Making community art in a time of coronavirus

Arlene Goldbard and I hosted our second online conversation last Thursday evening. It felt very different to me, as our roles were reversed, and this time it was she who was asking me questions. These conversations, initiated just because we can, have proved to be enjoyable and rewarding. Although having done one each, we’ve reached a natural pause, we both feel it might be worth doing more º but we need to think about how that might happen. In the meantime, do read Arlene’s reflection on the conversation and the painful context in which it’s taking place. Go to her blog to find links to good ideas and projects shared by people who participated in the conversation.

From Arlene Goldbard:

All this past week, I’ve been publishing writing by François Matarasso as part of his “virtual residency” on my blog. Yesterday we hosted a Zoom conversation with artists who place their gifts at the service of community. We put our heads together to talk about possible futures, knowing that while prediction is pointless, preparation and dialogue are essential. You can watch the video recording of that conversation here; or listen to the audio here

The Zoom call was at capacity at 100 (apologies to those who registered but couldn’t fit), and I’d guesstimate that one-third were from the United States. Most of the rest were from Europe. We used what has become a common language—English—for a conversation that revealed significant differences and commonalities. Our societies are traumatized, but in different ways. In the U.S., the fear and pain of the pandemic has exploded first into outrage over public response and then into a much older and very deep reservoir of fear, pain, and anger over the murder and oppression of black people. People are being brought face-to-face with the many forms systemic indifference, neglect, and abuse are taking with respect to both the virus pandemic and the pandemic of structural racism. Both issues are meaningful to our counterparts abroad, but both the support systems for cultural work and the legacy of colonialism are different in different countries.

We all understood that the work we do is needed now more than ever.Artists grounded in community and committed to loving and just practice have such important roles to play under such circumstances: bearing witness to both history and present-day experience; bringing people together in communities of consolation; weaving social fabric; and dreaming the future we want to help bring about. Or as François put it simply, “The work I can do is to create a dynamic in which other people gather and start to do things…That’s a really valuable role, just by saying ‘Let’s do something here,’ and not knowing where that will spin off.”


  1. Thanks so much to you both for these talks online – I’ve listened back over to them both. Very useful and insightful in these challenging times. I kept noting down points that I could reflect on – particularly regarding authenticity and if you don’t know what’s going to happen next in community art then that’s ok. I never know how to get that over to people – particularly funders and yet you both addressed this in the next conversation about trust. It’s so true. Trust in the facilitator. But not just trust in the facilitator but also in the group – I remember having a camera in a group years ago that I lent out to a young person – there was that element of risk but the work he came back with was brilliant. I know that’s just a simple example, but I think it’s part of that relationship building with people that’s really the very heart of the work. Let’s hope there’s trust as we move forward that this work is valuable in terms of supporting it financially and understanding it more. Thank you both for sharing many examples and as ever a joy to listen to, read and reflect on. I was using your Restless Art book the other day in planning some art programmes in Hospitals and also use the I Remember book which I bought after reading your blog a while ago on this so its great hearing you talk about that too. So much for us to learn and share. Bests

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