December 11, 2020
It’s been a year of hard challenges and truths, forcing us all to confront our individual and collective fears, shortcomings and assumptions.
Defined by COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and escalating environmental crises, 2020 has exposed the many deep inequalities in our society. But it has also made us aware of how interconnected and interdependent we are: prompting many to act with care, solidarity and empathy across real and imagined borders.
The call to address antiquated approaches and structural inequalities has resonated especially loudly across the arts and cultural sector. As microcosms of wider society, bigger arts institutions in particular have been confronted with the fact that to remain relevant they have to become more open, inclusive, culturally polyphonic and willing to engage more honestly with the stories of our present and past.
Meanwhile, smaller organisations and independent artists, who forge their resilience and creativity outside secure support structures, have shown us how much we are still to learn, during and beyond these difficult times, from those operating on the margins of the mainstream.
Like many other organisations in our field, we have also been adjusting, changing and reflecting.
Responding to the initial COVID outbreak, we took an approach of ‘contingency, not cancellation’ – shifting our programmes to digital platforms, and in doing so ensuring as best we could that artists and voices from our network were heard and supported.
In June this year we were humbled by our Refugee Week community, most of whom operate on the edges of precarity at the best of times. As our mainstream cultural partners were closing down, they responded enthusiastically to our call to deliver Refugee Week 2020 as a digital festival for the first time – resulting in an astonishing programme of over 350 online events held by organisers across the country.
Since then we have been using emergency grants to provide extra financial and training support for artists and collectives from our network. We have commissioned a wide range of new work, run online performances across artforms, brought together our networks and found ourselves able to reach wider and more diverse audiences than ever.
We have also spent time reflecting on our internal processes, making our commissioning more transparent and fair. We have identified the need to better connect with allies in the racial and environmental justice movements. And we have been working behind the scenes on developing a series of new partnerships, initiatives, international projects and learning opportunities.
A significant focus of our reflections has been the commissioning of a new report, ‘Our Story and Vision’, which has been written by an independent consultant and critical friend of our organisation, Chrissie Tiller.
Our intention behind commissioning this report was to create a process through which we would review our organisation, reflect on our current vision, methodologies and practice and, in doing so, create a possible blueprint for the future.
The final result is a beautifully designed and unusual ‘evaluation’, based on a series of interviews with our team, board, partners, artists and other collaborators from our network, all of whom brought into the conversation their own perspectives of our work and challenges ahead.
As such it is a truly collaborative effort, and we hope the report will be a new starting point for how we consider the impact of our work and how change happens – as well as holding relevance for wider conversations about arts, culture and social change.
Finally, as the year comes to an end, and as we are all straining to see and imagine what will come next, we want to share one last reflection. Through the many difficult times and moments this year, we have been continuously inspired and energised by the resilience, creativity and courage of our artists, partners and other collaborators. It is thanks to them, and the ongoing generosity and support of our funders and (critical) friends, that we’ve been able to grow as an organisation and make the difference we have this year. And that has been a true privilege.
Thank you for supporting Counterpoints Arts, and wishing you space for joy and creativity in the year ahead.
Director, Counterpoints Arts
Image credit: ‘A mask for your thoughts’ by Zia Ahmed