"We will support our communities"
Creative Black Country (CBC) is an amazing initiative which works towards making the most of local talent helping people explore, discover and grow their artistic ability.
Funded by Arts Council England (ACE), Creative Black Country creates meaningful programmes featuring various art activities in Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
CBC encourages people from all walks of life to experience the arts in the local area while working with education establishments, the media, libraries, local businesses and local creatives.
Their great work was widely recognised in 2016 when the nation fell in love with ‘Desi Pubs’ which highlighted the story of Asian landlords and their pubs.
In an exclusive chat with Creative Black Country, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we find out how the lockdown has impacted their work on arts.
How has COVID-19 affected Creative Black Country?
We have been very conscious of the challenges faced by our partners and continue to maintain contact where it’s appropriate.
We are also considering how we include people who are offline through conversations locally, regionally and nationally.
No one has all the answers, however, there is hope and the ‘let’s do what we can’ attitude.
In terms of CBC plans, we were about to embark on the launch of our expansion into Dudley during 2020.
We’d tentatively held a get-together in January (2020) and had scheduled in more events, however, these had to be cancelled. There were several partner projects that are now on hold.
However, we are lucky to be part of the Art Council England’s Creative People and Places network – very early into this crisis that communicated that they would continue to support us and that we were able to modify some of the strands of our work and projects to support artists and freelancers during this challenging time.
What are the challenges for arts and culture organisations like yours?
One of the key challenges is with regards to keeping authentic connections with communities when you can’t be near them.
The conversations that were taking place to explore further projects have stalled and programming will be challenging for others where it can take years to bring plans to life.
This is, of course, a challenge that we are all facing at the moment. CBC’s work is co-designed with the community so being unable to meet and engage is difficult.
Also, we are aware that not everyone has access to computers or has internet connectivity – things that a lot of us take for granted during this time.
So, a key challenge is how to connect with those that are even more isolated.
What impact has COVID-19 had on the creatives you work with?
We put out a questionnaire for creatives and held zoom meetings with key partners and stakeholders very early into the lockdown.
The key messages we got back from people (especially those that perform) is that work had dried up. There were no bookings, contracts had been put on hold and been cancelled.
There is a concern for those who don’t usually access mainstream funding and the lack of confidence to apply for mainstream funding.
So, the key impact is really on the loss of income due to loss of output.
Currently, how are you coping financially as a business?
This isn’t applicable to us as we are funded via ACE who are supporting all CPP’s and National Portfolio organisations as usual.
What are you doing to keep connected with your audiences?
We have put out commissions for creatives to respond to. The ‘Creative Connections’ commissions are for creatives to produce projects over the next six weeks that start in May (2020).
The brief for these commissions was for artists to respond to the current crisis with projects that are run with and for the community that can engage people.
We’ll be announcing the commissioned projects in early May (2020) and will be sharing them across our platforms as well as supporting each one with a fee.
We are also working on a new piece of ‘Bostin News’ where we are inviting 4 x editors across the region to commission work that can sit both online and offline.
We’re excited to see how this project works and the ideas our editorial team will have.
We have also collated information which includes things to get involved with. Click here to find out more.
Do you think Creative Black Country can survive the lockdown?
We are fortunate to be in a position to say yes whilst we are funded by Arts Council’s Creative People and Places programme.
What plans do you have in place for the future, post COVID-19?
Our plan will be to continue to co-create our work and projects with communities and our partners.
They may look slightly different depending on the outcomes of the pandemic and the response from the government of course.
However, we are mindful that this is an unprecedented situation and are lucky that we have been given the flexibility by our funders to make key decisions as required.
As best as we can, we will support our communities and make the most of the creativity in our region.
Creative Black Country is in a fortunate position to withstand the financial strain of the lockdown because of ACE’s funding.
However, their work with the arts, local people and businesses have been affected amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main issue of stalled projects and being unable to engage with people in local communities is a major concern as CBC alludes.
Despite the negative impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Creative Black Country is continuing to engage with creatives through its ‘Creatives Connections’ commissions.
We look forward to seeing more co-created work by CBC and its partners and communities to ensure the arts and creativity thrive even during this difficult time.