Creative Resilience in a Time of Pandemic

Image Description: A close-up of an elephant’s eye. Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

By Erica Ginsberg | March 15th

editor’s note: Erica Ginsberg is a co-host of The D-Word, a co-founder and former Executive Director of Docs In Progress, and is a documentary filmmaker and story consultant.


There is a part of me that didn’t want to write this blog. Our news and social media feeds have been bombarded with news of COVID-19, the worldwide pandemic of a new virus that has no vaccine (as of yet) and that has upended our lives in so many ways.

But it is the elephant in the room.

More than ever, we must be at our most creative and our most resilient. Yet that is not without challenges:

  • If you were about to share your work in a public space or event, it is quite likely that has been put on hold or canceled outright.

  • If you teach your craft, you may now be having to adapt to teaching something virtually that was intended to be taught in person.

  • If you make a living from your creative work as a freelancer, your work may have dried up overnight.

  • If you make your living in a permanent job in the creative world or not, you may be facing new norms of indefinite teleworking from home, figuring out new schedules for children home from school, or possibly even losing your job.

  • If you are an extrovert, social distancing may be taxing your core being.

  • If you already face challenges with your mental health, so much of what is happening now can be immensely triggering.

Here are a few thoughts on how to navigate these strange times.

1. If you have the privilege to do so, use this as an opportunity to dedicate more time to your life to be creative.
If you are forced (or forcing yourself) to stay at home, maybe this is the time to get back into writing a chapter for that book, composing a new song, editing a sequence from your film, or painting. Especially if your structured life has suddenly become less structured, you may want to schedule this in. See this as a potential opportunity to leave behind the excuses of no time or energy.

2. Take time to be inspired by the creativity of others.
Creative souls often seek out inspiration. Especially at a time when so much of what is occupying our screens and minds is pandemic-related, we may need this even more than usual.

This is a great time to catch up on good books you’ve been meaning to read (if you can’t afford to buy books and your local library is closing, see if your library system participates in Libby or Overdrive so you can download e-books or audiobooks).

Perhaps you can’t go to a play, a live musical performance, or a museum because they are also closed to the public. A lot of these institutions are finding creative ways to share work virtually, including many museums offering free virtual tours; The Met streaming nightly free streams of operas;. and loads of arts organizations scrambling to convert some of their programs to virtual formats.

Speaking of which…

3. Support your favorite arts organizations or artists.
Part of what fosters individual resiliency is community resiliency. Surely there are arts organizations out there that have supported you in your craft or inspired you. Many are hurting at this time because they have had to cancel performances, events, or workshops, all of which bring in critical funds that help them operate (contrary to popular opinion, most arts organizations do not survive on grants, big-pocketed donors, sponsorships, or passion alone).

If you can afford to do so, consider supporting them now rather than waiting until the end of the year. This could mean not requesting a refund for a performance you were to attend, converting instead to a donation, or going to the organization’s website and making a donation directly. And, if you want to support individual artists, see if they have a Patreon site or buy some art.

4. Don’t be an island.
Already there are folks out there finding creative ways to collaborate, console, and connect with others, even as they hunker down at home. Surely you have seen some of the powerful videos coming from locked-down Italy of people creating collective concerts of music from their balconies.

Description of Video: As the Italian population has been put in lockdown in a strict measure to prevent a further spreading of the Coronavirus, Italians join together from their balconies to sing. The video from On Demand News contains a collection of some home video of these performances.

Even if you don’t have a balcony, there are other ways that creative folks are discovering to connect with other artists or patrons, such as participating in an “Exquisite Corpse” collaborative story online; joining this professional dancer in a virtual dance party on Instagram; .or sending poems or drawings to nursing homes where many residents can no longer receive guests. This is really a time to be creative, so, if you want to make something collaboratively, now it the time to organize it.

5. Know that you are not alone.
In fact, there are others who have been creating crowdsourced lists of resources for freelance artists (including emergency funds!), media arts educators, and more. This really is also that time to phone or teleconference with friends or colleagues to keep up each other’s spirits, give and get feedback on each other’s work, or even to compare notes on whatever Netflix show you both may be binging.

6. Ground yourself with something unrelated to the epidemic or work.
I have found myself paying more attention to things that represent the normal rhythms of nature. Not to put my head in the sand, but to allow that head some rest and refresh in a time when it is easy to be overwhelmed by hopelessness that comes from uncertainty and reckoning with one’s own mortality.

I look at the moon every night. I notice the sound of birdsong more consciously. I delight in the flowers I see as I take my dog for a walk. I enjoy observing the red cardinals out my back window. Find what centers you. It may be a meditation app, watching a beloved movie that makes you laugh, organizing your kitchen shelves, singing in the shower, or treasuring extra quality time with your family or pets. You do you. It’s not frivolous. It is a reminder of our own power.

Image Description: Recent scenes of nature that the author has noticed. The first image is of a group of hawks circling the sky during the daytime but with the moon in the background. The second image is of a red cardinal sitting on a tree branch at face-level. The third image is of a full moon at night, with an eerie light of clouds around it. All three photos by Erica Ginsberg. All rights reserved.Image Description: Recent scenes of nature that the author has noticed. The first image is of a group of hawks circling the sky during the daytime but with the moon in the background. The second image is of a red cardinal sitting on a tree branch at face-level. The third image is of a full moon at night, with an eerie light of clouds around it. All three photos by Erica Ginsberg. All rights reserved.

7. Take care of yourself.
This is general advice that goes well beyond creatives, but you need to focus on your health in all its dimensions. Take seriously all the advice about social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face, and staying home. Get enough sleep.

Get exercise every day. If you don’t/can’t go to a gym, simply take a walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air and sunlight. Check out free exercise programs online. Or simply turn up your favorite music and host a private dance party.

Enjoy the chance to cook something homemade, if you don’t normally. Don’t feel guilty about a little comfort food, but don’t go overboard. Same with the shopping. All the toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the world will not make a difference if you are not taking care of yourself in other ways.

If the relentless and repetitive reports and angst about COVID-19 is anxiety-inducing, take breaks from watching or reading the news or scrolling through your social media. If you are overwhelmed by it, chances are others are too, so feel free to post about other things, including sharing your art.

If you need more guidance on protecting your mental health during this time, the AFSP has some good tips on taking care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty.

8. Most of all, remember that resilience is not an end goal. It is a process. If you don’t feel particularly “resilient” at this time, that is understandable. Don’t let a feeling of “failure at being resilient” be added to your stresses. My close friends and family know how truly anxious I have been at particular times recently. At other times, I feel as confident as if I were following every tip I just recommended. I can’t say how I will feel tomorrow, but it is only now that needs the bulk of my attention.

If you have your own ways you are coping or a resource that could be helpful to others, please feel free to share in the comments. In the meantime, stay safe.

P.S. Need a prompt if you want to arrange a group sing from your windows or your telephonic devices? How about an upbeat show tune? I recommend Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ from OKLAHOMA!

Gordon MacRae sings ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin” from the 1955 film of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA!.

If you stumbled upon this blog entry on the Internet or got it from someone else forwarding you a link, please consider signing up for Erica Ginsberg’s mailing list so that you will get the next entry in the Creative Resiliency series right to your Inbox. New entries are sent approximately once a month, and I do not share or sell contacts.