Deep and digital: creative collaborations online

Luci map for MSNW
When we went into lockdown it was immediately apparent that many people were struggling with multiple uncertainties. I felt that the most useful thing I could do was to offer ‘creative containers’ that could hold people’s images and ideas and help them maintain their sense of self and community, and I used a number of different means to do this. These adaptions proved useful and effective, and the three examples below are Making Rainbows with families from Speedwell Children’s Centre; My Strange New World, with friends and family; and staff and students from Maynooth University in Ireland.

At the beginning of lockdown, lots of people were putting rainbows in their windows as a sign of hope and solidarity, and I initiated Making Rainbows in response to this. Working with families from Speedwell Nursery School and Children’s Centre, we used an exisiting WhatsApp group, and I posted a photo of the chosen colour every day. People responded by taking and posting their own photos, and at the end of each day, I put the images together as a collage and shared it with the group.
The simplicity of this idea made it easy enough for people to participate whilst leaving enough room for individual voices and cultures to emerge. Another important factor was me posting the collage at the end of each day, because this created a feedback loop where we could all see our work valued and existing as part of a greater whole.

In May 2020, I wanted to bring together some of the very different ways in which people were experiencing the restrictions, and so I invited my household, neighbours and people I was in touch with online, to contribute to a participatory mapping project – asking them to make a map of what their world was like at the moment and to write their thoughts and feelings on the back. I have selected six maps here that range from pre-school through to retirement.
Bored of the bug. Miss pre-school friends.
Poppy, 3¾ years oldRamona
Sad, happy, grateful
Ramona, 8 years old
I feel like I’m stuck inside and all of my plans are ruined. At the same time, I’m happy to be stuck inside a nice house surrounded by supportive people in a place where food and resources are plentiful. I need a holiday after this.
Ali, University student
I’ve been based at an emergency homeless shelter set up on the harbourside, which I have attempted to depict…
Owen, Drug and alcohol support worker
I feel strong and  weak; happy and incredibly sad; blessed and blighted. Things are pared back but complex. Work feels incredibly vulnerable and I’m not sure how worried I should be feeling about it all.
Luci, Socially engaged artist
This map is of a regular ‘lockdown’ walk along a section of the river Avon. This has become a sign, for me, of my lockdown world. It’s hemmed in by Bristol, but offers a view of another world in which the virus is not significant.
Iain, Retired lecturer

I led two participatory creative sessions for Maynooth University. The plan had originally been for me to deliver them in person, but as this was not possible I suggested doing them online. I wasn’t sure how successful this approach would be, but together we discoverd that it is perfectly feasible to make and share creative practice in this way.

The first workshop with Education PhD candidates and purpose was to bring them together to think about some creative approaches they might to use to adapt their own research projects to the pandemic. I invited them to draw someone who was key to their research and label three aspects of this person that stood out for them in some way. They then introduced their person to the group explaining why they had chosen them. They then attached their portrait to a sheet of A4 paper and considered the three aspects in relation to the COVID-19 situation.
Margaret O'Keeffe
Roisin O'Donohoe

The second workshop was with advocates from DISCs (Disciplines Inquiring into Societal Challenges).  You can read more about the DISCs project here.
I used a deep mapping activity to support their thinking about the next academic year, how they were coping with uncertainty, and what the pandemic  meant in terms of changes in pace, and future teaching space/s. Allowing vulnerability and making enough time for people to share their thoughts and ideas is what brings depth to this work.
Meliosa Bracken 1
Fergus Ryan
Comments from participants
‘I was struck again by how creative methodologies can open up rich conversations that feel a little bit different from our usual ways of communicating and feel a little bit more vulnerable as a result – not something we are always encouraged to be in the day job! Certainly lots of all of your ideas and, of course, my own, were floating around my head over the weekend!’

‘ I found it very enriching and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning, in particular, about your projects in Bristol, both pre-COVID and post-COVID. Thank you again for the workshop. The technique is an excellent way of eliciting very deep conversations and connecting with others in a very profound way.’

‘…it gave me a sense of how it is possible to make creative spaces and processes online (that always seemed counter-intuitive given that we associate ICT with technical processes and functional modes!)’

‘That was fantastic!’