It’s all too easy to default to offering a passive experience on social media, sharing the ‘object of the day’ or, during lockdown, photos of ‘what we’re missing’. Hastings Museum and Art Gallery didn’t fall into that trap. As the 2020 lockdown began it quickly became a digital museum, with creatively put together content that actively engaged the community with the museum’s collection and got them taking part. When they shared a call-out for ideas, I suggested a ‘digital quilt’ – a community art piece that many people from across their community – and beyond – could contribute to.
Working with illustrator Carissa Tanton, we created an illustration from a painting by Edward Badham in the museum’s collection. It seemed to represent everyday life and community – two things that felt particularly precious at the time. We then divided the illustration into 192 squares, sending them out to anyone who wanted to take part. They could recreate their square however they wanted – embroidery, arranging objects, colouring in; there really were no rules. Some followed their square closely, others reinterpreted it wildly. We received squares back from professional artists and craftspeople, school groups, families and friends.
Every last square was completed and we had an incredible amount of positive feedback. The project helped get people back in touch with their creativity, made them feel part of something positive and joyful and gave them greater confidence. The key to its success seemed to be that the squares were relatively abstract, so people could take part without having a high skill level, that they could use any medium they liked, and that the simple challenge of recreating the lines and colours and shaped in an individual square inspired all kinds of ideas and responses.
The project was a joy to be part of and the finished quilt is wild, beautiful and infinitely varied – like humanity at its best.