Spoonvilles and virtual jazz gigs

I was taking a walk with my son, the other day, and as we were getting close to the park, we stopped to look at the local Spoonville.

I had not been there since the first wooden spoons were planted on the ground, and I was surprised to see it having grown so much: dozens, almost a hundred of them, painted in bright colours, others with glued features and googly eyes, forming this strange, funny community of kitchen utensils.

And at that moment it just dawned on me: these spoonvilles, scattered around gardens and parks and nature strips around Melbourne during lockdown, are much more than kid’s play.

They are actual art installations  – fragile, yes, like many art installations; small-scale, understated, unlike most art installations; but art installations regardless, and perfect example of (and argument for) the importance of art in public spaces.

This is the most tangible evidence of what art can do, how it connects us, and how in times of crisis, it reminds us of our humanity, it heals us, and shows us a way out, a way forward.

Originating in the UK, the idea of these Spoonvilles quickly traveled across the globe and found fertile ground (no pun intended) in lockdown-stricken Victoria. Our kids, no longer able to go to school, play with their mates, or even visit the playgrounds, were quick to adapt and use this creative outlet to express themselves, to communicate.

Often planted near empty playgrounds, wrapped with the red-and-white ribbon of ‘keep out’, Spoonvilles featured super-heroes, princesses, animals, aliens, or just plain quirky looking creatures, forming little make-believe communities, wooden reflections of the actual communities now sharing their sense of self-isolation. A reminder that humanity will prevail, that we shall overcome this strange adversity presented to us, they made us smile behind our masks, and remind us of our resilience.

Fast forward to today, to Victorians coming out of the world’s longest   — and probably strictest —   lockdown, making uncertain steps towards yet another new normal, gloating over our consecutive double-donut days of COVID19 cases and deaths, these Spoonvilles are a reminder of what we have achieved.

It wasn’t easy, but we did it —   we did prevail. We set a global example of what it means to show community spirit, isolating to protect each other, sacrificing a lot for the common good, and (no less important) trusting science and expert opinion.

If Spoonvilles are a symbol of what we did   and how we did it,   they are not the only work of art that sustained us; far from it.

Lockdown meant consuming loads of works of art at home. Thanks to technology, even those of us who were at home alone, were self-isolating in good company: we had an almost limitless (and certainly unprecedented) access to literature, films, music, arts performances, even virtual spaces to visit.

The world’s leading museums swiftly set up virtual tours; stage productions were streaming into our screens; thousands of hours of filmed content was consumed; the written word, music, visual and performing arts were there for us, to feed our souls, to reconcile us with our emotions, to sustain us.

Live-streaming gave musicians the opportunity to connect with their audiences in new ways, one-on-one, from one’s home to the other’s. In Australia, the music scene took on initiatives like the brilliant Isol-aid Festival, the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, the (short-lived) Jazz Social; every week, Kate Ceberano and Friends (including a diverse range of artists like Kate Miller-Heidke and Chick Corea) gave glorious performances for our sake; in Queensland, the Jazz Music Institute kept on programming their JMI Live series every Thursday for the whole of the first lockdown.

Did our homes become concert halls and music venues? Yes and no; nothing can substitute the feeling of being present, of being at the same room with the artists during a live performance; but knowing that we’re there for each other was a reminder of what art is all about.

Nick Cave’s solemn, emotionally charged solo performance at Alexandra Palace should be recognised as a unique cultural response to the pandemic  and a defining snapshot of our era.

At the same time, group video-conferencing   — our main tool for remote learning, remote working, telehealth and even having a drink with our friends —   gave musicians another creative opportunity; to work with each other, create new music, together from a distance.

The world cheered when the Rolling Stones showed up on our screens, doing what they have been doing for six decades now, unbeaten by time, age and the current challenges that made people their age fragile.

Back in Melbourne, we had a bunch of legends do group iso sessions, ranging from trad jazz to contemporary improvisation.

But the standout was the open call byThe Rookies (easily one of the city’s top live music acts) to their friends and fans to join them in recording a staple of their (epic) gigs, the perennial anthem of optimism ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’.

Now here’s a celebration of the human spirit, of our shared humanity, of music and art as engaged citizenship, as the most effective way to build communities.