With the emergence of the global Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year, many industries such as hospitality & fashion were forced to quickly adapt where they could. However the pandemic had a drastic and substantial impact on the arts; by March, most cultural institutions across the world were indefinitely closed, exhibitions, events, and performances were canceled or postponed, artists on zero-hour contacts suddenly lost commissioned work, challenging their livelihood. Many galleries and artists have been left uncertain about their futures. We spoke to Rachel Willcocks from the  New Art Exchange in Nottingham, about the true impact from COVID19 for the Art scene and how we can help to support the industry right now.


 Photo Credit - Photographer John Sturrock, Pattern Portraits by Lauren Godfrey – an installation of 120 patterned flags stretching between the iconic roofs of Coal Drops Yard.


Hi Rachel, first off, can you tell us more about NAE?

Most people who have been past New Art Exchange without knowing what's inside are a little intrigued because it's such a strange-looking building. It's a big black box in the middle of Hyson Green, Nottingham. Although it is a strange addition to the bustling community made up of people from diverse and lower socio-economic backgrounds, it adds something unique to the area. 

NAE is the largest centre in the UK dedicated to culturally diverse arts for all. We are working hard to put Nottingham on the map by delivering an engaging programme of exhibitions, events and online content for our local community, as well as national and international audiences. At the same time, providing a platform to showcase local artists and internationally award-winning artists whose work aligns with our mission to stimulate new perspectives about the value of diversity in art and society.


How has COVID impacted the institution?

Like many other cultural venues, we, unfortunately, had to temporarily close in March. Since then, some of us have been working from home, and other members of our team have been furloughed. It's been an enormous change.  

Throughout this time, we've been digging through our archives to reminisce on previous exhibitions, curating Instagram Takeovers with emerging artists and highlighting the conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement. Plus, we've been keeping our families and youth groups busy with activities mailed to their homes, videos online and things to do on our website! Right now, preparations are underway to reopen for October the 19. Our decision to open later in the autumn has been driven by several factors, including the heart-breaking fact that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on people of colour and Black and Asian communities. Our priority is to keep our team, the local community and our visitors as safe as possible. 

Photo Credit - Photographer John Sturrock of the Kings Cross art installation at Granary Square.

Do you think the Art Scene will recover from this?

We're so happy to see many of our fellow arts organisations open back up again, but many cultural organisations nationally will suffer and will be at risk of closure. Each cultural organisation has the responsibility to change and to become relevant to what audiences want and need from the arts in a post-pandemic world. Many of us have had to put our worlds on pause and most definitely will have felt isolated at some point during the lockdown, but art has the power the bring people together, to share each other's stories, and to increase understanding and build stronger communities. The arts are a crucial part of the countries fightback against COVID-19, and we are hoping the audiences are ready to support us once again and will be back to our building to be inspired! 

Outdoor art spaces will start to thrive too, and hopefully, we'll start to see more of them. So, places like Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Kings Cross outdoor art gallery. These types of spaces and projects open art up to everyone, including audiences who may have never entered a gallery space before. 

Photo Credit - Art Fund KAWS exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park 

How have artists been reacting to the pandemic? 

Not everyone has been fortunate enough to be able to create and make new work during this time. Some artists have had to pick up other responsibilities, such as caring for children who are at home or elderly family members. Many artists have not been able to go to their studios and so have been forced to create new work at home and in entirely different conditions. It's definitely a test of creativity when the resources and spaces you usually use change and force you to diversify your work.

 A lot of other people, who don't think of themselves as artists have also been picking up creative hobbies that may have been sidelined and abanded in their day-to-day lives. Getting creative helps to keep the mind busy, and the brain churning, so it has been a great thing for those on furlough or stuck inside to rely on to keep them occupied.  The current climate has pushed a lot of artists to make really captivating work which says more politically, or that touches on this experience of a pandemic that we've all shared.

So, how can we help the arts/artists at this difficult period?

This is so important. A lot of artists now have an online presence. So simple things like following them online, supporting their work digitally, and even sharing it on your social media always helps them to grow a following. Why not commission your favourite artist? Seek out to buy direct from the artist or makers website. Next time you need a gift, think of them. If you don't know where to start looking, check out local independent stores too and sites like Etsy. Plus, if you can, donate to your local arts organisations or look into arts volunteering opportunities!


Photo Credit - Universal Works, Nottingham Contemporary Gallery 

Thank you, Rachel and NAE for taking the time to talk to us and shedding some light on the current climate.
There is no denying that we need, art, literature, music, film... (this list goes on) to thrive in our everyday lives. From a well-designed building to street art, those considered design touches all around us, inspire us to make better and more creative decisions, and frankly make the world a less boring place! And one of the many reasons why it is so important for us to keep on supporting this important industry in any way we can!

artist organisations, arts nonprofits, and artists have created GoFundMe campaigns during the pandemic. If you are financially able and considering donating, here is a good place to start your search.