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How Creativity and Art Support Social Connectedness in a Time of Physical Isolation

pic 2 – Ter Kuile
Casper ter Kuile, left, and his husband, Sean Lair, waving to the more than one hundred members of their virtual community choir. Photo Credit: AP Photo / Jessie Wardarski
June 5, 2020

Caroline Shriver is a New York-based  performer, dance teacher, and writer. She is a graduate of the Fordham Univeristy/Alvin Ailey BFA Program where she majored in Dance and Latin American Studies. Her main interests lie in the intersections between art, education, and youth development around the world.

The world was already facing high levels of loneliness and isolation before the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is no surprise that our lives during quarantine have led to new and alarming levels of loneliness around the world. It seems that anyone who did not understand the true meaning of isolation or loneliness, has now received a crash course in its physical, emotional, and mental effects on individuals and communities. We find ourselves in a position where we are frequently asking: how do we get through the day without the normal social connections we need to feel valued, seen, and heard? And where do we find hope?

The world is finding new ways to harness art and creativity to address these critical questions and we have seen several promising strategies emerging.

Dance, yoga, and workout studios around the globe have found creative ways to use Zoom, Instagram Live, and pre-recorded videos to engage their regular patrons, those who have not attended in years, and even those in distant locales who would have been impossible to reach before. Physically apart, yet virtually together, all bodies are invited to flow, jump, and plié as one collective. While dancing in our mirrors offers liberation, when we dance together, scientist and dancer, Hanna Poikonen writes that we become “attuned to another person’s brain frequency” and grow as an “empathetic community.”  In discovering creative ways to move together, we remind one another of our human bodies’ infinite ability and potential for connection.

Online performance platforms like The Social Distance Festival and Casper ter Kuile’s “Corona Community Choir,” use online live performance to replicate the raw and in-the-moment human connection we usually come across in daily interactions. In “showcasing amazing talent,” The Social Distance Festival invites us to participate and be an audience for one another, bringing us “together as a community.”  For those who want to feel unabashed in a smaller community, the “Corona Community Choir” singalongs allow participants to mute their mics so each person hears only ter Kuile and their own voice. ter Kuile shares that “having to physically isolate … doesn’t mean we have to socially disconnect.” When social isolation has robbed so many of feeling seen or heard, online live-performance festivals and Zoom singalongs give us the tools to be honest and open.

The Instagram account, girlsofisolation reaches out to a specific community of women, including non-binary and queer people, inviting them to send in self-portraits that depict daily life during quarantine. While the account only shares photos and the date, its creative simplicity serves as a constant reminder to its followers and its participants of this shared experience during a time of social isolation.

Beyond feeling seen and heard as individuals, art has the unique ability to give value to our emotions. In her oil pastel series, “I Miss You”, French artist, Ines Longevial puts into colourful images the worldwide sentiment of missing someone or something during COVID-19. When we are unable to gather, we need new ways to remind each other of our right to belong, no matter our feelings or experiences. Longevial’s online gallery, as well as the workshops she teaches through the art therapy platform, “If You Were Here Now,”  validate the loss and collective mourning we as a culture continue to grapple with amidst this pandemic.

Caroline Shriver’s family gathers with “heart hands” on Zoom to express love and connectedness during challenging times.

As families, communities, and individuals are forced to find new ways to grieve the loss of jobs, connections, and loved ones, art and creative practices guide us. There is no way to make up for the human connection we so desperately crave as human beings, but with our physical lives in the hands of doctors, we can place our emotional lives in the hands of creatives. We might even be able to re-enter society with a deeper understanding of isolation, equipped with the tools we need to build a more connected world.