Wellbeing matters

At lunchtime on Friday, I stopped by the village café (I’ve been at home in rural France since early March). People were talking about last night’s statement from the President, who spoke at length about school closures, financial help (‘whatever it costs’) people who can’t work and the solidarity of the welfare state. Today’s local elections are on but in the hall where we vote (and see art exhibitions, share meals and dance) there’s a one-way route to minimise the risk of infection. Then last night, there were emails from friends asking where we’ll meet before the count tonight: the café, along with the rest of France, is now closed. As of today, social life is effectively suspended.

Adjusting to the new normal

Planning my work has become an exchange of uncertainties and reassurance. I’m due at the International Community Arts Festival in Rotterdam in 10 days’ time. Will it go ahead? Should I go if it does? Will I be able to travel to England afterwards? Should I? My questions are unimportant compared to those facing ICAF’s small team. The festival is a huge feat of organisation, hope and goodwill, undertaken over three years by a small group who now have only difficult choices. And the same decisions face people in every sector. Truly, this changes everything.

So, like everyone else, I’m looking at the prospect of working from home for the foreseeable future. That’s easier for me than for most: it’s what I do anyway, and I’ve been paid in advance for a long-term project (I normally hate that because I feel a huge responsibility, but right now it’s a relief.) Practically speaking then, it’ll be okay. Psychologically, I’m not so sure. ‘Self-isolation’ sounds innocent enough but ‘isolation’ has often been used as a punishment. We’re social beings: even the introverts among us need others, just in quieter ways.

Five ways to well-being

Yesterday, I wrote about what cultural institutions and funders could do to help. Now I’m thinking about how we can help ourselves. Some of us like working in teams, with the buzz of voices and the energy of deadlines. Others love making art with people, performing for an audience, or being physically active in creative ways. A few days at home might feel like an unexpected bonus at first, but a month of bank holidays? Two months? We’re all different, and it would be impertinent to suggest how anyone else should manage this, but here’s what’s in my mind. And, because I’ve often used the Five Ways to Wellbeing as a framework for thinking about the outcomes of community art, I decided to apply it to my own wellbeing too:

  • Connect: obviously really difficult right now, but phones and the internet have made being in touch with people easier than ever. So I’ll meet people by video, and use the phone where I might have sent an email. But I’ll also reach out to friends I’ve not been in touch with for a while, and make some calls I’ve put off ‘until I’m not so busy’.
  • Be active: I’m lucky to live in a forest region, so I can walk for hours without meeting anyone, but I can be lazy and use the excuse of having work to do. I’m going to make the effort to get out and enjoy the air (maybe take a lesson from Ian McMillan’s early stroll?). On the days it’s pouring with rain (which has been a lot of this winter), there’s spring cleaning and overdue decorating to do.
  • Take notice: I’m going to try to slow down, and properly enjoy what I’m doing. As a freelancer, with no set hours or even days, I know I work too much, and that it’s not always productive (this is Sunday morning). So I’ll try to give myself work hours and time for other, different things, planning my days beforehand with variety and satisfying goals.
  • Keep learning: My work often involves research and learning about others, but I don’t always make time to think about my own work, test and develop it with ideas from outside, or acquire new skills. I’ve been wondering about adding audio to my websites – maybe this is a time to learn how (even if I don’t have a good recorder with me). Or maybe I need to learn something completely new.
  • Give: Making time for others extends beyond personal life – it’s always been part of the ethos of community art to me. So I’m thinking about what I could do to help community artists who are coping with this upheaval in the pattern of their working lives – perhaps some online conversations? I don’t know yet, but if I come up with something useful, I’ll share it here.

In my post yesterday, I wrote about funders giving artists time to make some art, do some research, plan new projects and dream. I think that’s important in itself and it will help us get through the deep – and I hope temporary – change in our daily lives that is sweeping over us. Hundreds of people have read yesterday’s post, which I take as a measure of the problems many artists and cultural workers now face – especially if they don’t have a secure and well-disposed employer. So I’ll keep sharing my thoughts about this change (as long as it seems worthwhile), and I’ll add the spring flowers I see in the woods: they, at least, might brighten. someone’s day.