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We really are part of something big!

30 March 2020: two minutes to 12noon and I think I am ready for my first webcast to Societies, live from my flat in North London, near the old BBC studios in Alexandra Palace: I can see more than 500 people - I recognise many names - in the virtual audience on YouTube, as The Arts Society explores new avenues to reach Members and the public. I am hugely grateful for the support and enthusiasm from the audience, who begin talking to each other in the live chat.

I click Go Live - and get a black screen…..

Well, these things happen, a technical glitch: which the team and I overcome with other technologies. Another Mailchimp goes out to 4,000 Committee Members within four minutes, I am live within five, colleagues are responding on live chat, and people return to a new livestream at 12.30pm. It appears to be working, and only a few people have heard me swearing under my breath whilst on air. It was stressful, folks, but here I am talking to 600 people. Thank you all for tuning in (is that what we call it still?)

Image (c) Andrew Havis
The Arts Society live from Alexandra Palace (or nearby)

At the time of writing this post, nearly 1,900 people have watched the (now edited and PG-friendly) film: we have tripled our YouTube subscribers; our new forums on the Connected site are buzzing! A steep learning curve in digital communication, one that mirrors what most people experience these days: it feels like we have made a giant leap in digital evolution.

And our Societies are doing brilliantly: online committee meetings, Mailchimp quizzes, Zoom lectures, WhatsApp lecture planning… Yes, it’s daunting, but we are doing it - and getting better every day. Have a look at some of the ideas shared by Societies on for inspiration and share your ideas. We are working on loads of practical ‘How to...’ guides for Societies which will help you, step by step, to be up to date with technology! This week we are hosting two sessions on Social Media for Societies.

What is important here are not the technologies we use, or the bandwidth of our broadband connections: what is important is that we find ways to get together, and stay together!

It is impossible to forget, however, why we are having to do all this: around us, the world is facing one of the biggest crises of the modern era, and it is currently hard to gauge when any form of normality will be achieved. It is a challenge that, somehow, brings this global world together more closely: we all share a common threat that knows no boundaries and when watching the news one is somehow reminded of one of Hans Holbein’s famous woodblock printings from 1523-5: I shall not mention its title here, it is too gruesome and too close to home.

In this coming together, and sharing the same experience worldwide, I feel that the arts, once again, have such an important role to play. Yes, a lot of arts organisations are closed, many are threatened by collapse, all face very tough times ahead; but look how the arts sector has responded to this; look at how much content has been poured out for people to enjoy from home: opera, theatre, literature, film, online exhibitions, and so on.

People want, people need the arts right now: not just to pass the time, but also because it is one of the things that reminds us of our humanity and the creativity that defines cultures around the world.

So our Societies continue to play a hugely important part in the lives of their communities. As the Chair of The Arts Society Cambridge posted on the YouTube chat yesterday: ​It's so good to see messages from everyone. We really are part of something big! I could not agree more: we truly are, and I hope everyone who is involved in running their Society continues to support their Members during this time: your Society matters to so many, and even though people have to stay at home, you make a difference in their lives. Thank you for all you do, I know it is greatly appreciated.

And for those of you who did not have a chance to catch my (second) attempt at a webcast yesterday, here is the edited version. And I am delighted to say that much more eloquent and clever videos are being recorded by Accredited Lecturers as I write this. The first of which will be available to view on 7th April, when we share this new website with Members.

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