Creating purpose in isolation

Creating Purpose in Isolation

Our time in forced isolation is a call to arms. Society needs us now more than ever. This is our time to prove that arts organisations are there for them even in the most adverse of times.

Future Proofing

Tudor Model by Maddi Gomez-Iradi

These are strange times.  As arts organisations, we have been tasked to reinvent ourselves in a matter of days. We’re now furiously redrafting cash flows, reading insurance policies and simultaneously understanding how to serve our isolated audiences and fulfill our core purpose.

Our time in forced isolation is a call to arms. Society needs us now more than ever. This is our time to prove that we are there for them even in the most adverse of times.

When this is all over, we want our audiences to return to us, our funders to be inspired by our response, but most importantly, we want to inspire and support those around us and fulfill our purpose through these difficult times.

Since many of you have asked, we thought we would save you time and share a few ideas on how online competitions can help here.

Something to Look Forward to

Photography by Jamie Luke

Giving people a purpose during their time in isolation will improve their mental well-being.

Creating a competition is an ideal way of doing so. You can challenge them to create new work from their homes, clean up their portfolios, or simply submit their best pieces.

You can even tie your competition to a theme to allow any content to match your current programme.

Having a deadline will focus their mind on being creative instead of dwelling on being in isolation.

Mutual Reward

Wedesus Urn by Matt Davis

With any competition, candidates will need a good reason to submit. Its likely resources will be tight at present, but there are plenty of equally attractive alternatives.

  • Showcasing the shortlist in your spaces when you reopen is a wonderful way of bringing the community back through your doors when this is all over. You could even work alongside your local hospital and showcase the works in their spaces – inspiring the staff during these busy times. This would of course need to be non-intrusive to their current work.
  • Getting your work seen by a prominent figure, you might know some very high-level individuals who have also been forced indoors. Would they be interested in picking the winners from a shortlist, and perhaps write them a brief note congratulating them on the work? Who wouldn’t want to have their work seen by their favourite artist?

Musician Ryan Burman

  • Giving people feedback on their work might be a great way to leverage your programme team during this time. This would break the monotony of self-isolation, if the feedback was through a Skype portfolio review.
  • Unused merchandise for a current show could also be a draw, since it might be difficult to sell when your spaces are closed – you could re-purpose some of it to be perks for a competition.
  • A mix of the above – mixing any of the above could create an appealing draw to submit. Imagine a high-level individual picking one winner, with the shortlist showcased in your spaces and your team giving candidates feedback… even though we may only be able to see our ceilings at present – the sky is the limit!

Inspiring your Team & Stakeholders

Rise by Performance Artist Alana Jones

Mobilising your team to shortlist entries is a wonderful way of giving them a feeling of shared purpose. You could even include some of your board and stakeholders… since we are all at home we may have an hour or two to spare.

If you wanted to guarantee the quality of the work going to specific groups, you could do it all in rounds. Having your programme team pick candidates for the longlist, getting your board/stakeholders to pick the shortlist and then having any recognizable figures pick the winners.

Engaging with your Community

“Unity is Strength” by Filmmaker Akinola Davies

Why not extend the selection beyond those mentioned above – you could invite community leaders to help score entries, or open a public vote to get everyone in your communities engaged with the content.

Some of us are already crafting out exhibitions in a digital context, this would be similar but with the added benefit of getting your audiences to engage with it. If they feel that you have asked for their opinion, they will be curious to see who the winners are – and will come to your spaces to see them when you have reopened. You’ll also have the added benefit of growing your newsletter.

We all have a little more time on our hands, why not use it to enjoy new content.

Standing together

“Familia” by Designer Elena Gomez de Valcarcel Sabater

Giving people purpose whilst at home and supporting them in their time of need will allow us to maintain a sense of purpose within our communities. When we reopen our doors, want to be remembered for what we did during this time, not for what we didn’t do. This will ensure our audiences return quickly, our funders see value in our offering and our team rally their efforts towards a common goal.

Online competitions don’t need to be hard if you use the right tools. And at this time, they don’t need to cost you anything. To do our part to support our creative communities we are currently giving our service to manage submissions and judge online absolutely free. You can find out more here.

As we know some of you will be doing this for the first time – we also make ourselves available to you if you want to discuss the best way to go about creating an online competition – you can call us on 020 3998 3312 – or use the chat button at the bottom right of this page.

Regardless, know that whatever you undertake, we’re here to support you.

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About the author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy



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