Artists explore life during lockdown

AN award-winning arts and culture project has commissioned five local artists to explore new ways of connecting people and communities with arts and culture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staying Connected is The Cultural Spring’s first commission of its third phase of working to increase participation in arts and culture on Wearside and South Tyneside.

People in both communities were involved in choosing the five artists and their free-to-participate projects. The five are:

·      Gary Nicholson – The Super Human Art Project. This project asks participants to create a self-portrait of themselves as a Super Hero, with special powers and a suitable name. Completed artwork will be scanned and sent to Sunderland-based artist Gary, then the images will be uploaded to a dedicated Facebook event page and a video created for YouTube. Applicants must identify as disabled.

·      Claire Finlay – Craft Packs and Online Tutorials. Claire will create craft kits and deliver them to individuals while following government health guidelines. Once individuals receive the kits, Claire will deliver creative craft workshops via a digital platform.

·      Katy Weir – An Adventure for Lives Less Ordinary. This will be a celebration of Sunderland, part epic poem, part spoken word, part song and part Zoom celebration of everything that’s great about Sunderland. It will be a chance for participants of all ages to participate and perform to varying degrees depending upon the wants and needs of those interested and engaged.

·      Corinne Kilvington – Theatre Space North East’s Corinne will be running a range of online theatre skills workshops. Corinne will deliver four sessions online using Zoom and these have already started. Her next workshops will be held on Saturday, May 23, 2-4pm; Tuesday, May 26, 6.30-8.30pm and Saturday, May 30, 2-4pm. Sessions can be booked by emailing Corinne at

·      Carol Cooke – This project involves South Shields writer and broadcaster Carol creating an archive of lockdown writing, recordings, photos, videos and sounds. She’d like people to send her a sound, image or few words to describe your experience of lockdown. She’d also like to hear what your lockdown treat has been. Send your emails to

Carol said: “I tried to do this and the sound was my sewing machine as I have been making scrubs bags for hospitals; the picture was my grandchildren who I can’t see at the moment; the words are ‘peaceful, quiet and watching more television’, and the treat, almost daily, is fancy ice-cream.”

Katy, a theatre director and producer based in Sunderland, is running three online workshops (again via Zoom) to help her with her project. On Tuesday, May 26 (2-3.30pm) she will host a virtual Town Hall meeting to discuss culture in the city and its place during the COVID-19 crisis. Katy will then host two creative workshops (on Friday, May 29 and Tuesday, June 2, both 2-4pm) inspired by the Town Hall meeting.

Katy explained: “Through testing different artistic ideas, maybe writing, puppetry, singing, or art, we will explore what it’s like on our Adventure for Lives Less Ordinary.

“I’m not sure what it will be, but what I do know is that it will be co-created, celebratory, and will make friendships, ideas, and joined together hopes for the future. All sessions will be undertaken on Zoom and will be British Sign Language interpreted.”

The free workshops are available for anyone aged 16 or over and living in Sunderland. If you have any questions, email Katy at

Gary’s Super Human Art Project will involve him posting art and collage materials to 30 participants so they don’t have to leave their own homes to take part.

Gary explained: “This project allows people to work safely in the comfort of their own home while being part of a bigger project. As a paraplegic I know the mental health issues that go with physical disability. Art is a brilliant way to escape from all of that. This project gives people the chance to express themselves while being creative, to explore what it would be like to be super human. Who hasn’t dreamt of being a super hero or having a super power? Now is your chance to explore that childhood dream.”

For more information on Gary’s project, email

Claire runs regular creative craft workshops at Jarrow’s Perth Green Community Centre. She is aware that many people in the area do not have access to arts material in their own homes and, because of the COVID-19 lockdown, are not able to get out of their homes to buy materials, even if they can afford them.

“So I will create craft gifts and deliver them – safely – to my workshop participants. Once individuals receive the kits I will then deliver creative craft workshops via either Facebook Live, Skype or an equivalent platform. I will make sure all learners have all the craft materials to complete the workshops. Participation will be open to vulnerable individuals living in South Tyneside and Sunderland.”

If you’re interested in Claire’s project, which has limited places, please email

The Cultural Spring is funded by Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places project and its four partners are the University of Sunderland; the Customs House, South Shields, Sunderland’s Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust and Sangini, a women’s health organisation.

Corinne Kilvington