Two artists both working on projects as part of our micro commission programme, Creative Communities in Quarantine, got together on a video call. Artists Sophie Fretwell and Sarah Acton caught up and compared notes: about their projects, being artists in lockdown and some of the challenges and rewards of producing online digital materials.
Sarah: I don’t know about you, Sophie, but this project has been really significant for me personally, it's a project I'm really passionate about (nature connection and writing outdoors) but it's also helped focus my creativity and rethink how I might offer work through the lockdown when time just stopped for all of us, and now afterwards. Wildwriting! Dorset has so much energy already, it seems to have taken a life of its own, and its run in partnership with Activate and Stepping into Nature who I’ve worked with before, so I’m really chuffed to work with both organisations. But this is the first time I’ve produced an online digital project, and to be honest I always thought my work as an artist educator/facilitator required me to be ‘in the room’ to offer a live dynamic experience, but I can see now how accessible online resources are to reach more people. The process and end offer is different but it still works.
The target audience for Wildwriting! is older people and anyone isolated, limited in mobility or living with dementia. I’ve done a lot of poetry sessions through Stepping into Nature at Alzheimer Memory Cafes, which is some of the best work I’ve ever had the privilege to do (very challenging, really thinking on my feet and tuning into the group all of the time but so full of heart and joy!) But I’ve realised from feedback with the Wildwriting! online downloadable pdfs and videos, they can be used repeatedly over time by this target group and they can be enjoyed by any age group, there is so much flexibility and accessibility when we offer open source material, and it is free to take part.
Sophie: I agree. It’s been interesting working with the possibilities that digital resources open up. I enjoyed creating my Flag it up Portland craft pack, but I suppose, conversely, when we run events in person we get more people sharing their work with confidence; there's something about encouraging people and getting to know them on a personal level, which makes ‘making’ relaxed. I was really busy too, before lockdown, and it's been great working on a community project close to home.
Lockdown has made me really appreciate where I live, on Portland. I’ve been spending a lot of time walking the Portland pathways and feeling glad to be here. Flag it up Portland is my first community engagement project and I’ve been working with b-side to produce the posters, which will be exhibited in the b-side Outpost's windows, once the deadline closes at the end of August. One of the main challenges has been finding the right language to use, to invite people to share their entries. We started with an invitation to nominate a 'local hero' but found that people were hesitant to name one person, when everyone in the community was doing so much to pull together, so we invited flags of 'things people are thankful for in lockdown', and that seems to have less weight attached to it, in terms of visibility. People in Portland are quite private in general I think…
Sarah: Yes, great idea, and it's good to stay flexible too. It's lovely and so playful to be able to select your cat or your garden or something in nature that helps you get through. I’ve found it takes time to build community with Wildwriting! too, but the poems and stories we are receiving as the project continues are fantastic.
There is no deadline for participation on the webpage and hopefully the project will continue to flourish and grow. It is interesting that how we present our projects to the world and the language around these is key, again I think it has to be fun to make and fun to take part, and both of our projects encourage freedom and creativity, play with making, and exploring...which is fun!
I do miss seeing people to offer encouragement though, so much of writing is about overcoming doubt and that inner voice telling you “you might be rubbish” or that “you can't do it today”. But I'm still here to offer help, encouragement and support to anyone who becomes part of the project community. I love this interaction too.
Sophie: The best part for me has been discovering that there are so many creatives on Portland. I think that the exhibition at the end will be a great opportunity to showcase local talent and highlight community members who don’t necessarily consider themselves ‘artists’, which is wonderful to be part of.
Sarah: That's wonderful!
My main challenges were around filming. Basic technical difficulties and filming using the ‘one-take’ approach on my phone to avoid editing. So many hopeless versions, but luckily for this project, the video content doesn’t have to be perfect. The YouTube videos give a taste of how relaxed it is to take time out and write outdoors in nature with some beautiful locations in West Dorset to inspire and generate ideas. But the real message is that it is not just for people who can access beauty spots, Wildwriting! can be anywhere and everywhere, whatever access people have to a garden, park or window.
Sophie: Exactly, and you are right, filming is tricky but there are other types of resources too, so project participation doesn’t rely solely on the videos.
I’m really excited about the next phase of Flag it up Portland and hope that some of the participants come down to see their flags on the posters. They’ll be exhibited in the b-side Outpost's windows, in Fortuneswell, it’s such a busy street and lots of people will see the display from their cars, or walking by. I’m pleased to showcase these flags that have been lovingly crafted. The message like yours is that art is for everyone and everyone!
Sarah: How lovely. I’ll come and have look…So both of our projects are ongoing. The next phase for Wildwriting! is to print out packs of the six pdfs - all nature themed worksheet activities, and send them out to Dorset libraries and community groups on wipeable card, so they are reusable and safe to share…it is great to be able to offer these, as not everyone has access to the internet.
Sophie: that’s a really great idea…
Sarah: It’s so good to talk to you and get excited about your project too, I like the fact that our micro-commissions are reaching so many communities and audiences in Dorset with the positive message to make, create and offer something back out into the world. It's so good to collaborate with other artists in the network, like us here today working in different media, it always sparks new ideas.
Sophie: It’s been great working with Activate and b-side too, I’m loving this project.
Sarah: Me too, these projects have real resonance with the communities they touch and the communities they create – especially as they are produced out of lockdown conditions. Lockdown was so hard for everyone in terms of creative energy, but we have the opportunity to make something positive despite the uncertainty. And it’s ongoing for us both, creativity always generates more creativity!
Sophie: So I’ll probably see you on Portland sometime, Sarah, let’s stay in touch!
Discover more about Sarah and Sophie's projects: