The main difference is that I can't see the participants’ tonsils while they're yawning whilst I'm teaching. I miss that! On a more serious note it’s taken a bit of time to adjust to just seeing and hearing yourself. I think we are all good at being flexible and changing a workshop at the coal face whilst it’s happening but that can't happen with tech. On the flip side with a video you can redo if a mistake is made. It helps if I visualise the group in front of me, the personalities, the space we work in and I can relax more and be me. Gary Hammond - Percussionist

The numbers between March and September 2020
darts at Home (online at wearedarts.org.uk) has had over 12,200 unique visits.
We created 251 filmed creative activity sessions: over 37 hours of content. Our films had 8,000 unique views and over 100 activity packs were downloaded by over 1,000 people.

We delivered regular Zoom sessions for our adult and young people’s choirs, our Dance On programme for older adults and our Creative Directions music sessions for adults experiencing mental health conditions with almost 1000 attendances. We supported the Doncaster Summer Staycation with 38 sessions of activity for young people delivered via Youtube and Facebook Live with more than 400 attending over the summer.

Offline we commissioned 6 brand new doodle books for Creative Directions participants: a new book and art materials have been hand delivered to 60 adults monthly. In the summer we performed socially distanced Garden Gigs for our Singing for Memory participants with dementia and their families.

We also supported over 100 of our most vulnerable adults and families for whom this has been a lonely and isolating period with regular telephone calls, home visits, letters, packages and emails. Together with our partners at Doncaster Children’s Service Trust, Cast and Heritage Services, we delivered 1250 Bags of Creativity’ for vulnerable families across the borough.

The process of Lockdown and working from home has totally changed the way I work in many aspects. I would normally spend most of my time running workshops in person, in front of large groups of people. A huge portion of these workshops would also involve constantly reacting to what is happening in that room – reacting to the skill level of participants, to a creative idea furtively offered, to the energy levels on that day, and also to outside factors I have no control over. Now, I find myself creating work to send to people and using my skills and experience to pitch these at a good level: where there are challenges and opportunities for the braver participants, but remaining very accessible for those who may not be so far along their creative journey.

Despite these challenges, I have to say that the work I have been doing for darts over the last few months has left me inspired. I have been tasked with leading several groups of artists during the creation process: acting as a sounding board, an editor, a source of support, and at times, a guinea pig for new ideas. This insight into the creative process of other artists has been refreshing, inspiring and pushed me to observe problems and tasks from a completely different angle and consider things afresh. The current situation has also pushed me to explore and discover techniques and approaches that I simply don’t have time for during my normal working week: filming content, recording techniques, basic editing, live video calls to name a few of my new weekly tasks. These approaches will stay in my toolkit, strengthen with experience and enhance the work that darts offers moving forward.
Dyzelle Sutherland – Musician

Challenge

It’s a work in progress and it has not been without its challenges. It can be difficult to get a ‘response’ or to know who is participating. It can feel that we’re shouting into a black hole and all we hear is an echo! We have been frantically setting up new processes to analyse engagement and impact and had a period of review in August before planning the next phase of our delivery.

Whatever happens, we know that this way of working is here to stay – it has been a brilliant period of learning and we’ll be able to develop a best practice approach to continue making creative opportunities accessible to those who cannot access face to face sessions in the future.

It's so hard when you are an artist for whom the face to face contact, touch and being together in one space is what you are all about. I have had to adapt to recording dance videos for online, leading live Zoom dance sessions and creating new ways of reaching people who are more isolated or who don't have access to the internet. It has been both challenging and rewarding as we have learnt to find a creative way through this difficult time and to keep in touch. Charlotte Armitage – Dancer

Our artists

darts has also continued to support freelance artists throughout this period – not only collaborating with those we have worked with for many years, but also employing artists we have never worked with before in order to increase the diversity of our offer. We have seen some wonderful words from Gitika Buttoo – a British Indian Theatre Director from Yorkshire, images from Josephine Dellow and drama and movement from Ryan Harston  amongst others. There’s more information here about the artists we regularly work with: meet the artists – darts (wearedarts.org.uk)

A lot of my preparation for workshops and activities is done visually in my head, then I'll write down bullet points (ok, cryptic diagrams and reminders to breathe) for when I deliver sessions face to face. I often prepare examples of work too, so participants can hold, explore and discuss them. Not working face to face has meant I've had to replace a lot of my practical demonstrations with methodical text to explain the activity. I've also had to adapt my work examples so they come across well on photographs. I've been practicing my Makaton ahead of film making for the Arts at Home online workshops too! Karen Hall – Visual Artist

September to December 2020

We continued to deliver a wide range of opportunities – both online and offline – from September onwards. We also had a few small face to face sessions in our building, The Point, which were a delight. This followed a significant period of testing and setting up trusted processes and policies for staff so that those visiting the building would feel entirely safe.

Some of our participants and volunteers even got involved in an amazing national project led by the National Theatre and The Guardian – find out more and watch the resulting online musical here.

As we write, in January 2021, we are back in lockdown and reshaping our planned opportunities once again. As a creative organisation, we will continue to adapt and respond positively to whatever comes next!

Do explore our website and get in touch to find out more.

sophy@wearedarts.org.uk

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