Social distancing has been especially difficult for our creative communities – performers, musicians and artists thrive on human interaction and audiences, and their shows and presentations have been cancelled due to social distancing measures. In an effort to remain connected with one another, Nick Green started The Social Distancing Festival, an online platform where creatives are continuing to share and perform for audiences around the world. We spoke with Nick to learn more about starting the digital festival, how it works and what he has planned to keep creatives motivated.
Tell us about your background and how you came to found The Social Distancing Festival.
I am a playwright and book writer in Toronto, and I’ve been working in theatre for pretty much my entire life. On March 13, I was at the end of the first week of rehearsals for a new musical that composer Kevin Wong and I had been working on for two years when we got the news that the show was being cancelled. It hit me pretty hard, considering I am a single person whose family lives all the way on the other side of Canada. I knew that I could have some dark days ahead if I didn’t find a way to connect to the community and keep myself inspired, and I knew that there were other folks who would be in the same boat. That night I posted the idea of a site that would share and celebrate cancelled artistic work, and that post was shared almost 2,000 times by the time I woke up the next morning. This was 2 days after Broadway was shut down, and gradually artists around the world were just getting the same news about their projects. So I set up the site and had about 100k visitors in the first three days.
Is The Social Distancing Festival mainly for performing arts?
The Social Distancing Festival is a multidisciplinary site for artists all around the world. While we tend to feature work that falls into the category of Theatre, Dance, Music, or Visual Art, we really make decisions on a submission by submission basis. It’s an interesting time as art forms that are meant to be experienced live are trying to transition to digital presentations, and we are definitely interested in trying to support that transition by highlighting the different ways that artists are doing that, given that their work could risk otherwise never being seen.
There are so many live streaming events happening right now, it can be hard to keep up! What do you think sets The Social Distancing Festival apart?
The Social Distancing Festival features a live stream directory that can connect people to artistic works all over the world at almost any time of day. We are unique in that we list a huge variety of artistic disciplines, from music to drag to professional ballet. Also, unlike a lot of sites that focus on the big budget, professional streams, we post those alongside independent artists who are doing really cool work, and who are seeing the much-needed momentum in their career grind to a halt.
You mentioned that part of the impulse to start the festival came from the difficulty you had doing creative work alone during social isolation, especially when you are used to being part of a creative community. What, in addition to the festival, has helped you get into that creative mindset while staying home?
The festival has kept me company in a really profound way for the past month. It’s been an incredible experience getting to know artists around the world who I have started calling friends and colleagues. I also have my own network of friends and my family who have been checking in lots, talking with me about new projects, and sending love. That’s been a life saver and has definitely kept me creative.
The Social Distancing Festival platform has been able to connect artists from different parts of the world. Do you think the community will continue to come together and share their art on the platform after restrictions are lifted?
I honestly don’t really know the next time I’ll be able to get my hair cut, so I can’t speak too much about how things will be once restrictions relax or lift. I know that there’s been a huge amount of value in the ways that the arts community has come together and found ways to share work digitally, and that there’s a lot to learn from how this all happened. This has been a significant time for creators in particular, given that we’ve needed to innovate and turn to one another to present our work. I’m hoping that this is something that will continue; we will keep finding new avenues to share and celebrate work that don’t rely on some of the more traditional processes.
What are a few of your favorite features that The Social Distancing Festival has shared to date?
There are almost too many to name! I’m kind of obsessed with a piece called Distance Meditation, which is a mixed media piece from an artist in Denver who goes by Helicopter Copter. He uses drones, multiple videos, and music to create this vast meditation in nature that is so expansive and moving. There’s also an incredible video from dancer Tadhi Alawi in Tanzania that I keep coming back to. I’m also totally in love with the work of Jane Sanders, a textile artist in England.
I also want to highlight an upcoming project called Long Distance Art. I’ve paired up artists from different cities in the world and tasked them with creating a new piece of work in collaboration with one another. My hope is that we can connect with some partnerships to keep this series going!
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Do you think the Social Distancing Festival supports mental wellbeing and how?
I think that mental health awareness is more important than ever as we are managing this unprecedented time. I’m no expert on this matter, but I’ve had my own struggles at times, and I know that connection and opportunities to express myself have been really, really important. In the beginning, the impetus behind creating this site was to help navigate the potentially dark and lonely times ahead, and this project has delivered on that in really profound ways.