Before everything changed, Chol had been on an absolute high. We’d launched our new project Tall Shadows at a busy reception of young people, community workers, artists and families at the Crucible, with poet Otis Mensah performing as our guest. Proud parents and carers beamed as we introduced our 6 new young producers, 3 new company ambassadors and presented a performance by young people on the topic of “home’’ and what home means when you’re from more than one place. Together with the young producers and our partners in libraries, theatres and community centres we were on the verge of rolling out 6 new Story Clubs in the city.
We were busy with residencies and workshops in colleges, community centres, universities and primary schools. In Huddersfield, the Maker World Space was coming into its own with small funds raised to begin to run it as a creative and social space for children, after school and at weekends with The Children’s Art School and Evoke.
Just 5 days later all our work stopped.
The New Normal (for now)
What strange times we are living through. I’m still running Chol although maybe in a more reflective mode. For a start, I’m working for the most part on my own with staff furloughed for three weeks out of four. Instead of running from school to office to library to rehearsal room, I’m working from home, on the kitchen table. There are some compensations. The weather’s been brilliant and I’ve taken up running again. On my street, there’s less traffic and less litter, more birds in the trees. I’ve seriously caught up with my admin.
From my window, I can see the local primary school and each day more and more children are attending. Children of key workers and children who need to be at school, children for whom school is one of their safe places. The teachers, vital key workers, are providing a revised curriculum for children in school and at home in the midst of this bewildering time for everyone. There are plenty of reasons for teachers to be angry. Food poverty is an issue. The poorest will be disproportionately affected by the crisis. Not all children at home have access to the internet – digital inequalities are rife, and teachers and artists like Chol are desperately looking for ways to ensure this doesn’t damage their confidence or their prospects. However, the teachers I know are rising to the challenge, re-energised by the crisis, using their creativity to meet these challenges, remembering why they went into the profession.
In the midst of this, things carry on, albeit in different ways. Online is the new normal. We started a new channel ‘Chol at Home’ a home for creative ideas. We’ve kept our freelance artists co-creating animations with families. I taught a live online masterclass for teachers and artists and have just launched a 6-week course. We’ve been keeping in touch with our participants and partners. I’ve been teaching my module at Manchester through Zoom – making a new community online. Our trustees have been fantastic, rising to support in so many ways.
What will this mean for the Arts?
For many of us working in the arts, especially at the community level, Coronavirus could prove to be a knockout blow. I tend to be more hopeful and I’m using this time at home to develop new partnerships and to make new plans. Maybe there’ll be good things after this. New ways of doing things. I hope so and this is why I am keeping on going. Chol is based on a Bangla word that means ‘come on, let’s get going.’ Many of us are at home, furloughed, home schooling, surviving the lockdown, keeping a safe distance. But yes, there’s hope whatever our situation, so let’s get going with what is coming next.
Stay safe everybody.