Plague and pestilence, fire, and rebellion
Like many similar organisations, the current pandemic forced us to change the way we go about things. We may not be able to support people with complex needs to enjoy the public spaces of London’s fabulous cultural venues, but our remote service does allow them to keep finding creative inspiration in the vast online collections of places like The V&A, The Science Museum and the Tate galleries. Virtual workshops mean they can stay in touch with one another and share the joy of making art and performing together. The recently completed Magic Kimono project was an expression of that joy; it was colourful, fun and uplifting at a time of foreboding and uncertainty. Yet the sense of dislocation from the normal routines of life remain. While the tight restrictions of a national lockdown have eased, everyone understands that we are still living in a time of crisis, with no end in sight. Artists, performers and writers can offer insights into the emotional and psychological impact of both individual crises, like the one we are living through now, and deeper processes of societal change that only become apparent over time. The same is true for the people with complex needs we support. They and their carers have, in recent months, expressed to us anxiety about how external events are shaping their lives, altering the way they engage with culture, and what it means for their futures. This prompted us to think about what we could learn about the present crisis from artistic responses to previous ones. We are therefore pleased to announce that Arts Council England have awarded us a grant to help our Thursday Group explore their own feelings and emotions about living in a time of crisis through drawing, collage, music, film and storytelling. London’s history is littered with episodes of social, economic and political upheaval which sometimes coalesced into something more seismic. Such crises may have quite different causes and manifest themselves in different ways, hence the title of our project: ‘plague, pestilence, fire and rebellion’. We will be running workshops on topics as diverse as Boadica the Warrior Queen, frost fairs on the Thames, the ‘great stink’ (and the development of London’s sewers), to the protest movements of the 1960s and punk rock. Look out for examples of workshop materials which will be posted here. The project will culminate in a virtual exhibition on the website, featuring artwork, stories, a film and an opera. It will provide powerful testimony about the impact of recent crises on a socially marginalised group and, we hope, provide something of a therapeutic release.