Home Ground: Comfort and support during ‘strange and uncertain times’
Home Ground is a multi-disciplinary community arts initiative, for women in the Justice system. In the first half of this year, the Home Ground collective was running workshops in Arohata Women’s Prison, and had just finished a two month community based project in Lower Hutt. They were working towards ‘Project Whā’, a public platform for showcasing their work that had been in development over the last year. They were planning an exhibition and a series of public engagement events to discuss the impact of incarceration on women and whānau.
Jacqui Moyes, Director of Home Ground, explains: “I think leading up to the lockdown we were all scared. Going into the prison was terrifying because you didn’t want to be the one that brought it [Covid-19] in! Especially as I had been visiting community spaces and had no way of knowing if I had picked it up somewhere. Then, the prison locked down and no one was allowed in. I think the immediate fear for me then, as a practitioner, was a potential mental health crisis for the women and how I could support that from a distance. For so many women, abandonment and isolation is a massive trigger, being constantly let down is a reality. I didn’t want Home Ground to become just another absent let down. So, I over compensated by designing creative projects and sending them in each week.
It sounds old school, but the biggest change to my practice was going back to pen and paper. Creating paper-based creative tasks using the multitude of awesome ‘Covid resources’ people put into the world (thanks everyone!), sending them into Arohata to the guards, they print them off and distribute them to the women.
Home Ground has a PO Box where the women can send their work. I won’t know until June how this strategy has worked out, because I won’t be able to talk to the women until then. I found those first few weeks a hardcore struggle, dealing with family needs and just the strangeness of it all so my creative capacity was limited. There has been so much beautiful and inspiring creative content distributed freely, that we have been able to share and work with that as well as using exercises to reflect on the work we have already done.”
For the community side, the Home Ground team found working in a community space with no idea of the level of risk was a challenge. Jacqui comments, “the smell of the Dettol spray is still up my nose. Sharing food and eating together is a huge part of our daily rituals, this also had to stop. We decided to move ‘online’ for the last week. Kanohi ki te kanohi is the way we work, it just felt so empty online but we moved onto social media platforms (Facebook page and group, Instagram, Twitter) and Google Classroom. There were a lot of phone calls and attempts at Zoom, but really we are just waiting for Level 2 to get back to work, together.”
Jacqui explains how they have been working on developing ideas for how Project Whā could be different and shared a lot of self-care tips! She did a weekly post with the Arohata Prison resources on a private facebook group page, for anyone who wanted to do. That continuity for the group was really important, but Jacqui worries about the overall disruption: “I don’t know how it will go on the next project given this break in our flow….so we just have to try our best to keep up the momentum.”
“When covid first came to NZ it was in the middle of our maintenance weeks post Home Ground, the lockdown came into play when we still had a maintenance workshop to do. Jacqui made sure straight away that there was a plan B. We spoke the first few days and talked about the Home Ground group, and page and knowing it was a safe place to share what we were doing in lockdown or even just how we were feeling. Jacqui also made sure to be in contact at the very least once a week whether it was through the page or a text message or phone call or zoom chat. It was really comforting knowing we had that support during these really strange and uncertain times. I'm looking forward to our next project whether it be online or back in the community.” By NM, Home Ground
Reflecting on what has come out of this time, Jacqui says: “I have learnt that there is a real divide with community arts practice and personal arts practice. I didn’t feel like it was an option to stop, I couldn’t push pause. That first four weeks felt like I was running and just couldn’t catch up. I have learnt that I need to practice better selfcare when a crisis happens!
I have gained new ways to work in a lockdown, but this is totally dependent on having strong relationships. In the institutional setting, those relationships are a lifeline.
I have learnt how important online access is, and how it is the same issue as the lack of access to the arts. It is highlighting another great divide of inequality.
I have gained a whole lot of maintenance work by moving stuff online, but a whole bunch of new opportunities come with that. I am excited by digital multi-media opportunities and we have invited new artists to work with this on Whā. It may mean we have a wider reach than our usual intimate community events, and that could be a new phase for Home Ground.”
For more on Home Ground, see here: https://www.creativenz.govt.nz/news/women-at-the-centre-of-home-ground-creativity-programme
Mask designed by the Home Ground Collective, made by PM