Blogposts on this site typically feature our research and projects or reflect the latest trends emerging in the cultural and creative sectors. However, this is not a typical year and therefore the final blogpost of the year should be equally atypical.
As I listen to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and reach out for the last homemade mince pie baked by my mother, I pluck up some courage to meander back into 2020 for an end-of year personal reflection.
In a typical year I would spend half my time traveling across the globe meeting my international colleagues working on numerous consultancy projects or attending conferences and meetings.
When setting up my own business three years ago I deliberately chose to work from home as my modus operandi. Having a base called home after back to back work trips is comforting and very efficient – you cook, wash clothes and water plants whilst talking culture to clients. I cherish these moments because they counterbalance the crazy travel schedules and ease jetlag. This year, I registered zero travel air miles and proudly contributed to a zero-carbon footprint from air travel. I am now convinced, more than ever, that some business in the cultural and creative sectors can shift online for good. However, I am equally convinced that there is nothing more valuable and special about being physically in the same room with people to develop new ideas, to radically change perspectives, to share stories and to experience the emotions that only person to person encounters can create.
I remember sitting for 8-hour meetings and thinking how that meeting could have been an email. Probably conversations during the coffee breaks were more meaningful than the items on the agenda. 2020 convinced me to shift my thinking to less, but more meaningful travel, where the quality of the time spent with people is the only valuable justification for any trip.
2020 also made me say yes to finding alternative places to work from and more people to team up with. Voices in my head kept telling me ‘grow or quit’ but the world around me kept uttering ‘survival’ in 2020 is the only strategy. Whereas the future for any creative business remains bleak, growing into new areas is what kept me going. Hopefully, more on this in the coming months!
2020 was undoubtedly the year of Zoom. We all mastered its features and had our fair share of ‘can you hear me?’ or ‘my connection is unstable’ or ‘my cat just spilled my tea on the laptop’ moments. I am every so grateful Zoom exists. It was my main source of connection to my outside world. It literally saved my business. Zoom connected me to hundreds of people across the globe. In 2020 I was virtually in every continent. Zoom was my podium for keynote speeches, my rehearsal room for new theatre projects, my workshop space for focus groups with clients, my dance floor for parties with friends and my crying room for heart to heart conversations.
2020 was an emotionally loaded year. Expressing personal emotions in the business world is often frowned upon. Expressing emotions as a man is often ridiculed. So here I am doing both, effortless and unashamed. In 2020 I cried. My emotional attachment to the world around me was on overdrive. I cried when I saw countless coffins being piled on trucks as the pandemic started to hit Italy. I cried when I heard stories of people being made redundant. I cried when artists lost work and when the arts were flagged up as non-essential. I cried when my own work was slow and motivation to continue was low. I felt vulnerable and at times I felt that I couldn’t do much about it. There were days when I was more concerned about my mental wellbeing than the pandemic itself. Long walks and regular exercise kept me focused. Probably, they kept me alive.
For weeks on end I worked to flag up the dire situation of artist whilst juggling my own work. The media was interested to know more, the politicians started to listen, yet from my home/office I still felt voiceless and most of the time, very lonely. However, I was not alone. Hundreds of other individuals felt the same – agitated, helpless and frustrated. Probably the setting up of MEIA was one of the best things that happened to me in 2020. Not only did I return back to the local politics of arts – a main reason for my departure years ago – but I found strength in the tenacity of likeminded individuals who came together for one common goal – making one voice heard loud enough for the cultural and creative sectors to be on the national agenda.
Probably, exiting the year, healthy, with a roof on my head and with the privilege of seeing my loved ones, is all I should really be grateful for. However, I am also grateful for all the artists and works of art that kept me going, made me think and kept me company. In 2020, I was challenged to think even harder why the arts matter. As people reached out for their favorite album, novel, movie, musical instrument or watercolour, the arts probably kept more people alive and sane this year than any other year this century.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, artists, even if bruised, will once again prove how their resilience and creativity will help the world venture forward.
2020 had no perfect vision. It exhausted me. It upset me. Most of all, it reaffirmed what matters most to me. I salute it, bid it farewell and hope that its mark on our future will be remembered as the year that should have changed us, for better.
I wish you all a merry Christmas and a creative year ahead.
May the best of 2020 be the worst of 2021.