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Introduction to Art by Post

Since May 2020, we’ve been a delivery partner on Southbank Centre’s new initiative, Art by Post, bringing free creative activities to those who are most isolated by current social distancing measures. The project was created as a direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic, to address the gap in access to arts and culture for those with no or limited access to the internet and those living with long-term health conditions. Over 4,000 people across the UK have signed-up to receive Art by Post booklets.

In this blog, Community and Outreach Manager Catherine shares the story of how we designed and created our very own Philharmonia booklet for Art by Post, which landed on people’s doorsteps in February.

Over the last year, we’ve been tested to find new ways of engaging with communities in our residencies and bringing music to those most isolated by the pandemic. We were so pleased to partner with Southbank Centre on their Art by Post project, which challenged us to think differently about the way we engage with people without relying on the power of the internet!

Normally, those involved in our Learning & Engagement work interact directly with musicians from the Philharmonia and create and perform their own music based on their own stories and experiences. Whilst lots of this is still possible via online platforms, translating this into a printed format prompted lots of conversations about how we do this in a meaningful and playful way that people could respond to from different settings: care homes, hospitals, day care centres, or from their own homes.

We decided to enlist the expertise of workshop leader and composer Tim Steiner to design activities in the booklet. The concept was to encourage recipients to really start listening to sounds in their settings, inspire them to make music themselves, and have them reflect on their favourite pieces of music and sounds.

A hand in the air

Our next step was a consultation session with a small group of participants from our flagship Hear and Now project, which involves older adults living with dementia and their carers from Tibbs Dementia Foundation and Leicester Musical Memory Box. Both groups were already receiving Art by Post booklets and were brimming with ideas for activities we could include. We had great discussions about making sounds using whatever we could get our hands on – a wok and a whisk, a cheese grater and a spoon – and which tunes we’d all play along to at home. We also talked about ‘Lost Sounds’ that we no longer hear that conjure up different memories and emotions.

This session really helped us to refine our activities and gave us lots of great quotes and ideas that we could weave into the booklet.

We then commissioned a visual artist called Maria Monica, who took our ideas and created gorgeous illustrations and collages for each activity. She drew different characters for the booklet, including Tim, our Philharmonia cellist, Karen, and Hear and Now participants Wendy and Phill. Her playful style was perfect for the booklet and brought everything to life.

After lots of tweaking and editing, the booklet was printed and distributed to 4,000 people across the UK, who we hope will be inspired to join a vibrant new community of home music-making!

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