We can push creativity without reliving Covid trauma

The pandemic could inspire some students' creativity – but other learners may prefer escapism, says Kirsty Walker

Kirsty Walker

We want college students to be creative – but they shouldn't have to relive Covid

As a former filmmaker and film student, the Oscars awards show was always an exciting event for me. When the BBC still had the rights to screen it, I would stay up all night watching the full show, desperately trying to stay awake for the announcement of best picture. I once was able to watch it live as I was in Boston – and forced my long-suffering friend to watch the whole, unedited four-hour broadcast with me.

This year’s show was, of course, without an audience, socially distanced, and with a higher than usual percentage of absent winners giving speeches from across the globe. This year’s presenter’s script focused on where the nominees had started out, and it got me thinking about our students in creative subjects, and what messages we are sending them about using their experiences of the past year in their work.

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Editorial director at HarperCollins Phoebe Morgan said “I know this is my personal opinion and I am only one editor, but I am advising my authors not to add pandemic into contemporary novels. I don’t think anyone wants to remember this when they’re trying to escape. Fiction is fiction.”

Will Covid inspire creativity in colleges?

It’s likely that over the next decade we’ll see a lot of creative work inspired by lockdown. There have already been albums by Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney amongst many others, and films created entirely on Zoom, like Host by Rob Savage. So are we likely to see a few years of lockdown inspired work from our creative students?

I feel like the jury is still out on that one. Some students have already been writing songs and scripts, and creating photo projects based on the isolation and stress that Covid-19 has caused. Others want to experience complete escapism and almost pretend that none of this has happened. The catharsis that creative work can bring is something that we, as teachers, need to think about in our 2021-22 schemes of work, but do we need to also keep in mind that forcing students to relive and document one of the most stressful years of their lives might be hard on a significant number of them?

I rewatched the pandemic film Contagion almost as soon as last year’s lockdown began. As someone who uses film and TV both as an escape and a tool for catharsis, I needed to see how bad it might get, even if that was an imagined and dramatised version of what was now a reality. It actually made me feel better to watch it. Whilst there was looting and rioting on screen, in real life we were clapping for the NHS and (mostly) wearing our masks diligently. Whilst Matt Damon was waiting for his vaccine based on when his date of birth was in a nightly screened lottery, we were prioritising the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

It’s a tricky situation, and perhaps balance and understanding is the way to go. Encourage those who want to use their lived experiences to shape their creative work, as so many artists before them have, but allow escapism, too. This generation will be creating films, photographs, songs, novels, and artwork that will define these times, but let’s not forget that legendary filmmakers like Carl Reiner, who was a teenager during the Second World War, made comedy for a living and didn’t often draw on those experiences to create.

Personally, I’m working on my dynamite script of a teacher on lockdown. Kind of a cross between Animal House and Rear Window. Hollywood, here I come!

Kirsty Walker teaches at a college in the North West of England

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