Unlike our many hopes and wishes as the clock chimed midnight and signalled the beginning of 2021, COVID-19 did not just disappear. Meaning that the coming year is going to be filled with the same (or worse) restrictions and social distancing as the last. With the prospect or delusion of a fresh, new, normal year snatched from Australians, it has become more important than ever to prepare mentally for more time at home and more time separated from friends and family. The outbreak before Christmas in Sydney is a perfect example that COVID is persistent and could strike at any time and spiral out of control if we don’t stay vigilant.
This is especially important when it comes to the younger generations, who have just experienced a very chaotic and potentially traumatising year; the effects of which they may not register for many years to come. The upheaval of being locked in their homes and taken away from their usual schooling environments and schedules, coupled with the anxiety about their loved one’s health, according to experts could cause PTSD. With some children being kept out of online lessons due to unstable or no internet, creating entrenched inequalities between them and their classmates as their learning is left behind. It has also been noted that children have taken on their parent’s anxieties around the coronavirus, as they internalise their parent’s worries about money and health and safety, all the while watching the rising death tolls and case numbers on the news each night.
As we settle into the New Year and are firmly in the back to school season, it’s vital we mentally prepare the younger generations, as it is still a great possibility that another lockdown is around the corner.
Children need stimulation and avenues for them to put all their fears, anxieties and happy feelings into. Now is the time to take advantage on our low daily case numbers and not only prepare for what may occur but help children deal with what exactly they have just been through. It has been reported that waiting lists for psychologists during lockdown and post lockdown has become astronomically long, as people clamour to seek help for themselves and their dependents after the events of 2020. Therefore, parents and guardians need to seek different avenues of therapy for their children, for instance art therapy. During lockdown we saw an example of this as children took to their local parks and schools to express their creativity and fight off boredom by creating little spoon communities for their neighbours to help grow. Speaking to the resounding positivity and sense of community that is commonplace in creative activities, and what can occur when we strive to make the best of any strange and unprecedented situation.
If anything, the recent lockdown demonstrated that, when your hands and brain remain idle it can promote listlessness and hinder your mental health. Which has become commonplace for people during lockdown and especially for children who have had to do school work in an environment which they usually associate with play and relaxation. Outside of their school work, giving children the opportunity to creatively express themselves and let people know how they are feeling will help to achieve some semblance of peace of mind, rather than bottling up their anxieties over the pandemic, schooling or their home life. Studies have indicated that engaging “in different creative activities [is] empowering, because it is courageous… [and can help] to build self-esteem and confidence”, areas that have been shaken by the sudden shift in everyone’s work and or home life. It also works to keep children busy with activities and staves off boredom in the last few weeks of school holidays and while parents still work from home. All parents know how destructive and unproductive children can be when they become idle and listless. They need activities and stimulus to keep them entertained. Creative projects and activities do this, all the while providing an emotional outlet.
Renowned Melbourne artist Deborah Halpern knows all too well about keeping busy and fighting of listlessness during lockdown; she kept busy by creating a sculpture, ‘Earth Mother’, that is now displayed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.Striving to make the most out of lockdown this art submissions won a place in the open-air sculpture park and is the only successful submission from Australia, it is also slated to be the largest and most iconic in the collection. Deborah Halpern is one of Australia’s most celebrated sculptors, known for her wildly colourful mosaic work. Creator of many of Melbourne’s most loved public sculptures, Halpern’s works exude an innate vitality and alluring simplicity.
“COVID will pass, as will all circumstances, so having a mindset that looks to the future will open up the future, instead of closing it down.”
Over her 33-year career Halpern has produced an extraordinary body of work and through her numerous public sculptures has become widely recognised and respected. One of Halpern’s biggest sculptures, Angel, stood in the moat of the National Gallery of Victoria for many years before it was moved to its current location beside Federation Square on the bank of the Yarra River at Birrarung Marr. Currently, Deborah is working on 4 sculptures that are each 6 metres high which will be featured as part of the M5 freeway project in Sydney. She is working on another sculpture for the City of Casey, and she has several interstate exhibitions in the pipelines. Deborah is also involved in ongoing community projects and property developments. All the while, she continues to conceptualise, draw, and make models for future work.
“I think people can be productive if they can use their creativity to see this time as an opportunity. Dealing with the circumstances of COVID can be a wonderful gift to people willing to think creatively.”
Deborah Halpern was able to lobby for and achieve the placement of her sculpture in the museum with the help of Jon Michail, founder and group CEO of Image Group International, an award-winning image consultant and personal branding pioneer, who Deborah called “the wind behind [me]”. Over his 31-year career Jon has successfully launched personal brands for business leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers and is an advocate for individual freedom and prosperity and he believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to maximise their influence and impact. Especially in recent times as people pivot and adjust, to strive for success.
In a recent interview on the Small Business Banter podcastDeborah and Jon detail their collaboration and creating during COVID-19. Finding the positive out of tough situations is never easy, but both Jon and Deborah agree “you just need to have a go”. Especially this year it has been easy to let things slide and simply let the bushfires, COVID and 2020 in general swallow you whole. However, it can be extraordinary to look around, create, find the opportunities that life has presented and make something great out of it. Speaking about the bushfires Deborah spoke of the importance of making “monuments to this event that happened and celebrate the community, there are so many things you can bring into fruition”. Creating can act as a sort of catharsis and a place to put all your energy and feelings about a time and event, it can help you move on and look to the future.
“Creating is about living your life with possibilities.”
As kids brace to go back to school in a few weeks and regain a semblance of pre-COVID normalcy, it’s important to remember and recognise the impact that the events of 2020 would have had on them and that these effects may not become apparent until much later. It is because of this; children should be especially encouraged to express themselves creatively and helped to acknowledge what the world has just been through and is still dealing with. From this they will gain a better understanding of not only their only feelings but also how to create some positivity and happiness during dire and negative situations; which for anyone, is a very important skill to take into your future.
Deborah Halpern is a multi-disciplinary artist, who works with the mediums of sculpture, painting, pottery, glass blowing and printmaking. She is known for her large brightly coloured mosaic sculpture works; Angel, located at Birrarung Marr and Ophelia, alongside the Yarra River in South Gate, Melbourne.
Jon Michail is the founder and group CEO of Image Group International, and is based in Melbourne. He is an award-winning image consultant and personal branding pioneer who has successfully launched global personal brands for business leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers for over 31 years.