To better understand the day-to-day impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Manchester’s creatives, we’ve launched a new series inviting spokespeople to share their thoughts on what the future of their sector might look like when things return to normal. This week, we hear from HOME’s Curator of Art Bren O’Callaghan… 

As a publicly funded cultural venue, HOME is temporarily closed upon government advice, as are all other cinemas, theatres and exhibition spaces across the UK. At HOME, up to 50% of our income relies on our building being open to the public and the economic impact is huge. During this unprecedented and uncertain time, the support of our audiences is more vital than ever; both to ensure HOME’s financial stability and in turn to allow us to support artists and colleagues from across the industry. Many of our supporters and audience members have chosen to donate refunds for cancelled performances or the cost of a pint to our HOME Response Fund, which is massively appreciated and will make a significant contribution towards being able to reopen and provide a place of refuge, conversation, interrogation and explore a range of creative response to this testing moment in human history.

The crisis has posed many challenges. Programming including exhibitions and forthcoming commissions, festivals and seasons across art, film and theatre are postponed or in some cases cancelled while we attempt to reschedule and explore our next steps. The first domino has fallen and will now set in motion a complex chain of events including a global recession, increasingly limited sponsorship opportunities and the suspension of grant funding as budgets are (quite rightly) re-routed into core support such as hardship relief funds. To use a sci-fi analogy, holodeck privileges are suspended while we reroute systems power towards life-support, such as building maintenance and basic services, honouring salaries, including those most vulnerable upon zero-hour contracts, artist fees despite delayed activity and remaining in contact with other venues and practitioners across the region to ensure no-one feels isolated or unsupported. There may well be a lot of group email chains doing the rounds, but I appreciate the dialogue that has arisen as a result.

When it comes to unlikely opportunities posed by the situation, I’m producing a new visual art commission with local artist and illustrator Nick Burton, a finalist in our recent Manchester Open Awards. Nick is a regular contributing illustrator for the likes of The New York Times and Wired. I approached Nick to explore how we might respond to themes arising from the present moment using the format of a recurring comic-strip distributed, we hope, via the weekly HOME newsletter, as audiences are unable to access our physical gallery spaces. Topics such as isolation, rumination, melancholy, mortality and restriction of movement. His response is shaping up to be something quite incredible, filtered via a fictional narrative, with a little bit of time-travel thrown in for good measure. I’m already obsessed with the characters I’ve had the privilege to meet in advance, and we can’t wait to share it with others. Elsewhere at HOME, The Homemakers Open Call is a series of three new £1000 commissions, for North West based theatre or live art-makers to create work at home, for an audience who are also at home. It is part of the Homemakers series that was announced at the end of March.

It’s still too soon to say how things might change when normality returns. I hope that perhaps larger institutions might be less isolationist, and consider a city such as Manchester to be more of an open-laboratory for collaborative programming, less competing cultural bunkers pitted against each other. The policy of chasing ever-greater audience figures is helping nobody, reducing opportunity for all but top-tier names or those trailing a kite string of endorsements. With an expected hesitation by returning audiences, funders will need to reduce reliance on a door count for judging a successful outcome, which may help even-out opportunities. I hope that social networks will be strengthened and that the hyper-local might be championed alongside the fishing lures of larger attractors. I’m not an oracle, but I do believe that art will continue to grow, like weeds, in the least habitable of contexts.

Guest Post
Published on:
Thu 16 Apr 2020