Apr 02, 2021
BY ERIN CORSTIAANS
It’s been a year ‘since Covid happened’. A year, and it’s still happening. Brisbane’s just come out of a snap lockdown where once again we held our breath, waiting to see if these new Covid clusters would burn out or ignite across the city.
It takes me back to last year, the first bloom of the virus. At first it was a threat hanging heavy in the air, the topic on everyone’s lips—and then it became real. As the number of positive tests swelled, companies began to close, employees lost their jobs, and the world as we knew it slowly clockworked to a halt. We stopped hugging. We stripped the shelves of toilet paper. We baked bread. We stayed home.
Cork & Chroma was one of the first businesses to stand down. I remember receiving an email saying that the company was standing down, and not really knowing what that meant. Essentially we had to close because we were classed as an unessential service. Society had caught on that creativity was important: the World Economic Forum suggested that by 2020 creativity would be recognised as one of the top three most important work skills, as it helps workplaces navigate unexpected challenges and therefore survive and grow. But important didn’t equate to essential, and in the face of a pandemic creativity had to stand down, along with everyone in the company.
What was I saying about the importance of creativity in navigating unexpected challenges? A global unprecedented pandemic was about as unexpected as things could yet. None of us had any certainty about our jobs, since none could be given; we were all just figuring it out as we went along, meeting each twist, turn, and government directive as it came. Thanks to JobKeeper we could continue, and though things were different it was a wonderful time to be part of a company of creative souls. Within weeks Cork & Chroma had developed an online offering, where guests could participate in a live painting session from the safety of their own homes. The longer lockdown went on, the more the online sessions gathered momentum, and the more we realised the importance of finding things that helped us feel happy, inspired, and connected.
We used to end each session in studio with everyone squashing in together for a big group photo. It was an opportunity to admire each other’s paintings and celebrate the creative time spent together. We couldn’t do that anymore, but Zoom offered us a portal to effectively do the same thing. Our social channels changed from happy faces in studio to happy faces on Zoom: a grid of tiny windows of people smiling out from their own homes. We saw each other’s art hanging on walls, each other’s families, cats and dogs. It was connection and sharing like we’d never experienced it before.
There were a few technical glitches in the beginning, and times where things happened unexpectedly and we had to problem solve on the fly. But we got the hang of it. In those online sessions we didn’t feel alone; the same music played through everyone’s speakers and we grooved along together, chatting, high-fiving and thumbs-upping, painting the same thing in our own way. We were in isolation, together. It felt so good to connect creatively with one another during that time—I’d say it even felt essential.
I feel incredibly lucky to be part of an Australian-based company and in a position where we can slowly return to the way things were, albeit with some changes as we navigate the Covid trajectory and ensure everyone’s safety in the studios. It’s good to be back—karaoke moments just aren’t the same online when people are on mute. Mostly I’m glad to be part of a company of creative people who are determined to find ways to survive and grow in the face of the unknown. Things might look different next week or next year, but we’ll adapt and continue to lean in to our creativity, painting our way through this pandemic one stroke at a time.