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The Benefit of Community

On Thursday March 12th I met a client at 2.30pm to discuss the final stage of a project, one that we had been working on for over a year. At the meeting, he immediately suspended the project indefinitely, pending the renewal of funding. When we finished at 4.30pm, he offered me a lift home, as he lives close to my house. I said, ‘Thanks, just let me check my emails before we go.’ In the time that had elapsed during our meeting, every project I had in train had been postponed, numerous clients instructed me that invoices outstanding would not be paid until further notice. By Friday the 13th, every project I had in development had gone dark. Cycling home later that Friday, I had to stop somewhere in the Liberties to smoke a cigarette rolled with shaky hands. There was quite a lot running through my head, a deep sense of fear and dread hanging over it all.


I try hard not to bring work home, but on this day I seemed justified in making an exception. After at least two twenty-second hand-washes, I turned on an album and danced in circles with my 17-month-old daughter for quite some time. She was put to bed and I ate dinner with my wife then drank two-and-a-half cans of the worst beer I have ever had while we watched a film. I spent Sunday repurposing my attic should it be required then on to the studio disinfecting every surface, and on Monday morning I was back at the desk. That sense of fear can be all-consuming, but it equally can be replaced with a sense of purpose, which, mixed with determination, will hopefully bring about success as challenges are met. On Wednesday morning, a client called the studio and said the following: ‘We are going to push ahead to print. I know your fees aren’t due until the end of April, but I have transferred the remaining balance anyway.’ 


Communication with colleagues and peers over the last number of weeks has been like nothing I have ever experienced. Conversations that begin with a quick question about something trivial manifest into something totally different. I suddenly find myself in discussions about seemingly insurmountable challenges and deep personal fears. People of great strength whom I have known a long time in the most professional of circumstances stop dead as something sends a bolt of anxiety through their heads, interrupting the part of the mind that controls response. Silence, followed by the sound of shuffling in a seat, a throat cleared, an apology forthcoming, ‘Sorry, my mind wandered there.’ Wandered where? To thoughts of the challenges ahead, the fate of a future impossible to see, to colleagues and staff, to friends. Wandering out of the studio, agency or office and into every facet of their lives, moving through streets and towns, across oceans to loved ones who are now out of reach, who we feel helpless to protect, then beyond, to generations that as of yet do not exist. The wholesale reassessment of our aspirations, not just for our careers, but for our lives.


But no matter where these conversations go, they always return to something else. After a certain amount of time, a resilience begins to swell, pessimism slowly turns to realism, and that in turn becomes a perverse sense of optimism, which begins to temper the fear and balance it with hope. An understanding is formed, that adversity is not the enemy of creativity, that brutal honesty is required, that empathy is paramount, that while no one yet has the answers to the challenges, in time, together, we might find them. And so conversations lighten, the air lifts, voices become animated, wild statements are made and positivity gently sidles in.


Sometimes it takes a crisis to understand what has been said all along but never really heard. Ours is a community, and in it I hope that we may find solace. A question is posed: Is there anything we can offer? This institute, at its inception, was designed to be a platform, a space, a mechanism with the fundamental purpose of amplifying our collective voices so that they could be heard. A venue where fears and hopes could be shared, where solace could be found in the knowledge that those who would be members might find themselves in the company not just of like-minded creatives but of individuals with shared challenges, hopes, fears and dreams. As an idea, that’s what made it great. Like everyone else ICAD is not immune to this crisis, however we persevere, adapting our vision for 2020, responding with creativity and determination to support our members, and ensuring that despite the challenges ahead we will continue to foster, to promote and to reward. 


Today I made a call to a friend, a psychologist, looking for an answer that could bring this letter to a close. Eventually I asked, ‘So, what is the fundamental benefit of group therapy?’ There was a pause, and then came her response.


‘Knowing you’re not alone.’

A letter written to the ICAD membership by Rossi McAuley, ICAD president.