How does a community arts group respond to Covid-19?

Preeti Dasgupta heads up the Collage Community team and explores how Arts Council England investment has created 8 videos revealing the genuine lived experiences and insights of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black lives matter movement In March 2020, Collage Arts in London’s Wood Green asked itself some searching questions about creativity in the time of the pandemic. Whilst many charities were fixed on ensuring that people had access to food or PPE, Collage was looking for a way that the arts could make a lasting contribution. We have been working for some time to empower creativity amongst women from diverse backgrounds. It soon became clear that the pandemic was having a disproportionate effect on Black families for reasons that are still not altogether clear. As families were processing this, they saw the news of George Floyd dying under the knee of a policeman in Minneapolis, whilst his colleagues failed to intervene. This changed the nature of conversations in Black households across the world. We invited Black women to come forward to share their stories. The first series of work we are sharing is The Lockdown Monologues. Runway of Life is based on the experiences of Maxine Griffiths, but some of the names and places have been changed. “To know where you are coming from, to share this experience of where I have been, I can now tell the stories of the faces never seen.” Performed by Donna Berlin. Women were given a choice. They could work with an actor who would bring their stories to life. Or they could work with a director who would give them the skills to tell their own stories. Every creative decision about the content and presentation of the videos has been made by a Black woman in these 8 creative teams. Dawn Walton OBE, who was our associate director for this project said: “The stories are varied but specific and urgent …the specificity of each piece gives them their universality. All the women have discovered new skills – writing/ storytelling/ acting/ dramaturgy and they have grown in confidence. All of them committed and delivered. All of them sat taller in their seats when they were done. And as I worked with them to deliver their amazing stories, so did I. When they spoke their stories they had no fear. It’s interesting that the real innovation in TV, theatre, podcasts, etc, are coming from Black Women. With the right support a project like this has the potential to be part of creating a critical mass of new talent with original stories.” This writer known as Baina draws on her personal experiences of the impact of falling foul of the visa system. Out of the tunnel is performed by Suzette Llewellyn. Over the coming weeks we will be sharing 6 more videos and 12 diaries which chronicle the period of the lockdown through the eyes of Black women in North London. The work is varied in its form and content. The experience of the writers varies from first time writers to women we see as on the cusp of a publishing deal. Together this is unique record of an unprecedented year. Collage Arts has to raise over £1500 a day to ensure that its youth, enterprise and community programmes can be fully accessible. This work has been made possible due to an investment by the Arts Council which supported creative and cultural organisation’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.