It’s now been a full year since the UK first entered lockdown in response to Covid 19, but despite the challenges the last 12 months have thrown at us, there’s been plenty to celebrate as well.
Far from quashing creativity, the restrictions prompted us to imagine other possibilities, experimenting with different ways of producing and sharing work.
While audiences were unable to gather in the city’s venues, we found innovative ways of bringing art and culture to you, from our virtual Unplugged and Changemakers and Shakers exhibitions, to Window Wanderland, which saw local streets transformed into pop-up art galleries as residents lit up their own windows with spectacular displays.
On VE Day, we produced a digital activity pack enabling residents to explore the city’s wartime history, filled with all sorts of things to try at home including Lindy Hop dance tutorials, vintage hair inspiration, recipes and craft projects. Our open source Culture Cookbook, One Big Pot, also invited Coventrians to contribute their own recipes for others to enjoy.
Podcasts and audio productions proved popular, with both The Future Show – a collaboration with young people in Coventry, and The Curious Rum Shop Podcast, offering a moment to pause and reflect on our situation.
As Zoom fatigue began to take its toll, snail mail also made a resurgence. To help with tackling loneliness and isolation, we worked with care home residents and staff on Poetry by Postcard, a creative writing project taking place during loneliness week.
In partnership with the Belgrade Theatre, Arts and Homelessness International, Arty Folks and Grapevine, we also supported Underground Lights Community Theatre to lead an international postcard project, which we’ll be revealing more about in the coming weeks. The project also saw creative packs distributed to adults at risk of isolation, filled with materials for making masks which could then be used as part of virtual performance workshops.
Logistics could be tricky but, ever the innovators, artists still found ways of creating some fantastic films. Both Ego Performance and Richard and Rishard drew inspiration from popular TV soaps to produce original dramas Corona-nation Street and The Square, capitalising on lockdown boredom and examining our “new normal”.
Meanwhile, Ascension Dance’s In Touch shone a light on all the things that helped us through the hardship, inspiring hope and reminding us of what we had in common.
For parents, one of the biggest challenges of the year was juggling home-schooling with home-working, so we did our best to share some family friendly content to help keep little ones occupied while stuck indoors. As well as supporting Coventry Library Service to create online, animated versions of its popular Rhyme Time sessions, we also worked with Wriggle Dance Theatre to develop a series of interactive dance videos for kids.
Throughout the year, micro-commissions and virtual showcases offered artists opportunities to keep creating new work. As well as supporting Shoot Festival’s online scratch night, Shut Down But Scratching, we worked with 32 musical and visual artists to produce Front Room Sessions, an album of original music videos spanning multiple styles and genres.
Of course, it wasn’t celebrations all year round. One consequence of the pandemic was to highlight (and in some cases, exacerbate) existing inequalities. The sudden upheaval of lockdown gave us a chance to reflect on the world around us and consider other perspectives and experiences.
Among our responses to this was our Reform the Norm initiative, which has seen us work in partnership with Unlimited and a whole range of local d/Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists, to consider the ways we’d like to see our world change for the better.
Looking at the bigger picture, it’s sometimes easy to forget the moments of respite, but when restrictions eased towards the end of 2020, we seized the opportunity to set up something ambitious, filling Coventry’s magnificent Cathedral Ruins with our outdoor ice rink, Coventry Glides.
Above all else, what our pandemic year has taught us is the importance of art and how essential creativity is to our wellbeing. Sharing stories became a way of making sense out of the chaos, and collaboration helped remind us that, however hard things might have got, none of us were facing this alone.
So it’s with renewed confidence in the value of culture and its power to pull us through tough times that we prepare to start our year as UK City of Culture on 15 May. We hope that the plans we’re putting in place now will help us build back even better after this crisis.
It’s been a longer road than we expected to get here, but we’re excited to take the next step in our journey with you.