The outbreak of COVID19 and the subsequent lockdown has an adverse effect on current arts projects at Govanhill Baths Community Trust, with all ongoing arts events and activities currently postponed until further notice. Over the next few weeks we will have an update on those projects and will be talking to the artists involved. This week we interviewed two local writers about how the lockdown is affecting their work and life.
No-one knows at this moment when things will return to normal, but we are still hoping to hold the fourth annual Govanhill Festival and Carnival in August.
Early plans were well underway and we are working on the assumption that we will be able to proceed with the Festival in some form or another. It may be crowds at events will be limited or even that we have to do some or all of the events online.
Iona Lee – pic by John Mackie
Online events, using social media and other tools, have been springing up in the wake of the lockdown. One of the first was “Quarantine Cabaret”, broadcast live on Instagram, with the opportunity to donate to the fees of the artists involved, hoping to cover some of their losses for cancelled gigs. Govanhill based poet and artist Iona Lee was one of the performers at the first “Quarantine Cabaret”.
I asked her if she thinks that this will become a more popular way of doing things after the crisis, perhaps the norm?
Iona: “I think that they are probably a clue as to how media and live performance will evolve alongside the internet in the coming years. The younger generations are of course way ahead of us on these platforms and our consumption of media and art has already changed a great deal in the last few years. I think that they must be only part of the way forward. I can not imagine a world in which we do not gather in person and read poems and sing songs directly in to one another’s actual faces. We turn to art in these hard times – books, records, films – but I do also think that because of the demanding nature of the internet, a lot of my fellow creatives are feeling a certain pressure to create free content to entertain the masses and stay relevant. We need to be more up for paying for the art that we consume. We must understand that funding the arts is not a luxury but a necessity.”
What were you working on before the lockdown and how has COVID-19 affected that?
Iona: “I have been gradually working away at my debut collection, researching my ideas, illustrating, writing, collating etc. I was keeping body and soul together through gigs – which are obviously now all cancelled – and through working on zero hour contracts in a few venues when needed. My income is reliant on the gig economy, which has proven to be unstable and underfunded in this crisis. Luckily, I am still able to continue writing and reading and drawing, but how I support my creative endeavours whilst also paying bills and affording life is now a depressing prospect.”
One of the things Iona had been doing locally was a drawing and writing workshop with locally based The Outwith Agency. Outwith will be continuing some of their work despite the lockdown and perhaps their Greater Govanhill magazine can provide an outlet for writers during this time.
Greater Govanhill is a new community magazine that was due to launch its first print edition in May 2020. It will take a solutions-focused approach to the stories that matter to the neighbourhood and will provide a platform to under-represented voices in our community. Workshops, training and events will also enable the people of Govanhill to feed into the magazine, empowering people to tell their own stories in their own words.
In these new circumstances, they are working on gathering positive news stories of the community response to the situation. They will publish these on their website and will be creating a print-at-home newsletter to get these good news stories into the hands of those who may not be online or on social media.
Greater Govanhill are also planning on launching a ‘young reporters club’. This will be open to anyone living in, or around, Govanhill aged 8-17 (there will have two separate clubs for different age groups). They will be running online classes in basic journalism and interviewing techniques and hope that by supporting young people to interview those who might be socially isolated, that can help to bring together different generations, teach our young people some new skills and increase cultural awareness through the stories that are told.
If you are interested in contributing something for the website (news, features, opinions, profiles, poetry, photography, video – all are welcome) or getting involved with our young reporters club, get in touch with: firstname.lastname@example.org they can provide as much support as needed and would love to hear your ideas. Visit www.greatergovanhill.com for more information.
Kieran Hurley wrote his award-winning fringe show “Heads Up” at Govanhill Baths and the film of his earlier play “Beats” used the steamie and ladies pool as a movie location. We asked him how much difference the restrictions brought in to combat coronavirus.
Kieran: “The big change to my working day is that we’ve no childcare. I work from home anyway, the difference now is that the kids are now here 24/7. Normally we have a kind of patchwork arrangement of childcare support between nursery, childminder and grandparents allowing almost full days at work – that’s now obviously not happening. Me and my wife are tag-teaming between looking after the kids and time at work, but it’s tiring. They need focus, and structure, and activity, and care. Adjusting to making all of their meals at home, making sure there’s enough in the house in this new restricted economy. Staying in touch with older relatives and making sure they’re looked after. As for the writing about your woes part, feeling down or anxious or distressed is not actually a creatively generative place to work from I find. Those feelings – which are no short supply at a time like this – are a real obstacle.”
What were you working on just before the lockdown and how was that work affected by COVID-19?
Kieran: “In terms of the writing I was doing, there was a few new projects all of which technically get to carry on – though work on them is obviously stalled because of everything written above. In terms of stuff that was out in the world – my play Mouthpiece was due to open at Auckland International Festival which was probably going to be the most profile outing for anything I’ve done in theatre, but that was pulled. I’d written a new version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which we’d called The Enemy, which was about to go into rehearsal with the National Theatre of Scotland – that’s pulled. That play was about four years in the making, and there’s a certain bitter irony to a play about a catastrophically mis-handled public health crisis being unable to find an audience just now. It’s undoubtedly the right decision, and there’s bigger problems, but it’s hard to take.
“When I do find the time to write, the main way the work is affected is by the stakes of what’s happening on the page suddenly being lower than what’s happening out the window. And there’s a weird feeling of writing for an old version of the world we live in. Will people still care about these issues I’m writing about, when we emerge out of this into whatever is next? Writing for an imagined audience in the near future all of a sudden feels a bit like writing for an audience in another country, whose culture and society you don’t properly understand. Will anyone care?”