Along with individuals, families, businesses and communities throughout the country, the past three months have been a time of change, learning and at times anxiety for the Sunderland Culture Team.
As an organisation we have always worked face to face with people in the amazing cultural venues of Sunderland or in community settings like church halls, community centres or parks across the city. With our venues closed and the ability to work face to face taken away we have had to completely adapt the way we work.
Early on in the lockdown period we were busy closing the venues and moving our colleagues to home working or in some cases furlough leave. At the same time we wanted to keep alive some of the exhibitions and activities that we already had planned by moving them into digital spaces. This led to some brilliant online exhibitions including National Glass Centre’s No Strings which had been installed but never opened.
As time progressed, and the scale of the challenges facing the country unfolded, we decided it was really important that we find ways to directly help people living in our local communities. We started to re-imagine, for example, how we could keep working with our groups of older people, now more isolated than ever. This led us to deliver art materials directly to their homes with our team phoning them up to talk through the activity, providing not just the therapy of creativity but also valuable social contact.
We also worked with the City Council to reach pupils of the Link School and their families with art packs and developed a series of online educational resources for all home schoolers.
We felt a real responsibility to support artists and creative businesses in the city both through advice and skills development but also commissioning work specifically created to be delivered in new ways. Our Sunderland Stories, for example, involved emerging playwrights from Sunderland being commissioned to write monologues for broadcast.
As people start to spend more time outside and returning to town and city centres we are continuing to think about how we might support people to still engage with arts, heritage and cultural experiences safely in physical as well as digital spaces and also how we can support the recovery of our communities and the local economy.
At the same time we, like many in our community, have been deeply moved by the Black Lives Matter campaign. We know that we need to do more and are committed to tackling and responding to the issues of racism and prejudice in our society.
We are continuing to learn and respond and hope that we are helping in some way to keep creativity and culture relevant and helpful to everyone in Sunderland.