Emma Jeffryes, ‘At The Waters Edge’, oil on canvas, purchased with passion in defiance of Covid, April 2020
For the first time in so long, I am waking up each morning with a curious feeling in my heart. It is different to the low-lying anxiety of the last two years, and every day I feel it more: I think it’s optimism. One way or another we’ve all taken a battering during the pandemic, through actual loss, fear of loss, or just the nerve-grinding weight of endless uncertainty. But something wonderful has happened as well: honestly, I wasn’t sure about the human race before, but now I think we are pretty wonderful. It turns out we are spectacularly resilient and have faced down this pandemic with bravery and an extraordinary degree of care for each other. I hear people say that this new sense of community will fade away, but I don’t agree. I think we are all irrevocably changed for the better.
When lockdown was first announced my business of championing the arts stopped dead. Galleries closed, exhibitions were cancelled, and magazines suspended their print runs or collapsed entirely, leaving me without an income and worse, without any sense of professional identity. I had no idea if my business would ever exist again. Like so many of us, I faced the prospect of starting from scratch, even if we made it through the next few years. But then small but positive things began to happen. A client called me to say that their ill-fated March 2020 exhibition had been sold in its entirety, online, to a single collector – unexpected, and great news for the artist. Next, Matthew Burrows launched his brilliant Artist Support Pledge, which saw artists commit 20 per cent of their income to buying each other’s work. And on it went. There was a groundswell of determined resilience within the arts and so, encouraged, I joined in.
Despite my vanished income, I bought an Emma Jeffryes painting, not because I could afford it at that point, but because it was fabulous, and I wanted it. In that thrilling, financially irresponsible moment I understood what was happening in the arts, and in the world: by pursuing our passions undeterred we were sticking two fingers up to Covid. It would not defeat our hope or our identity – not a chance. In the dark winter of Covid the arts blossomed: teenage dancers became TikTok celebrities; operatic families went viral with front-room performances; locked down actors filmed entire TV series on their laptops; and people who loved art kept buying art.
Now, two years after I thought I’d lost the company I’ve spent a decade building, it is busier than it has ever been before. Who could have predicted that? Once again, I am able to put my energies into promoting the brilliance of the fine arts here in the south west, with a renewed understanding of how talented, how brilliant, how strong, committed and kind the people around me are. I see a bright future ahead, and every one of you reading this article can take credit for that.
Mercedes Smith is the Director of Arts PR company, Fine Art Communications and a regular contributor to DRIFT.