Essential role of creative spaces during COVID-19


20 March 2020
Kia ora koutou, creative space leaders and colleagues. As creative space leaders, we know that the health-giving values of social connection and inclusive community, nurtured through art-making in the company of others, are vital to the wellbeing of our artists.

**Now, more than ever, creative spaces are places for reassuring connection, comfort and support. Please follow the recommended Healthline advice for good personal hygiene and safe social distancing. This means checking at the door that people are well, and asking those physically unwell to stay home. Doing this may enable creative spaces to continue to provide programmes through this period.

Share actions for continued health and wellbeing

Let’s strengthen communication between creative spaces locally and nationally and share, as we do in regional networks, our strategies for responding to the current health alert and the ways we are supporting our artists’ wellbeing. Keep in touch: there is a wealth of collegial support available in our community.

If our artists are not able to access this gathering place for any reason (self-isolation, or creative space closure), they will still look to us for guidance and reassurance of continued connection. We can continue to creatively support our vulnerable people to keep themselves safe and maintain their wellbeing when not physically attending their usual programmes.

Please reach out if you need advice and use the creative spaces directory for contact details about spaces in your region and beyond. Post your great ideas, updates and reassuring messages on the CreativeSpacesNZ Facebook page.  I will keep you up-to-date with developments in the arts community on this page, including the arts website set up for this crisis.

Share advice, ideas and examples for ways to support your artists’ health and wellbeing – whether they are at the studio or printed as handouts for people to take home.

Practical steps

Here’s an example of a message to its members from Vincents Art Workshop:

“We are still open but this is on a day by day review process. We have noticed that, this week, we have much lower numbers than usual. All people coming in to our venue are asked if they have any cold and ‘flu’ symptoms and whether they have recently arrived in the country.
“If either is the case they are asked to come back when they are symptom free. They are reminded to wash their hands thoroughly as the come in, and often. And sneeze or cough into their elbow. We provide paper towels.
“We wipe down all surfaces with disinfectant and water at the end of each day.
Staff members are expected to stay away if they have any illnesses that might be contagious.
“We have cancelled exhibition openings in our gallery and this will continue until conditions improve.
“We have removed some of our chairs so that people are not sitting too close to each other and we have reduced the maximum number of people in the pottery studio.
“We are remaining open in the meantime but we are telling people to check our Facebook page daily in case we have to close.
“We will close if there is community transmission.”
Here is a link to best practice from the American Arts Therapy Association for using art supplies during this time.

How to support our artists’ wellbeing

Continuing reassuring connection is important. Communication through social media will be possible for some, with Skype or Zoom conversations between colleagues and friends. We can support their artistic practice through suggestions of:

  • online videos about artists or techniques in their genre, or encourage learning about new mediums and methods that will extend their practice
  • virtual tours of exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world – a chance to see the great works!

Please warn against too much online time and over-exposure to activating news streams – particularly for people with stress or depression concerns.

This is an opportunity to develop and strengthen our mindfulness practices too:

  • Increase time in nature, present moment awareness and gratitude – paying particular attention to sights, sounds and feeling sensations with natural materials. For example:
    • Make a mandala of leaves, seeds, pebbles in your garden or local park on a sunny day
    • Sit in the sun and wrap yourself with remembered experiences and loved ones that bring you joy
    • Wear your favourite/comfortable clothing that makes you feel special and safe
  • Listen to guided meditations to release tension and feel safe. Tthere are many free sites online. Then make artwork afterwards of this safe feeling/space Creating a safe place
  • Remind people to be self-aware of their thinking: Which wolf do you feed? The wolf of fear/hate/despair or the wolf of love/self-compassion/ kindness. What you focus on is what you will grow. Notice where your thoughts take you – to uncomfortable/worrying places? Just notice and Tthat’s a raincloud thought” (or an uncomfortable thought), and let it pass by freely, then consciously decide to find a “sunny” or “comfortable thing” to think about/be grateful for and move your body – walk, dance, stretch … Whatever shifts the mood for you.
  • Remember the power of music to uplift your spirits: make or play your favourite music and sing like no one can hear you.
  • My favourite: watch comedy!

“Be strong. Be kind. We will be OK.”

Your calm, reassuring presence will be a strength to your colleagues and the people you support and while as a team you think of creative ways to engage artists in and outside your creative space, be sure to prioritise you own health and wellbeing.

And please, reach out to your creative spaces community.

To quote Jacinda: “Be strong. Be kind. We will be OK.”

Nga mihi nui

Jenny Hutchings, Creative Spaces Advisor, Arts Access Aotearoa

**24 March: This blog has been overtaken by events in the past two days as the country moves into lockdown. All creative spaces are closed at least until the end of April as we stay at home, keeping ourselves and others safe. However, many of the messages and ideas are still relevant.

The arts community is courageous and innovative. Let's share what we're all doing to support our creative spaces artists by emailing  your ideas and activities to Jenny. Also check out this webpage

Essential role of creative spaces during COVID-19


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