When I switched off the lights in the DanceXchange studios on 17 March, it was with a heavy heart, yet a glimmer of optimism.
The team had spent most of the day contacting artists, participants, schools, audiences, funders and press, to advise that all our public-facing programmes were to be put on hold for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19. This included Birmingham International Dance Festival, our major biennial celebration of dance, which we had been developing with numerous committed partners for the past two years, and was set to take over Birmingham’s venues, streets and squares this June.
We were keenly aware of the enormity of this lockdown for our team, for the artists we support, and for the communities we work with, and we knew it would be vital to keep a positive mindset to get through this. So, we took the decision from the outset, to concentrate on three central priorities:
Focusing on what we can do – rather than the enormity of what we can’t control.
Heartened by ACE guidance, we began by immediately reassuring the artists and tutors working with us, as well as other freelancers, that we would be honouring their contracts. They are the lifeblood of the organisation, and we have continued to do our best to support them by offering artist surgeries online, and through creating new opportunities for paid work wherever possible.
We also gave our team a challenge: to think of ways to stay connected with all our communities in this lockdown period by working differently and digitally. While we tackled the new challenges of home working, this gave us a strong sense of collective purpose and has been a catalyst for genuine creative thinking, learning and collaboration across the team.
By 23 March we had launched our first programme of free online classes delivered on Instagram Live, and since then we have continued to roll out tailor-made digital content for our schools’ programme and Centre for Advanced Training students. So far, we have had an enormously positive response. To date, online classes have attracted over 10,000 views, and we have seen huge increases in our Instagram and Facebook followers. We have also introduced ‘Donate’ buttons on all our free online classes, and donations are gradually beginning to trickle in, helping us to sustain paid work for artists and tutors while continuing to offer content for free.
We are embracing this opportunity to provide a deeper insight into the world of dance and to connect with audiences in ways that we have never had the headspace to try before. Our latest offer, launched just this week, is Dance Insights Online – a new programme of performances, discourse events, provocations and artistic inspirations, curated by our 2020 Artists in Residence. We very much look forward to seeing the audience response.
As with all our colleagues across the sector, we are having to make decisions day to day, and we are still assessing the long-term impact on our organisation, our partners, and the sector we support. While we don’t underestimate the challenges ahead, we are all eager to learn from this experience, to inform, shape and grow our future programmes, both live and online – and we are immensely proud of our team, and the artists working with us, for their openness, creativity and positivity at this uncertain time.
Clare Lewis, Deputy Chief Executive, DanceXchange