23rd July 2020

A Time to Reflect – Covid 19, Lockdown & BLM

The last few months with the Covid-19 crisis have shown us that we never know what life has in store for us or what is around the corner.

Terms like ‘shielding’, ‘self-isolating’ and ‘social distancing’, even zooming, are now part of daily routine and vocabulary. Beyond this, disproportionate death rates across different communities have brought into sharp focus the glaring gap between the suburban rich and the urban poor, between the privileged and the disadvantaged living in deprived, overcrowded neighbourhoods. It has opened our eyes to the unequal and unfair world in which we live. And it has once again opened up the perennial divide between the Black and white citizens.

‘The fatal juxtaposition between race and poverty in the inner cities, is neither new nor unexpected. It is in my view, a structural question. It arises from the structural features of our Society and is not a coincidental matter. It will not go away if we go around being nice to each other, and it is not amenable to any serious analysis within the framework of such concepts as discrimination or indeed race relations, be they good, bad or indifferent’. Ranjit Sondhi, Chair, Sampad.

This has also been a period of powerful activism highlighting the legacies of slavery and colonialism creating communities of historically marginalised people. The tension between a singular national identity and cultural diversity becomes particularly problematic when we question establishment narratives failing to engage critically with ‘difficult pasts’ such as colonial exploitation and domination.

‘What I see in ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an explosion of long simmering feelings that have not been heard. As Martin Luther King said “…riot is the language of the unheard … what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice (are not realized)… that large segments of white society are more concerned with tranquillity and the status quo than about justice and humanity’. It is precisely because black people are regarded as unassimilable, with little commonality between their lived experiences with others that protests have happened. In fact, given the millions who’ve demonstrated all over the world, there have been remarkably few riots. When things improve for black people, we will find they improve for all’. Nasheima Sheikh, Vice Chair, Sampad

As Covid 19 proceeds there is going to be an exponential rise in suffering and inequality – it is going to hit the poor the hardest and that includes disadvantaged white, as well as black people. We are acutely aware that massive investment is needed into the economic and cultural spheres for example, in Green investment, new technologies and the Arts. Can we expect job creation schemes? Stable new economic models of growth? More consideration for the environment?

‘And so back to economics. Even before Covid we have all been facing the problems that “basic” work jobs are diminishing especially in retail, yet there is a developing problem of motivating and educating ” poor white ” , as well as BAME, in particular young males . And that will be worse as the economy limps back next year. Many corporates are now finding that they don’t need the junior staff with educated staff able to work remotely and of course the “hospitality industry ” is particularly affected and a lot of redundancies are already in the pipeline. There may be a modest resurgence in construction and perhaps a little more in manufacturing , but it is still difficult to see where all the jobs would come from , apart from increasing the public sector.
Barry J Matthews, Chair, Finance and General Purposes Committee, Sampad.

For many artists the impact of Covid-19 has been extremely overwhelming, often jeopardising their mental wellbeing. Their performances were cancelled and paid work has disappeared. In Sampad the unpredictability of the period has made us reflect on how to best re-adjust our time and energies and on how to lead through the crisis. It has been critical to frame the challenges ahead with a considered optimism that we will emerge from the crisis back to a state of normality. It will be essential for us to find moments of renewed hope, resilience and creativity.

Some key questions we have to consider are –

What is the state of the arts field right now?

How can the arts adapt to social behavioural changes?

What is the future for public space as a ‘shared space for engagement’?

How can we stay relevant and resilient?

The onus on organisations like Sampad is to scope practical ways where we can truly engage with participatory, learning, comforting and enjoyable activities across different age groups and communities. Our artists and creatives will also need support and resources to maintain their practice and livelihood. We have to remodel our own plans, source new partnerships, update our own intelligence and knowledgebase to develop programmes that are coherent, useful and pertinent.

Arts can and will be a powerful medium to help readjust to the challenges and opportunities of the ‘new normal’. Artists will play a key role in translating diverse narratives and help reconcile and soothe fractured communities as we move forward. Sampad will be a part of the change in this evolving scenario to build confidence, trust and unity within society. The artists, communities, audiences, partners and supporters are our strength. We must continue on this journey ahead together.