27 March 2020 / News

A Place for Artful Care

James Thompson, Professor of Applied and Social Theatre at Manchester University, is responding to the current crisis by putting out a call to share the creative and practical things we are doing to care for others, wherever they are and with whatever means we can devise. He writes:

Empty playgrounds are a stark indicator of the lack of social contact – of the end of assembly and play. While many of our current challenges might resonate with this image, yesterday evening as I stood at my front door and along with most of my street, clapped for the carers in and beyond the NHS, it was clear that our need for creative play was very much alive. The theatres are dark, but in the dark last night, applause was heard across the country – mass participation in what was ostensibly an arts event. I currently research something called care aesthetics – the craft and art of how we look after each other. I have seen care aesthetics in theatre events with youth, in hospitals and homes for elders, and I have felt it as an audience member and as a participant in drama workshops in schools. But last night I heard the aesthetics of care for the first time. So, while the picture here of my local playground has a certain melancholy, we can at least hear the music of care from our front doors – and last night, while obeying all the rules of social distancing, that was in the triumphant bashing of pan lids.

The blog I have created ( is there to hold onto and share the many examples of artful care and creative responses to these times of being locked down, and more generally that exist as responses to our current health emergency. Some of these are artists relocating to working online and sharing their skills, some are whole companies offering their work for the isolated, some is geared to children at home, and more to people who will be struggling with this situation. The sudden shutting of theatres and public art venues has led to a proliferation of creative and generous offers – re-shaping of existing work, and also commissions for new. We are in the midst of a mass experiment in what happens to the arts – and particularly those arts of being together which theatre exemplifies – when we are no longer allowed to assemble. I hope the examples here inspire and demonstrate how vital the arts are to our health and sense of community – maybe how amazingly adaptable they are, but also perhaps what we are missing.

If you do have examples from where you are working and living, please feel free to send them to me directly or post them on the blog. The categories at the moment are rough and ready and I am happy to adapt and change these are we go. Please use as you see fit, and if you would like to post comment pieces there as well, I would be happy to add them. I will keep this open as long as possible and am happy to make it available to anyone interested in the creative response to these extraordinary times.

I hope we keep applauding in the weeks to come. Whilst we can’t touch or rub shoulders, we will keep in touch in new ways, using our ingenuity to develop creative responses to the pandemic. Hopefully we will benefit and learn from what is fast becoming the new art of staying at home.

James Thompson

University of Manchester