2020: Coronavirus, lost opportunities, silver linings
Updated: Feb 8
Well, what a year! It certainly didn’t turn out how we all expected … I had grand plans for 2020 when it began: two shows to curate for Handmade in Britain (Oxford and Chelsea); the continued development of Canopy Market – for which I curate every week; the promise of Battersea River Walk reopening in the spring; completing the mentoring I was doing for the Crafts Council; new makers approaching me for mentoring; the Richard Seager Annual Arts Award kicking off its 2020 project; a new play, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was embarking on a national tour. A busy, and positive, year lay in store. And then Covid hit. With the year barely underway, everything closed for me the week of March 16th: the theatres shut, the markets shut, large events were cancelled, and I, like everyone else, was suddenly at home twiddling my thumbs. Overnight the world had lurched sideways, and we were all adapting to a ‘new normal’.
In the short term there was nothing to be done of course, apart from hunkering down, focussing on home and waiting for the storm to pass. We all hoped it would blow over quickly so we could get back to work and to making a living. Only the hope passed quickly.
With no change in sight by mid-April, I was thrilled to be approached by Patricia van den Akker of the Design Trust, to do an online session for her members. At last, something to work towards! I love the Design Trust and Patricia is nothing short of a force of nature (and a force of endless positivity!). If you haven’t come across the Design Trust, I urge you to take a look, and to take advantage of what it offers. It is the most phenomenal resource. The talk in May finally unlocked the door to the world of work.
The following month saw tentative plans for the reopening of Canopy Market in King’s Cross. Our makers had already by this time lost three full months of trading, and even then they would have to endure a fourth before we were given sanction to open once more. It was a scaled down affair, and the location had to move, temporarily, to Coal Drops Yard, but to see people, to see handmade things and to be conversing. What a joy! Friday July 10th was a highlight of 2020, a bright spot in what had been an otherwise unsettling time.
Work was once again underway and even though we knew Handmade Oxford was impossible, I got to pursue a new venture, Boulevard Market at Islington Square, which would give Canopy Market’s precious craft – and food – traders another opportunity to sell. It took some planning, but we did it. In the meantime, the Richard Seager Annual Arts Award had lost its original recipient, but, undeterred, they had been successfully replaced with English National Opera and the commission of a sculpture by glass artist Bethan Yates for its ‘Sky Bar’. Things were most certainly looking up! We were, at this stage, still hoping Handmade Chelsea would happen, and I’d managed to curate two areas for the event: a selection of makers entirely chosen by me, and another space to be a collaboration: “Curated by Dan Goode” with the 2020 and 2019 Rising Stars from the New Ashgate Gallery, Farnham. Everything was planned perfectly … and then the world shut down again!
I was still doing the mentoring – which I love – but I missed face to face interactions and it was heartbreaking to see all my maker friends lose their opportunities, again, to show their work and to sell. Covid was determined not to release its grip.
It wasn’t all bad, however, and acknowledging the good in the situation is important. We did manage to reopen Canopy Market and Boulevard Market Islington Square at the beginning of December. Scaled down to allow for social distancing, but open. With just one day to go, both events finally succumbed yet again when the country dropped into Tier 4 at midnight on December 19th.
So, it’s the end of the year. I think we’re all grateful for that fact, if also a little uneasy about what the new year will bring ... But it hasn’t been a total disaster. Makers, I have found, have been extraordinarily adaptive in the face of this year’s onslaughts. Many have managed to do well online, and the lack of opportunities for the general public has meant more are content to shop for handmade work ‘virtually’. This has had an impact in turn on the lost craft events which also went online, like Handmade Chelsea and Flock in Aberdeen for the Barn (for which I did a development session, a joyful event). Makers have taken the time afforded to them by the imposed breaks to work on themselves and their businesses. A very positive by-product. And I intend to do the same. My own website is going through a transformation as I type.
So, here’s to 2021. I raise a glass to all my colleagues in the making world. Perhaps we’ll have come out of 2020 a little stronger, a little more aware of what we have – and why what we do is so precious to us – and with a little more resolve to live our best life.