Art and Cultural Scene
– “The Show Must Go On“
Which everyday experiences do artists and cultural workers face since the outbreak of Covid-19? In three podcasts with perspectives from different continents,
we aim to gather personal impressions and explore the question of what the future holds for the art and culture scene.
Creativity, art, culture – it all connects people; and it often takes place where lots of people meet. Given this background, it is hardly surprising that this industry has been particularly affected by the Corona pandemic. „Social distancing,“ as introduced in large parts of the world, seems difficult to implement here.
Many people from this sector lost their jobs as a result of the measures taken to contain the virus. For example, one-third of all art galleries worldwide were forced to cut at least half of their workforce.1 The live music scene literally came to a halt overnight. As a result, many musicians lost their primary source of income and livelihood.2
In many areas of the art and culture scene, however, attempts are being made to counter the difficulties of the pandemic with creative ideas and new concepts: livestream theater, virtual exhibitions, online concerts – these are just some of the formats and innovations in art and culture that have been put forward by the pandemic3 (see also our blog article „The power of expressive dance„). Nevertheless, the situation remains precarious for a large portion of employees in this sector.
3 Artists, 3 Countries, 3 Continents
With these challenges in mind, we have collected three voices of artists and cultural workers from the UK, Mexico and the USA to capture their individual everyday experiences and personal impressions of the scene. Possible questions here include what role art and culture plays in times of pandemic, how work has changed over the Covid-19 period, and what the future holds for the sector.
Beth, United Kingdom
To read along:
Hi, my name is Beth and I live in Buckinghamshire, just outside of London in the United Kingdom. I’d call myself an artist and a creative. During the day I work as a junior graphic designer for a design agency that works within the publishing industry. I graduated from York St John university in 2018 with a degree in graphic design. Many of my friends are also creatives in varying roles, from acting to photography to fashion. In my own spare time, I like to paint and draw, and I occasionally do some freelance projects.
My friends are a great source of creative inspiration for me. We’re all working in quite different fields but support each other by going to places or exhibitions or wherever we’re getting involved lately.
The Yelling 20s:
Speaking about different kinds of creativity, art and culture: Can you give us an insight into your everyday life before and also during Covid-19? Was there any change for you?
My day-to-day life hasn’t been too disrupted by the pandemic. I’ve been able to work from home and keep my job, which I am very thankful for. The fun creative things I used to do outside of work are what’s been most disrupted – all galleries are closed, restaurants are shut, a lot of projects have been putting on hold. Many of the restrictions that have been put in place in the UK have affected the social side of our lives even when we haven’t been enough through lockdowns…
…Under the circumstances it is of course the right decision to stop the spread and to save lives. Hopefully things will start turning in the coming months.
The Yelling 20s:
You’ve just told us a little about how the restrictions interfere with private life in the UK nowadays. How do you perceive the importance of creativity, art and culture during the pandemic in the UK – for you, your surroundings and the British society in general?
I think that art and culture are the little bits of joy in our lives. If you asked somebody to go through a national lockdown during the pandemic, without any TV, music, films or podcasts – that realize that live becomes boring very quickly. To me the pandemic has given me time to slow down and enjoy spending more time drawing, painting and creating. I try to take this as the silver linings of even the worst times. I think the overwhelming feeling in the UK – and probably many other countries – is that life can’t start soon enough again. And with the vaccine program or with the end of way many people are looking to the future. Soon we will be able to see people in person again, create different kinds of experiences and start living life a bit more fully.
The Yelling 20s:
A few weeks before there was a viral mutation of Covid-19 discovered in the UK. Do you sense a difference from the situation before and after the detection?
The mutation of the virus meant that a lot more people will become infected very quickly. I think people’s attitudes did change and they were more cautious and concerned. Before the mutation most people were taking it seriously, but I think some had become complacent as we were eight months into pandemic at that point. In the UK, the art and culture scene was pretty much completely shut down from March until the summer. There was a few months in August and in the September where some things had been opened, like outdoor cinemas and some outdoor theaters spaces and things, but then we had another national lockdown in November and again in January. So, it’s been a very up and down!
The Yelling 20s:
You as a digital artist – how do you rate the role of digital mediums in other branches of art and culture that were previously less digital, such as theaters and opera houses? In your opinion, have some to our topic connected industries evolved in times of Covid-19?
Despite the restrictions and limitations, the pandemic has brought, I’ve seen lots of creative outliers finding new ways of surviving. Theaters in the UK have stream shows online or put content available. Fleabag, which is a popular TV show in the UK, is written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge – they put out a filmed theater production that youse could access. All of the proceeds from this went to charities, helping communities affected by the pandemic. There were shiny examples like this where some good was done during lockdown. And also, it was just a way of accessing art and culture still despite everything that was going on in the world. I’ve also seen more support for shopping local and buying from small businesses during the pandemic. Instagram has been a really good resource for finding and supporting creatives in this way.
The Yelling 20s:
Coming to the last question and your future perspective: You’ve already said that with the vaccine program the people are looking positively to the future and can’t wait for the social life to restart again. Let’s look into the crystal ball together: how do you picture the future of the creative, art and cultural scene after the potential end of Covid-19 in the UK?
Ah, the end of Covid-19, hopefully this is soon – for everybody’s sake! I do think the beginning will be difficult though. I don’t think the economy will be very good in the UK. I think many people will still be unemployed and I think it will be a tough time for a lot of people. But I do also hope that it brings a lot of joy into people’s lives again, because it will finally be over. I hope that people are eventually inspired to create and build great experiences together again. I also hope that the depression and the limitations that come from a pandemic make people relish in the joy of freedom and having their health. In terms of art and culture I hope to be able to attend some exhibitions in person, to be able to create other things with other people and to start collaborating again. That would be really fun after, what I can only imagining for most people is, a difficult year now.
The interview was conducted on 05.02.2021.
Ana Luisa, Mexico
To read along:
Hi, my name is Analu Soto. I live in the city of Guadalajara in Mexico. I actually have many jobs, which I will describe briefly: The first one, where I get my money from, I work as a studio manager in a handmade frames workshop. The workshop mainly makes professional framing, mostly focused on artists, art collectors, galleries. Here, I’m in charge of administration, logistic, … It’s not much of a creative job for me, but it gets me close to the contemporary art scene in my city.
The second job I do is as a teacher in the cultural state building – if I translate it from Spanish – but it’s a public college focused on arts, mostly art critiques, where I teach image theory and cultural anthropology, what I describe as an intellectual job where I have the chance to talk about art with people who love arts too. My third job is a recent project that I started last year called Proyecto Colmenar (@proyecto.colmenar) which I describe as a photography project mainly focusing on creative people, artists or entrepreneurs who need photography assistance to develop their brands or their images in web, like Instagram et cetera. We are developing a workshop to teach how to do your own photography, leveling up the quality of your image. And as an artist, which is my free-of-pay job, I do mostly photography. But I have been involved in other collaborative projects last year with the platform Save the Artist as a performer and I am recently experimenting more with textiles in my photography work…
…I have a Bachelor’s degree in visual arts. I have studied in different universities: the first part in my hometown, Guadalajara, the second part in Pachuca, Hidalgo, and I spent one semester abroad studying photography in sunny Potsdam in New York back in 2017, if I remember well.
The Yelling 20s:
How has your work as an artist changed in light of the transition of Covid-19 in Mexico?
Well, luckily, I could keep my jobs, just the teaching part switched to online classes. It also has been helpful to have some extra time to get into old work that had been waiting for me in my personal archive. I got time to upload some of my work on Instagram and also open an artist profile (@analum_soto) But the intermittent lockdown feels like it has been stressful for all of us. It has affected my working times: Somedays, I find myself working a lot and some other days I can’t get out of my bed. It feels like mentally it has affected me the most: I miss my friends, I miss my classes and the inspiration out of the art exhibitions that are not happening anymore.
The Yelling 20s:
You said that Covid-19 hit you especially mentally. So, did it help you personally to be artistically active during the pandemic?
Yes! It has been really helpful to be able to review old work. It keeps me, like, mentally travelling somehow. And I also build new projects thinking ahead. It gives me hope for the new days and also helps me to rethink the direction I want to take with my work.
The Yelling 20s:
You are very familiar with the local art and cultural scene. How essential would you say is it for the people in your city to experience arts and culture despite the pandemic?
Well, to give a little bit of context: In my city, all the public and cultural activities were shut. I’m talking about museums, cinemas, galleries, concerts, exhibitions, theaters, etc. We were in lockdown for a few months last year, in April, when it all started here. Some activities were permitted, but as a lot of jobs are informal, they depend on people to be able to be outside working. So, it has been some months out, some months in lockdown – it depends on the numbers of Covid-19 active cases. Recently, the activities just started to work hybrid, like a bit presence, a bit online; but not everything can migrate to be online because a lot of Mexican people do not even have a computer. So, it has been kind of a struggle. We have a strong cultural scene which has been forced to migrate to other platforms in order to keep working. Some international events used to happen along the year and people respond really well to it. The art exhibitions and music scene used to be the most active, I think, in the arts community. Everyone is dealing with the knowledge of uncertainty right now, mostly because they have lost their ways of living, of making money, and of course the experience of performing in front of audience because now everything has to be online and, well, the experience is really different.
The Yelling 20s:
As most of the activities are shifted to online platforms, how do you expect the physical art and culture scene to unfold after the hopefully very soon arriving end of Covid-19? Do you think it will resurface easily after so many people had to do without it for such a long time or will it be more difficult for the sector to shine again?
Well, we can say that the art scene is divided here: On the one hand we have the contemporary art and on the other hand the public cultural scene. I think the second part of this sector will be more affected; I mean the public cultural scene. Because contemporary art is a wealthier sector, I think it will recover its activities easily, since they have been still active through the internet, selling and producing for a private sector. The other sector, the cultural and public, financed by the state, is going to lose a lot of creators. Since they have been moving to other jobs where they can find support and financial security their recovery will take more time. Because, as you know, the crisis affects areas differently depending on where in the production sector you find yourself. As an example, it’s not the same for musicians who play on weddings compared to the ones who play on music concerts. The position where you find yourself is a responsibility for your sector, but some people doesn’t see this and sadly the public funds do not reflect on the cultural scene. So, I think it will rise again with the strength of knowing how important the creative and cultural scene is for us, but it will take time for this sector to recover their place. Something good that this crisis has brought is the knowledge of how important the culture and creativity are for the mental health. So, I think the audience will increase once they have the opportunity for the offering or getting back in a cultural show – or at least I’m hoping for that.
The Interview was conducted on 14.02.2021.
To read along:
Hello, hello, my name is Lyra. I’m from the United States, from the state of New York. I’m in Westchester County, just about half an hour away from New York City. I graduated from the State University of New York at Potsdam in 2017 where I received my bachelor’s degree in Music.
I currently work as a receptionist at a music school. I also teach as a children’s music director and educator at a local unitarian universalist church in my place New York, also in Westchester. Along with my teaching and working, I play some chamber music. I play violin and if needed I also play viola. Prior to the pandemic I did an awful lot of page turning at least once per month as needed. Now that we are in the middle of the pandemic, I lost all the page turning opportunities and what not. But I’ve still been working and teaching, even if all of my teaching has been gone fully online, I’ve been going in person for my receptionist job.
The Yellings 20s:
You’re very involved in the music world and already played as a professional musician in different ensembles in New York. How did the collaboration change during Covid-19
Prior to the pandemic I did an awful lot of chamber music. Actually, just right before the lockdown began, I was playing in two different trios helping out as part of my work…
…They were just beginning when the pandemic struck around in the US and it began with the lockdown. At that point, I was also playing in two groups both in person in the city as part of the chamber music program that I help out in, both, on violin and viola. That obviously went out of the window right when the lockdown began; and they usually have a summer program, that went out of the window. So, they didn’t actually start until the fall semester. Their option was either go in person for some of the groups, obviously with the proper social distance, or to go fully online. And the reason why those were the two options is because there are a lot of people who are essentially categorized as the high risk, which would increase their risk of getting Covid-19. The general demographics of that chamber music organization and that program – at least for the participants – are people who are 65 years and older. I, being the youngest, certainly am just as vulnerable in getting Covid-19 as well as giving other people Covid-19 unknowingly. To be practically true, I actually got Covid-19 back in November. At that point I was playing in two groups both in person and it certainly changed the perspective for some people regarding the fact that while the youngest person in the program ended up getting Covid-19 not everyone is completely safe from not getting Covid. One thing for sure is that when I will get back any of my page turning gigs is probably not until this coming fall and that’s the earliest!
The Yellings 20s:
How would you describe the situation of Art & Culture and the music scene in the United States in the process of the pandemic? Are many artists affected or have some been maybe able to build a kind of resilience?
Well, I do have friends who left music and I’m also part of a group on Facebook where a lot of freelance musicians are, it’s a public group I believe anyone can join. A lot of them, I myself included, had to file for unemployment insurance. That itself, as we all learned, was very much complicated – especially for those who are freelancers I noticed there is a lot of people who had an extremely hard time trying to figure out the ins and outs of filing for unemployment insurance and when they tried to contact the state about it there was not much of an answer. A lot of the people who are in that Facebook group, I noticed, had to take jobs at Amazon or maybe doing some English conversational tutoring online and were finding a job that has completely nothing to do with music. And those who stayed, they certainly making their hardest – some people were trying to get their YouTube channels going or people were trying to attempt to create YouTube channels for the first time, especially for the case for the older people I’ve noticed. I mean, there is just a lot of people helping each other out and I think these are honestly great news in that aspect. The music world is a very small world, so seeing that is great. But for those who chose to leave it is sad, because the ones who left where actually really good musicians, those who – many of us believed – could have stayed.
The Yellings 20s:
You said that most of the artists suffered a lot under the circumstances of Covid-19. But you also mentioned that many people were able to help each other. So, would you say that new concepts perhaps have been even founded out of the hardship of the pandemic, such as online concerts
Yes, actually as a matter of fact the Philadelphia Orchestra just released a prerecorded concert to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I actually have several colleagues and mentors who have released their own concerts that have been prerecorded. I myself was part of a recital for the music school, where I attended as a student; every year they have an alumna recital. So, as an alumnus I submitted a piece for their recital and I had to prerecord it. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are not particular aware of the editing part. Sound and video at once, it can get very difficult and editing a video takes a lot of work.
The Yellings 20s:
Alright, diving a bit into politics: How do you expect the pandemic in the United States to progress in the future since Biden officially took over as president? He has announced to take tougher action against the pandemic. So how do you think his response to Covid-19 will affect life in the United States also taking into account the arts and cultural scene
Well, many of us are very much hopeful of what President Biden will do and now we have someone who very much respects and cares about the science and the legitimacy of science and how it is crucial in the terms of public health. It’s hard, if you are someone in the orchestra such as the Metropolitan Opera you are extremely close to each other because you are in the pins, there is only a small amount of space and so it is hard to maintain social distance. I’m hoping that politicians understand that – to what extent I don’t know, but hopefully something will come out. And now, with these vaccines out, people are very much hopeful of what those vaccines will bring. The ones who are very much excited are the concert goers, those are the people who musicians rely on. I mean, for every recital that I go to, certainly a lot of the concert goers are people who are categorized as higher risk, 65 years and over. Those are the people who love going to concerts and many of them miss it. Overall we are very much hopeful, we’re going to stay optimistic, going forward and I guess for all of us it’s just a question of “we’ll see”.
The Yellings 20s:
One final question: How would you assess the following, rather provocative statement in relation to the United States: “Art & Culture – too big to fail?”
I believe that the art scene as a whole, the whole music scene, will certainly come back alive. It will surely take a while for it to return to what it was before the pandemic, that’s for sure. There is the saying “the show must go on”, whether online or in person or whatever it may be, the show must go on and the show will go on!
The interview was conducted on 13.02.2021.
The experiences of our three interviewees have shown how differently the crisis affects the arts and culture sector and the people who work in it. However, it should be noted that the impressions can by no means be generalized for specific regions or professional groups – these voices nevertheless provide an exemplary insight into the complex situation the scene is confronted with.
What is certain, however, is that art and culture enrich our lives and creative ways have been found to continue to make cultural experiences possible despite hygiene measures and lockdowns that has temporarily paralyzed public life in many regions of the world. It seems obvious here that we as art and culture „consumers“ are also in demand: Theatergoers, concert audiences, visitors to exhibitions, cinemas, galleries and events – to name just a few examples – can support the industry in the process of recovery with loyalty and encouragement.4 The arts and culture sector is currently experiencing a difficult time and will certainly continue to struggle in the near future, possibly even undergoing permanent change in some places – but „the show must go on“!
- UN News (22.12.2020). “Culture in crisis: Arts fighting to survive COVID-19 impact”. Retrieved from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1080572 (Last accessed: 28.02.2021).
- Lee, D., Baker, W., Haywood, N. (25.05.2020). “Coronavirus, the cultural catalyst.” Working in Music. Retrieved from: https://wim.hypotheses.org/1302 (Last accessed: 28.02.2021).
- Deutsche Welle (29.12.2020). “How the coronavirus crisis inspired the cultural scene”. Retrieved from: https://www.dw.com/en/how-the-coronavirus-crisis-inspired-the-cultural-scene/a-55969788 (Last accessed: 28.02.2021).
- Radermecker, AS. V. (2020). Art and culture in the COVID-19 era: for a consumer-oriented approach. In: SN Bus Econ 1 (1), S. 1-14.
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