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SRS Studios response to COVID-19

AAV has been running art studios inside Supported Residential Services (SRS) for many years. For three hours a week, facilitating artists go into these houses and run art workshops, some in a dedicated art space, others in dining rooms, lounge-rooms or courtyards... wherever they can fit! Whatever the space, the one common factor is the artists and the value of these studios to them, both as artists and as humans.

The SRS Studios were one of the first places to close their doors to outside visitors to protect their residents from the risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19). In the lead up to this, facilitating artists pulled together individual art materials packs and began to think of ways to maintain connection.

For many of the houses, closing their doors meant closing themselves off from all the usual programs and activities they had in place to support and engage their residents. Some houses have anywhere from 20 to 50 residents. That’s 20 to 50 people, many living with mental illness, who were suddenly cut off from daily/weekly activities and programs that supported their mental and physical health. The risk of stress and anxiety for both the residents and house staff (running on a skeleton crew) was and is extremely high.

Once the doors had fully closed, the SRS Studios team made connection in any way that they could. These connections began with phone calls, chats to managers, house staff and residents. And then, the process to bring the Studios online started. Some houses have little or no technology and others, even if they do have the technology, require staff to support the set-up. We are working with the houses to find the means to bring them online.

For those who have been able to access the technology so far, the transition to SRS Studios Without Walls (online) has been a huge success. Some quotes from participating artists and house staff include:

“It’s so good to see you!” – Artist, SRS Fusion

“We are happy to be connecting this way.” – Artist, SRS Willows

“This is vital… It keeps everyone’s spirits up! So happy that the group has been able to keep running, especially as our other services and groups are not running.” – Manager, SRS Chippendale Lodge

Participants have continued to make art, to talk about their days, and to connect with the world beyond their doors.

Delivering the sessions online has also been a different experience for the facilitating artists. One spoke about how she had been unsure how it would feel, being so remote when their presence in the room usually plays a large part in how the sessions run. During their first online session, she said that “It felt surprisingly intimate and connected.” She also noted that one artist, who would usually spend only short bursts of time in the room, stayed connected and engaged for almost the entire session.

There have been moments when facilitating artists have been left floating on the iPad screen as residents go off for a morning tea cuppa, only to be discovered later by another random resident, peering at the screen and saying “Oh hello! It’s the art ladies!”

It is, indeed, a different and interesting world we’ve landed in and with this new way of working and connecting comes new possibilities. The artists from the SRS Studios rarely get the opportunity to come together to meet, chat, exchange ideas and stories. In fact, this usually happens maybe once a year. The last time they all met was the Visible/Invisible event in December last year, a public event that brought together 60 artists from across all 10 SRS Studios. The SRS Studios Without Walls have the potential to bring these artists together more frequently, and we are now planning several special online events for artists from different houses to come online together to chat, collaborate and share art and stories.

Watch this space!