Perspectives is a series of first-person accounts documenting how Liverpool’s creative and independent industry has been affected by the ongoing pandemic. Read more here.
Lesley Taker – Exhibitions Manager, FACT
My work has been affected both positively and negatively by the Covid-19 pandemic. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home. I also have a small child – he’s not even one yet – and my partner is working full time as well, so the timetable has been a challenge to say the least. But in that, I have had to become very efficient in small windows of time and I work mostly at nights, which follows my natural rhythm. I’m also able to create more pockets of time for research and forward planning, as is the whole team. It’s been a privilege to be able to work like this, and also spend more time with my son.
My time at FACT has always been really intense. We work on many projects at one time: at varying levels and timescales, with a very small exhibitions team. So, being able to slow down our processes, integrate the content we are creating and re-engage with the artists with whom we were speaking (in a more open and experimental way) has been incredibly valuable. There has been space where we can look at what it is we should be doing, and how to best achieve that now, and in the near future.
Our exhibition, And Say The Animal Responded? was almost ready to open when the government measures were introduced requiring us to close our doors. This was especially sad as it was the first show that Nicola [Triscott], our CEO as of last Spring, has curated. The exhibition was going to mark the launch of a 12-month programme called The Living Planet, an exploration into our relationship with the natural world. So, to acknowledge the work undertaken by the artists involved and the team who put it together, when the FACT building reopens, it will be with that exhibition and a public programme we had originally planned. But alongside there will be additional artworks and events which we have developed in collaboration with many of the artists we were already working with. Many of these take The Living Planet as a starting point and develop from there; some acknowledging the changes which we are all facing, and the ways in which the non-human and human worlds have so chaotically intersected.
There was a conscious decision here also, not just to put our current exhibition and its related events, online. Rather, we wanted to take a step back and respond fully to the role that FACT can actually play – and how our digital programming is central to this – rather than just creating additional content in an already over-saturated moment. And to work with artists to think about how we can do that in a new way.
This was the main drive behind our open call, FACT Together, which offers grants to ten artists across the North to make new online commissions this summer. This is a first step in a series of ongoing programming which will support local artists and open FACT up to more emerging talent.
In terms of my emotional response to all this, if I’m honest, I switch from being quite matter-of-fact to being thoroughly overwhelmed. I have relished being able to make space for deeper and more open conversations with a wider range of artists than I normally would be able to. And I am incredibly excited about further opening up that network over the next few months and being able to research and plan for the next year with this same mindset.
My approach to my work has been very similar in lockdown, but mediated a great deal by having a little one who needs a lot of attention. I only just came back off my maternity leave for a couple of weeks when this all started, so it at once feels very strange and very familiar to me. But one thing I am missing is that divide, being able to be in ‘work mode’ is something I really enjoy. And kids are properly exhausting, to be honest!
Having to do both, at once, makes me feel like I’m not doing either very well – which is incredibly frustrating, as I’d always thrown myself into work, and when I was on maternity leave I threw myself into that as well. So the hybridisation has been causing me some anxiety, but I think it’s a sort of evolution. It’s bound to cause a bit of angst.
I think that we will all be very different people when this intense part is over, and I hope that we embrace that and learn from the changing rhythms and working patterns; learn how to create environments that work for people who have different lives and needs to ourselves, and value their input just as much as the input we instantly recognise. I suppose that’s my biggest hope for this. I have also remembered how unbelievably anti-social I am when taken out of an arts context.
While personally I have been really fortunate – with FACT’s support from Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council – along with most of the team I can continue working remotely. Artists, freelancers, casual and gig workers, however, upon whom our entire sector relies, are constantly placed in extremely precarious financial situations, and so they will be feeling this the hardest.
Obviously, there are many different support systems offered at the moment, but many of the people who work in the cultural sector – and especially visual arts – have many, many roles and jobs to make ends meet. So they are the exact people who fall through the gaps where these sorts of government schemes meet. I can only hope this has flagged for everyone whose existence relies upon artists and other non-contracted / permanent cultural sector workers just how terrifying it can be to live in such an unpredictable atmosphere. Across the sector, we constantly facilitate artwork about precarity, labour, neoliberalism and active suppression, and maybe this is the thing which forces us to confront how we perpetuate these very systems.
My prediction is that at other side of all this, everyone’s websites will be wayyy better, ha! But really, I think people’s commitment to digital platforms will, and really should, evolve out of this necessity – as well as what institutions consider as ‘online’ output. I also hope that a lot of organisations take this moment to look at themselves, as I really think we are at FACT. To question what they’re doing, who for, and why. And ask themselves if they are doing it well.
I hope we are addressing some of the things in FACT’s DNA which have felt at odds: becoming clearer on who we are, and what we can do. And how to celebrate what we are really good at – properly own it. Because I think we all struggle with that. I also think a lot of us (not just FACT, obviously) work way too hard, too long, without looking up and allowing things to make sense in a wider landscape. So I think this break with normality has to change that. Something which is already causing unbelievable grief, poverty and trauma has to at least make us look at ourselves and think about what we’re throwing out into the world, doesn’t it?
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