It’s November 2020. March 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. We’d had great funding news. We were about to launch massive plans. We were planning our next 10 years… There was a spring in our step and everything was rosy. But. You know. Covid. No touring, no community work, no workshops with young people. And we could see our freelance workforce – our bricks and mortar – crumbling. So we set to work. We agreed our priorities. Freelancers. Young people. Community.
When we cancelled our tour, we honoured all freelance contracts. With support from wonderful funders like Arts Council England, Paul Hamlyn and Esmée Fairbairn Foundations, we have employed nearly 50 freelance creatives, including 2 new producers, across Diverse City and Extraordinary Bodies, our collaboration with leading show makers Cirque Bijou.
They have also been creating with us 3 new digital pieces including Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists’ Creativity in Strange Times and This Town of Ours, and a new short film What Do You See In Me?. With £60k of emergency funding from Arts Council England, we commissioned 4 new digital experiments as part of a new strand, Digi-Tales, to be released in the New Year.
Grant applications for independent artists have received our support, we sponsored an artist for the Freelance Task Force, hosted a new young cultural leader, continued to connect our young artists with each other, contributed to hardship funds, contributed to What Next?, #WeShallNotBeRemoved and to DCMS working groups. Our wonderful partner Cirque Bijou, has additionally worked alongside 69 freelancers as part of its new, Artists Unite training programme.
“And we did all of that from our kitchen tables, on our phones (whilst giving kids tea and home schooling) or in the corner of our bedrooms. We did it while shielding and supporting family, friends and colleagues who were shielding. And we did it with creativity, collaboration, justice and optimism. We are Diverse City – we shared what we had, kept the ship afloat and all who sail in her and we made things. I am very proud of us.”Claire Hodgson, Co-Artistic Director
The Lockdown hasn’t stopped Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists training, development and learning. Far from it. Young disabled people have led us all. They met on Zoom and showed us all the way with Open Mics sessions, ‘pet cabarets’ and regular online workshops. They were first to produce new digital work and they were first back to meet in person.
“From the start of lockdown our youth company showed us what to do – they were first with Zoom workshops, first with a new digital piece, and back IRL. Many of them have lived their whole lives facing barriers and we followed them into a new world. It is exactly people with this lived experience who can show us all how to live now.“Claire Hodgson, Co-Artistic Director
Disappointment at not being able to pursue multi-year funding application with National Lottery Community Fund turned to relief when we managed to secure 6 month emergency funding of nearly £40k from them. The money is kick starting urgent social and creative connections within and between Skylight Circus in Rochdale, Our Space and Funky Llama in Plymouth and Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists in Poole. We are now talking to National Lottery about how they may be able to help in the long term recovery of other communities.
Now, as we see where we have been and where we are right now, 8 months on, we are proud. We have been awarded £275,690 as part of the DCMS Cultural Recovery Fund. The company will invest a key part of this in a Big Top Tent to house our flagship integrated circus company Extraordinary Bodies. The tent will allow for ongoing recovery with a safe, flexible, mobile space for shows, community projects and rehearsal. It will offer us a place where D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled creatives can come together to create original work for and in communities in the south west and nationally. It is way for us to create options, income and community connection.
We are not out of the woods.
And the latest lockdown news, whilst not unexpected, is definitely another kick in the teeth particularly for our freelancers. However, we are still creating alongside them, still reaching out to our communities and looking into the future with our partners.
It’s cold out there. Come gather around our Signal Fire on November 2, 8:00-9:00pm. A pool of Diverse City and Extraordinary Bodies artists are performing at the event, which will be available to (re)watch after the live stream.
Access: BSL interpreted, captioned and participants encouraged to audio describe themselves and any visual they may present.
Photo © Dom Moore