Liverpool-based artist Clare Brumby launched her business with a loan from Transmit Startups. She was in India when the outbreak began.
Here, she tells us how she’s finding new, safer ways to get people involved in her high-profile work during the crisis.
Hi Clare, give us a quick overview of your business journey up to the point of COVID-19.
I’m an artist and I work on a range of socially-engaging projects around the world involving art, film and writing. In the months prior to the outbreak I had been preparing for a five-month cultural project in India that involved walking in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi.
The aim was to trace the famous civil rights leader’s 24 day ‘Salt March’ to help educate and inspire change in the world.
Gandhi completed this 240 mile march in 1930 as a non-violent protest against a law that forced Indians to buy salt from the British and pay ‘Salt Tax.’
90 years later to the day, I began the same walk in a cultural project called ‘Salt Act’. The idea was to engage with people along the route about the power of positive change.
How quickly were you affected by the pandemic and what impact did this have?
I had to stop 10 days into the walk and travel to a main city because of lockdown restrictions. I ended up being locked down in Vadodara, Gujarat, for almost three weeks.
On 13 April I was fortunate enough to join a repatriation flight to the UK. During lockdown in India I was really anxious about how I would deliver the project on time for my customer, Arts Council England.
Thankfully, they have been incredibly flexible. The arts industry relies heavily on live art projects which clearly cannot safely take place during the pandemic.
Current grant recipients are being allowed to postpone the delivery of their projects given the unprecedented nature of this crisis.
What steps have you taken to minimise the impact on your business?
I’m having to rethink the way the whole project is delivered – moving public participation to the safety of a digital platform. This means upskilling and becoming proficient in a number of online practices.
Having adjusted to the UK lockdown, I’m reviewing photos and footage from the section of the walk I did manage to complete.
I’m using them as inspiration to bring the project back to its main themes of non-violence, dialogue, deep listening, movement and visibility. I am finding new ways to move it forward.
It's a new departure for the project and one in which I hope I can continue to create as many connections and as much value as possible in these uncertain times.
How would you describe your experience of the crisis as an entrepreneur?
Being on lockdown in a different country for three weeks meant my energies were focused on being repatriated to the UK, rather than the project.
This was worrying as I was aware the current live project needed to move forward in some way if I was to meet the original deadline. The funders’ response to the crisis has allowed me to use my creativity to think about a whole new way of working.
Have you taken any steps to cope with the crisis that could potentially lead to long-term changes for your business?
It's certainly highlighted where I can improve on my project management and contingency planning skills.
The experience I gain from understanding digital platforms will be critical in developing audiences for the future. This is particularly important as there's no indication when public participation can become a live activity again.
Have there been any unexpected outcomes from the experience?
Emergency funding available for artists could prove beneficial to my practice and business. On a personal level, I’ve learned to trust and not panic in the face of a crisis.
Unlike some, I have my project funding already so it's just a case of getting back into a rhythm of delivering it in different ways after a slightly traumatic experience of being stuck, albeit safe in India.
This project was always fundamentally about what change people want to see in the world. These views are now even more important in light of how we’ve all had to adapt during lockdown.
In a way the crisis is actually giving me a greater opportunity to create yet more value through my work and prove the importance and value of the arts and cultural sector.