THE LONELINESS, UNEMPLOYMENT AND SUFFERING of artists during lockdown, and the role of the creative act in recovery, are themes explored in a unique online exhibition launched on 29 March.

The Haven + London, the only UK charity solely dedicated to supporting the
emotional welfare of the creative community in London, has created the
exhibition in St Pancras New Church to explore artists’ experiences of lockdown through the lens of the concept of ‘wilderness’.

The exhibition, which runs online until mid-May, showcases the work of artists from a wide range of backgrounds, exploring what this time has meant, how it has challenged and transformed the creative  world and what it means to emerge on the other side.

On the website, visitors can meet the artists, learn about their stories and bid on all the artwork, which is being auctioned to support emerging artists and the work of the Haven + London.

“Artists and creatives have faced very particular challenges as a result of the Covid pandemic”, explained the exhibition’s curator, the Rev Ric Stott. “Artist’s lives are often financially tentative at the best of times and the creative process means that to produce work, creatives are pouring themselves into the art that they produce – this can, of course, be a vibrant and exciting life at times but it is also a challenging framework for maintaining good mental and spiritual health.

“It is important to me that there are communities such as The Haven + that understand the nuances of the creative life and the unique struggles that it presents, especially in such a time of universal trauma.” The exhibition takes as its catalyst the story of Jesus’s experience in the wilderness, which, said Stott, “is important at this moment in our collective experience.” He added: “The last 12 months have been a wilderness year for most of us: social frameworks and patterns of life that we have been used to have broken down, fear and uncertainty abound and even our identities and sense of self becomes fragile.”

The exhibition will showcase the work of a diverse group of artists reflecting on the experience of life in lockdown during the pandemic, and exploring those moments when all sense of self, social identities and notions of value and stability break down. Contributing artists come from a variety of economic and faith backgrounds, and the work on display includes the physical, emotional and spiritual experiences of lockdown, or wilderness time, through a range of media including painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation and performance work.

The Haven + London has seen calls to its services spike during the pandemic, explained the charity’s founder, the Rev Peterson Feital, with issues such as alcohol and drug reliance, eating disorders, and feelings of worthlessness coming to the fore, as well as deep questions about bereavement and what happens to the souls of those lost to the pandemic. “But as well as recognising and partnering in the heartbreak and the sorrow, we wanted to do something positive to help our community”, he said. “Creatives need to create, and art should be a communal experience. In putting on this exhibition, we wanted to give our community a voice, and a way to demonstrate the creative spirit can continue and can flourish as we all try to recover from this pandemic.”

A study carried out by the Work Foundation in 2020, showed that 87 per cent of people in the creative industries experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, compared with 65 per cent across the UK. More seriously, 24 per cent of study participants had deliberately harmed themselves – much higher than the national average of seven per cent.

Arts and culture contributed more than £10 billion to the UK economy in 2019, and the sector has seen a 60 per cent decline in output through 2020. Many smaller galleries, theatres, music and other venues have been forced to close, some permanently, and the opportunities for creatives to express themselves and to build a career and a future have been severely diminished.

Yet art will play a critical role in the recovery of society after a ‘wilderness year’, continued Feital. “As we emerge from lockdown, going to the theatre, galleries and music shows with friends will help our society recover from the broader mental health impact on us all from lockdown. We all need the creative community to help us process and recover, together.”

The Wilderness Exhibition is displayed at St Pancras New Church from 28 March to 4 April and is available to visit online here  until 13 May. Artwork will be available to bid on from 29 March to 13 May, with selected prints available to purchase from 29 March. A live auction event will be held for selected work on 13 May, during Mental Health Awareness Week.

* Source: The Haven