So far, each week in lockdown, there has been breaking news, bad news, changes in the news, confusing news and in the past week some downright inflammatory news. I imagine many of you have probably shouted at your TV this week more than ever before.
At the time of writing it is half-term for many and though this hasn’t got quite the same significance it normally has, for some, it at least means a change in routine and a break from home schooling whilst juggling working from home or all the other chores and responsibilities.
It is now week 10 of lockdown and so much seems to have happened as we settle into our new normal and there are still so many new developments all the time. As chair of the Independent Theatre Council and Chief Executive of the arts organisation Turtle Key Arts, I wanted to share some of my lockdown reflections with you.
Like so many of you, I spent the first three weeks or so of lockdown unravelling months of work and planning, cancelling and postponing tours, work in creation, participation and outreach projects and workshops – in all 13 projects vanished.
We also had to pack-up and move out of our office at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, as they shut their doors, wondering when we would see our home again and worried for the Lyric’s survival like so many establishments at this time.
Then came the hard task of working out “how can Turtle Key Arts” survive this? Working on a new “COVID Scenario” projected budget for 2020/21. Cutting and trimming all non-essential costs and working out who would be furloughed, a term, like many of you I suppose, I had never even heard of before.
In this time at Turtle Key Arts, as our projects were abruptly stopped and future plans evaporated, we had to work out how we could support our freelance artists and practitioners, both practically and emotionally as their livelihoods dried up overnight. We felt a genuine want and desire as an organisation to help, albeit with limited resources (we are not an NPO) to do what we could.
None of this, from speaking to other companies and from what I have read, is new or ground-breaking news, just the reality of life in lockdown.
As the CEO of Turtle Key Arts I was worried for my team, wanting to make sure they were safe and well and could adapt to working from home, and assuring them that their income was secure. Turtle Key Arts, as a small arts organisation, is successful due to the team of people we have around us and their hard work and dedication. I simply had to make sure they were all looked after and create individual plans to suit their differing needs.
The Turtle Key Arts board were very supportive, being light touch but watchful and on the end of the phone when needed. No pressure was applied, they let us figure it out and find our way, but advised and assisted as needed. As a CEO it was good to know they cared, were of course worrying, but did not demand emergency meetings or extra information and reports from me, they checked in and cradled us when appropriate through this difficult transition.
Early on, though I was dealing with so many issues for Turtle Key Arts, I was also mindful that I am the Chair of an organisation whose primary function is to help and advise and to support a sector that was now in turmoil, reeling in fact and dealing with an unprecedented situation. I wanted to make sure that Charlotte and the team at ITC knew that, as a board, we were there for them as they were there for all of us.
Charlotte and I had, and still continue to have, regular check-ins, sometimes just about the world around us, sometimes about very specific things. I have wanted to be there, on the end of the phone, or as is often the way at the moment on a screen, for her and the ITC team as we navigate this new way of working together. As Chair of the board, I wanted to support and not pressure the team and I hope we have found a good balance. Our board have been great, the Whatsapp group buzzing away regularly with shared articles, ideas and sometimes simply just checking in. We are going to have our first broader board meeting this week via the ubiquitous Zoom.
Charlotte kept me informed as to how the rest of the sector whom I care so much about was and how everyone was coping. I was not surprised to hear that our sector, as usual, has found original and new ways, despite the obstacles and struggles we all face, to adapt, help each other and be kind.
I want to personally thank Charlotte and the ITC team, Zoe, Thea, Jackie and Kevin for keeping the service going, at a time when I think members need it more than ever.
Gradually we have all adapted to a new way of working, at Turtle Key Arts, like so many independent artists and organisations. We have made plans, moved projects with meaningful engagement on-line and are beginning to plan new scenarios for the future. We have regular Zoom meetings with the whole team to check-in and we reach out to our wider pool of freelance artists, companies and practitioners to stay connected and support where we can.
As I’ve reflected upon the last couple of months, I find myself drawn towards thinking about the future and this brought to mind the dictionary definitions for Honesty and Creativity, both qualities unfortunately somewhat lacking in our Government at the moment.
Honesty, the quality of being honest. "they spoke with convincing honesty about their fears"
Creativity, the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.
These words and meanings mirror our sector, we are always ready to face our fears and are full of creative and inventive ideas. As the world changes we start to adapt to a new future, as venues stir and doors start to open, we, the independent sector together, need to come out, speak openly and share our resources, ideas, hopes, fears and plans - by doing this hopefully we will build a new community, and rest assured ITC will be right there with you as always.
I hope I get to see some of you soon and in the meantime, please stay well, safe and stay in touch.
Chair of ITC and Chief Executive of Turtle Key Arts