Guest blogs

Artists Online: the challenges of being a creative during a pandemic

by Patrick Hall

In today’s article, we discuss the difficulties of being an artist during the pandemic – a topic which I am sure will resonate with many of our readers. The pandemic has been an emotional and financial burden on many of us; but it is even more difficult when you are being asked to perform in front of a camera and not on a stage, having to source expensive tech equipment or missing the buzz of performing/ practising with others. Relying on the internet or on alternative spaces to create art poses problems with accessibility as a lot of people can’t afford the right facilities or get hold of the right kind of space within the confines of where they live. Many of us feel emotionally drained when practising art by ourselves and long to be working with others again. But is there anything that we can learn from this pandemic? Has the pandemic taught us anything about how we can modernise art and carry it through the future?

I’ve never been a professional artist myself, but playing music with other people and sharing my poetry, even reading it aloud sometimes, have been key components in my happiness and wellbeing. Before the pandemic, I was always on the lookout for music ensembles to join, opportunities to perform and poetry ventures in which to participate. When the pandemic started, I remember my cello ensemble rehearsal being cancelled straight away and I naively assumed that this would be a momentary blip. Months later, I realised that all of my time was being spent working, going for walks alone or just sitting inside. I needed a way to get back into the Arts now that rehearsals were a no-go and I couldn’t see my friends on a regular basis. 

So I got into volunteering at a museum which was great fun because it gave me the chance to talk about and discover some amazing art, most of which had a local flavour to Devon and Cornwall. Volunteering for Be Extra was also great: although I couldn’t be with lots of creatives in a physical space, working with other creatives online and discovering fantastic artists through the wellbeing live events was spectacular. It is true that I am desperate to get back to an orchestra rehearsal, but I have loved how the pandemic has made me explore the arts differently and do things that I would not have done otherwise. 

Now let’s hear about the experiences of our CTO and Head of Development, Lizzy Hardman:

Lizzy performing as Semele in Handel’s Semele in pre-covid times

My expectations for this year were a lot of time spent shuffling my CV and applying to as many auditions and competitions as possible while getting set up as self-employed. Particularly before summer, companies had no idea when they would be able to put on a show so auditions were cancelled and competitions closed their scope – “sorry, we’re only accepting applications direct from conservatoires”. Even more brutally for me was the fact that having been a student, the majority of my income had previously been a mixture of freelance work, part-time employment, and student loans, meaning I was ineligible for the government support for artists.

Then came the next kicker – recordings for applications. They’re really a double-edged sword. Yes you can perform from the comfort of your own home, you get the chance to redo if you’re unhappy, and you get to save on travel costs. On the other hand, it comes with the presumption that everyone wanting to apply has access to a space suitable for performance, and access to decent tech equipment. I’m fortunate in that I have a decent mic from my work as a narrator but other people won’t be in that position. So many of my recordings have been ruined by my neighbours cackling and mimicking me from next door, or people walking past the window when I’m doing a video recording, picking their nose as I emotionally pour out ‘Se vuoi serbarla a ricordo d’amor!’ It’s also difficult to get in the mindset of performance when just behind you is your partner eating crisps and playing Cyberpunk.

The pandemic has made us think differently about how we can share and access art, making the most of the internet and new technologies. However, it has also brought about issues regarding accessibility and we face the danger that certain creatives will be pushed aside while we look to modernise. Unfortunately, this may not be the only pandemic that we face in our lifetime and it would be good to adapt the way we work and become more flexible. But it is crucial that we bring up the problems faced by creatives during the pandemic and how we can tackle these. Hopefully, Lizzy’s experiences and my own have proved insightful, but stay tuned for reflections from two more of our volunteers, which are yet to come. 

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