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Adapting in the Age of a Pandemic

27 August 2020 | Amal Team

It’s been a hard-hitting few months for our Partners since creative gatherings were cancelled and schools closed down in March. But we have witnessed their resounding resilience and have spent the past few months working with them to adapt projects to these changing times. The only option was to embrace digital and see how far we could go with it.  For most of our Partners, this was a question of survival. For Amal, which is all about the power of encounters to build understanding and belonging, we needed to know if digital could achieve the impact we seek. So we’ve juggled budgets, brainstormed new project outputs and been flexible on reporting by our Partners.

What have we learned in this short but intense period?  Well, there is no substitute for in-person encounter and live performance and participation – but digital brings great benefits.  Our Partners have been able to reach more people, including internationally, with their fantastic work and have created online products which leave a legacy for yet others to access.  In future, we hope to blend the old and the new – to have those powerful encounters but to extend their reach through digital.  There’s also been a lot of learning about how to maximise the impact of digital, including how to adapt work for this format, how to create safe spaces on platforms like Zoom, and how to recruit participants successfully – all hugely valuable for the future.

Here are some highlights of our Partners’ rapid responses to the pandemic.

BE Festival – BE NEXT workshops

(Credit: BE Festival)

BE Festival usually hosts its annual performing arts festival in July at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The festival is a bold and inventive programme of performing arts, by artists from all over Europe, featuring theatre, dance, comedy, circus, music, and other art forms. Amal supports the festival’s BE NEXT programme for young people, mostly whose second language is English.  They participate in workshops culminating in their live choreographed performance at the festival itself.

In 2020 the festival in its usual format was cancelled along with the BE Next workshops.  But festival organisers rose to the challenge, taking a selection of their cancelled programme online for ‘BE at home’ and setting up two performing arts workshops for BE NEXT participants.

Birmingham-based spoken word artist, Amerah Saleh, a fantastic role model for young people, led poetry workshops via Zoom.  Participants took part in group sessions and gained valuable new writing and performance skills.  A film of the highlights of their personal, moving and high-quality work is in production.

 It was amazing to be working with this group and let them lead the content of the work they wanted to create. They were engaged.  I can’t wait to meet them when out of lockdown!” Amerah Saleh

Khayaal Theatre Company

(Credit: Lydia Howe, Luqman Ali)

Khayaal’s Theatre Without Walls project usually delivers small scale, high quality and high impact stage performances inspired by Muslim heritage stories and stories of wisdom from other faiths to a multi-sector network of host partners including schools, community organisations and corporations. Though no strangers to onscreen performance, their work is largely in person to large and small audiences.

Faced with the pandemic, Khayaal went digital.  Their impressive team have been keeping audiences regularly entertained with their online storytelling in short films including Hajj Stories for Eid Al-Adha, Tales of the Sands from Tunisia and Ramadhan Tales by Rumi and Mulla Nasruddin.  As a result, Khayaal has witnessed a great increase in new audiences not only from the UK but beyond across multiple continents and will be continuing to develop their digital offering.

That was absolutely brilliant. We really, really enjoyed the whole experience. One of Eleanor’s stories certainly brought tears to my eyes. We loved the way that Luqman fielded and answered the questions. That was a wonderful experience. Thank you so much both of you.” David & Fiona, retired vet and teacher, Hertfordshire

You can watch selections of Khayaal’s short films here on the Khayaal Theatre Company YouTube Channel.

School of Sufi Teaching

(Credit: Saif Osmani)

SoST has been very busy over the past few months following the launch of their new, beautifully designed building (Zawiya), inspired by Islamic geometric designs, in London’s Bethnal Green. Amal was supporting the School to host multiple artistic events including an exhibition, artistic workshops and events curated by artist, Saif Osmani, as well as tours of the Zawiya in conjunction with the London Festival of Architecture.

Faced with lockdown, SoST fully embraced digital.  In June it made a presentation on the designing of its unique building at the London Festival of Architecture’s online festival.  You can watch the event here. SoST’s second event, a geometric design workshop with artist Saba Kafil, was hosted online in August with participants making their own designs under Saba’s instruction.

Later in the month SoST launched its online exhibition.  After a call out to artists to create work around the theme of Faith in the City We Inhabit, the exhibition features artwork from 21 artists from the UK and internationally. It includes work from painters, photographers, graphic designers, architects, calligraphers, poets, storytellers and sound artists. Following the exhibition, the site will become a permanent resource for Sufi related artistic events. Check out Faith in the City We Inhabit online now.

The School has more artistic performance events scheduled for the coming months so keep an eye out on our social media pages for updates!

Adapting in the Age of a Pandemic

Has culture been cancelled? We don’t think so. At Amal we’ve worked with Partners to help them adapt to the changing times. Read how they got on.

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