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Online LINK: Social Cohesion in Social Isolation – Cultural Value

Blog post written by Robyn Dowlen (Centre for Cultural Value and Arts Health ECRN Blog Editor), Katey Warran (Arts Health ECRN Network Coordinator) and Laura Wright (International Institute for Child Rights and Development and University of Edinburgh).

This blog post builds on the Social Cohesion in Social Isolation chats that have been happening weekly since mid-March, when people started to isolate in the UK as a result of increasing Covid-19 cases. The aim of the informal discussions is to bring together academics, practitioners, arts or play managers and administrators, policy makers, and interested community members across the globe to explore what social cohesion can feel like, look like, and mean during times of isolation and distancing. On Wednesday 15 April, we invited Dr Robyn Dowlen, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Centre for Cultural Value, to lead a discussion surrounding the changing nature of cultural engagement, and its impact on community practitioners, cultural organisations and audiences. 14 people attended, with attendees being a mix of researchers, creative producers, programme managers and community practitioners.

The discussion began with participants sharing the impacts of the lockdown on community focused practitioners and cultural organisations. While there was an overwhelming sense that community practitioners and cultural organisations were providing ‘glimmers of hope’ in the daily lives of many, practitioners themselves shared their challenges in adapting to a digital space and how the lockdown had left them feeling isolated from other practitioners. For example, one group member shared how practitioners’ sense of identity had been affected by not being able to rehearse or perform in a physical space, with some finding adapting to the digital world more challenging than others. One practitioner reflected that it can be more difficult to find a ‘collective’ or ‘assembly’ to be a part of in times of physical isolation, while another highlighted the power of collective emotion. The musicians in the group signposted to organisations such as Music Minds Matter, Incorporated Society of Musicians and the Musicians Union for support and resources.

The question of how to measure ‘success’ and ‘evaluate’ arts and play programmes that have begun as a result of lockdown measures was raised. One person expressed their concern that ideas of success may take away from the ‘intrinsic’ benefits of the arts, with another member agreeing and suggesting that ‘success’ is less about outcomes, and more about the process of arts and play engagement. The question of capturing value through evaluation and research was also raised as being important to consider when it comes to rebuilding after Covid-19, and how being able to articulate cultural value will be more urgent than ever. It will be vitally important to reflect on how creative engagement provided support and contributed towards positive mental health in our communities, and how this learning can enable this work to continue to contribute to community cohesion once distancing measures begin to ease.

The final part of the discussion centred around spontaneous acts of creativity at a local level. Many members of the group discussed their experiences of finding chalk drawings when walking in their neighbourhoods. Chalk games, drawings, murals, and solidarity messages had been seen, with the rainbow motif featuring strongly again. We discussed the nature of chalk drawing and how artworks were being created using an art material that was temporary. We wondered whether this allowed people to take more creative risks and for creativity and play to spill out from inside people’s homes. The group agreed that these spontaneous acts of creativity from grassroots beginnings enhanced the sense of community cohesion, and we reflected on the possibility of these creative spaces for social cohesion in communities to endure post COVID-19.

The Social Cohesion in Social Isolation online chats are currently taking place weekly on Wednesdays 4-5pm GMT to facilitate further connection and action during COVID-19. To find out more or to sign up to attend a future session, click here.

The Centre for Cultural Value is based at the University of Leeds and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Arts Council England and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The focus of the Centre is understanding of the difference arts and culture make to people’s lives and society, by making research more accessible and by supporting the cultural sector to capture and evaluate the value it produces. They are currently conducting a survey into current attitudes and practices towards evaluation and research - click here to take part. Sign up to their mailing list or follow them on Twitter for updates.

If you're looking for further ideas for how to get creative at this time, why not check out the MARCH Network's Creative Isolation page, and use the hash tag #CreativeConnections to tell us about what you've been doing to keep creative.

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