The Green Room: Dr Rachel Drury

The Green Room is a blog series from the research community at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, this is the last blog in the series. It’s both a response to the impact of Covid 19 on the arts, and a way of starting new conversations about the future. Each week colleagues will share their personal reflections, insights, challenges and hopes as we begin to map out our next steps together.

Some Lockdown Reflections

byDr Rachel Drury

Lecturer in Learning and Teaching in the Performing Arts

When lockdown was first announced we were, overnight, catapulted into a very strange new world. At first, my overriding experience of work was one of ”˜firefighting’. It was reacting and responding to whatever we needed to do to keep students on track and their various projects manageable and realistic. As time has gone on, the ”˜firefighting’ has become less and there is beginning to be more time to reflect on what life has been like in lockdown, the impact it has had on my work and the impact it will probably continue to have as I move forwards. So, I’m offering some of these reflections up not as fully formed ideas but as food for thought as I continue to ask questions of myself, my research, and my role in the arts.

My first reflection is that we have been thrust into a world of paradoxes. On the one hand, some of the population have found themselves furloughed with plenty of free time as their jobs don’t lend themselves to ”˜working from home’; on the other hand, some have found their workload increasing and been in a mad scramble to adapt to a new normal way of working. Some have lost their work and income entirely whilst others have realised significant profits from unexpected demand through the unfolding situation. Lockdown has brought further inequality to an already unequal world.

Although it has brought many challenges, lockdown has also brought many gifts. Having more time to spend with my partner is a huge bonus and I’ve very much enjoyed sitting down to lunch every day at a table with human company as opposed to at a desk with my work laptop. We have two labradors who have become my new full-time office mates their work ethic is highly questionable but they are lovely company and their gentle snoring has become the soundtrack to my working day. They seem to have spent much of lockdown practising their synchronised sleeping positions. Both dogs seem to be somehow connected with Greenwich Mean Time such is their ability to know when it is time for a walk or time to be fed and this has proven very useful for me in finding a balance with working from home full-time.

It’s so easy to put in much longer days (as I did throughout the first few weeks) and feel as if you have to respond to an email, simply because the person that sent it knows you’ll be at home and have probably got nothing better to do during lockdown than reply to it. My dogs have reminded me of the importance of boundaries. We need time for ourselves and time to adjust.

Rachel's dogs. One is sandy brown and the other is black. The black dog is sitting and looking up.

I’ve been thinking about the currency of the arts in society. Much like the current situation, there have always existed certain paradoxes around the value placed on the arts. Whilst they are held up as being a fundamental part of our country’s offering to the world, the roles and kind of employment that exist within the arts have simultaneously been misunderstood and misrepresented at best, and at worst ignored: many artists are falling between the cracks when it comes to the financial support on offer in other types of jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.

The arts are often heralded as playing a fundamental role in the development of healthy human beings, they are also viewed as a less important, soft(er) option perhaps, in education we are continually told that science, technology, engineering and maths are the ”˜important’ subjects. It would be entirely wrong for me to dispute the importance of STEM in the world; as a music psychologist, my research straddles the arts and social sciences and so my argument is one of equality and complementary potential between the arts and the sciences rather than one being somehow superior to the other. Whilst having undeniable intrinsic value in their own right, I feel incredibly strongly that through collaboration and interdisciplinarity, the arts and sciences can become something much bigger than their component parts. However, when it comes to equity between the two, it seems we have a way to go.

My research interests lie in the impact of music on behaviour, well-being and development. I’m curious about what music, and more widely the arts, can do for people. As such, I’ve been interested to observe people’s use of the arts during lockdown. People have turned to the arts for comfort, for engagement, for expression, for social connections and for communication. Rainbows, that have been drawn, painted, assembled, sketched, etched and crafted, have appeared in many windows across the UK to symbolise hope and to offer a way of making people smile. Street art has appeared in response to events across the world; online choirs, instrumental ensembles and collaborations have appeared in abundance to form connections where COVID-19 has created gaps. Professional artists through to complete beginners of all ages and abilities have used the arts to document, explore and reach out to their fellow human beings.

As an RCS community, we have seen this across multiple platforms including, but definitely not limited to, dance and film (look at Jam Jarring from our dance students) and production (see lighting designer and MEd student Jared Hutsby’s virtual club nights at the Arches in Glasgow).

The arts remain an important way of connecting people and an important outlet for what is going on. I have also had the good fortune of being part of a number of dialogues with and between students and staff that have tackled some challenging questions where the answers have made for uncomfortable but often very necessary listening. I’m continually re-energised by the passion shown for such important areas of discussion and action, the level of maturity in the way they are handled and the willingness of all to learn from each other.

The reason I am drawn to research; the reason I am drawn to facilitating others through the research process is because knowledge is an evolving beast and it demands to be challenged every step of the way. The best outcome of research is that we, and others, act on the best knowledge available to us/them at any given time. As the knowledge develops, so must our practice. I recognise that I haven’t always got it ”˜right’ in my own practice or indeed my teaching. I recognise that I have, and will continue to have, more listening and learning to do. I also recognise that I can’t do this in isolation. Whilst lockdown has afforded us the time and space to reflect on our own, it has also highlighted the fundamental necessity to remain connected and to seek out dialogue, no matter how difficult the subject matter is.

The arts provide a very powerful platform through which to explore, develop and communicate difficult questions and their equally complex answers. They provide a means of telling people’s stories and giving voices that should have been heard and valued well before now a place alongside those that have long since dominated. The arts can make change happen. Our job as artists, as researchers, as teachers, as facilitators, as learners is to use the arts to move the world forwards.
What is my role in this and how will my research change as a result of lockdown and the world events that have happened within that? I’m not sure yet. But I’m excited to continue the dialogue and find out.

You can follow Rachel on Twitter.

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