Lockdown in Melbourne over the last few months has been challenging for all of us. It often felt as if the harsh restrictions imposed on us would never lift; it was winter, there was lots of gloomy days and most of us were constrained to living our lives within a 5km zone of our homes, and with extremely limited social interactions with family and friends.
The NDIS, which is a national organisation supporting people who have a disability or mental illness, recognised the importance of keeping people on this scheme connected to services in order to keep well. Providers were encouraged to continue providing services to clients/participants so long as it was safe to do so, and protocols were met. The art program, like other NDIS supports was considered an essential service. Of course, any of us who create or work in the arts, or work with people who love the arts, will know this already.
Art for Soothing and Strengthening continued to provide art to participants throughout. As a very tiny provider, it was easy to transform the service I was providing pre-COVID to adapt to the new ways of social engagement. No more groups and lots of washing’. but it was so worth it. It was really terrific to see people each week, for them to have something meaningful to do, as well as something enjoyable to look forward to and also remember. Many of those who come here live alone, so the social connection was vital. As well as the creativity that happened throughout, there was also incredible and wonderful acts of kindness between us all – sharing food, books, clothes, well wishes. Those who were able cooked and provided beautiful meals to share and make other’s lives a little easier. It was so gratifying to witness, and experience the sense of community that has emerged in the studio, and sometimes between people who have yet to met each other.
Reflecting on the 7-8 months of lockdown, participants and I would say that most did extremely well, most of the time in managing it – and perhaps managed it better than any of us expected. And perhaps suffered less than many others in the community. These women, some of whom have experienced trauma, really difficult times in their life, have a learning disability, or are on the spectrum, seem to have developed an acute resilience which enabled them to cope. They have a deep understanding that recovery – and other things – can take a long time, so there are also enormous wells of patience present. And frequently a sense of humour.
At the end of the first lock down I wrote a paper which will be published later in the year, or early 2021, describing the many attributes the participants in the studio brought to this difficult time, and what was needed and provided to support them through the pandemic. One of the most crucial was the the NDIS’s on-going support to assist people maintain services and connection, and with that, the option to keep the studio operating.
Art making at the studio is relaxing and time to learn new things try new things as well as develop existing skills. A new participant to the studio has early onset dementia, an arts background, and thoroughly enjoyed painting on a large scale. I am teaching her about colours here, and how to manage a palette so colours remain fresh so she can create the happy paintings she wants to make.
Karen is learning to use the wheel. the clay is soft – and the task is messy. Perfect!
Melinda’s work mostly relates to nature. This bowl with imprinted gum nuts and sheoak leaves; earthenware with a wax sheen.
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