Keeping artists engaged

Icon of people in a video call

For many of us in the arts, holding a session with our fellow artists can be tough. As artists, we have high standards for keeping ourselves engaged because we are fundamentally creative people and often operate in a creative realm. Coming onto a videoconference like Zoom can be a disappointing experience not only for us but for anyone, especially if the session is a talking head droning on. But artists can provide a wonderful opportunity to include creative exercises in their session.

The arts sector as a whole tends to be more open to being vulnerable in a creative way. One of the aspects I love about the arts is the understanding of failure as often an artistic work does not work out the way you intend. There is an inherent riskiness in stepping on a stage to create a dance piece from nothing or facing a blank page ready to write a play. Introducing creative exercises that can be risky for a more corporate audience is often exciting and interesting for people working in the arts.

So what does that look like? Fundamentally, it is to use the medium of the screen to develop specific activities that can use other modalities than just voice. Poetry, drawing, movement, and other creatively focused activities can be interesting to try. One caution I have is doing any kind of group singing in sessions, as the latency between different people creates difficulty in sharing a beat. However, a single singer or musician playing is very lovely. I often will try to have a live musician play at the top of a session because people arriving into music already playing sets the tone that this won’t be a regular kind of session.

Picture of a woman singing into a mic with a man on a saxophone playing beside her.
iStock Photo

Principles for Engaging Artists

  1. Realize that while these principles are focused on artists, this can work for anyone. It just might take a little longer to set the safe area for non-artists, but it is very possible to use these principles with them too.
  2. Utilize different modalities, such as poetry, drawing, movement, and music, to break free from the normal videoconference standard of a talking head.
  3. Keep a creative activity clearly focused on one or two simple asks. Explaining a complex creative activity is difficult on video.
  4. Keep the activity to around 20 minutes max. This gives enough time for something to be created but not so long that the sense of being together in community is lost.
  5. Allow time for sharing. It’s a lovely way to build community where people share their work. It expresses vulnerability, and I always have a sense of wonder as I see what people create.

Creative Activities

Here are some ideas for specific creative activities that have worked well for me. These are not all my ideas, and some I have been using a while, so I’m not even sure where they come from.

  1. Quarantine Bingo
  2. Virtual Travel – Use virtual backgrounds to “travel.” 
  3. Pecha Kucha – About students and their interests.
  4. Dream and Disaster – Have people choose a dream and a disaster about your subject.
  5. True Wish (K)Not – Based on two truths and a lie. For example, 1) One thing that is true about digital in the arts sector; 2) One thing that you wish were true; 3) One thing that is NOT true. Which one is true, which is the wish, which is not true?
  6. Escape – Google Doc-based adventure game.
  7. SOS Game – Play the original SOS game.
  8. Blob Tree Exercise – Track how the group is feeling.

Quarantine bingo playing card.
Fun to play and choose the most ridiculous options.
Picture of 4 people in zoom with different backgrounds of New Orleans.
Get people to find backgrounds of places where they’d like to travel. Here, all of these folks chose pictures of New Orleans, as that was where the original conference was supposed to be before COVID.
On the left is a column that reads:
Standard format
20 slides.
20 seconds a slide. 
slides auto advance.
The right column reads:
Our structure:
5 slides about you.
5 slides about your work.
10 slides about your interest.
On the left is Pecha Kucha in the normal format. On the right is a modified version that people can prepare prior to the session.