Although the impact of the current pandemic is severe in many areas of society, the arts are certainly among the worst affected. It is unfortunately in the nature of this sector that it involves crowds – and now, concerts, theatre and opera performances, dance festivals, exhibitions, and even book fairs have been cancelled and postponed indefinitely. Millions of artists, dancers, singers, producers and musicians are left in limbo, without an income and without a set date for the return of normality to comfort them.
Nevertheless, as everyone else, those working and creating in the arts are counting on a swift conclusion of the current situation, and for the meantime, they´re continuing to do what they do best – being creative. Yes, art requires to be seen, yet for a temporary timespan a surprising quantity of it can be experienced online or in more intimate formats than big concert halls or theatres. Musicians are livestreaming themselves performing – at home, of course – on Instagram or Facebook, sometimes even collaborating. Art galleries and museums are making their collections available online to take virtual tours. Opera singers are delighting their neighbourhoods with free concerts from their balconies, or, like Andrea Bocelli, from an eerily empty Duomo in Milan. Ballet companies around the world offer online streams of past performances, such as the Bolshoi Ballet from Moscow or the Ballet Opéra de Paris.
All these developments are both generous – many of them are for free to brighten everyday life for the millions of people quarantined or in strict lockdown situations – and important, as art is particularly necessary in times of uncertainty. It offers both refuge from the flood of tragic news and hope in this time of crisis, something that is perhaps shown by the popularity of reading among tips for surviving self-isolation and quarantine. Literature is currently presumably the only creative category that will not suffer as extensively as the rest; reading has always been a mostly solitary enjoyment.
However, there will be a day when every past performance has been streamed and when artists and creators need to return to the less glamourous necessity of generating an income for themselves and their industry. This, however, can only be done the traditional way. Most areas of the arts rely on live audiences and on the rhythm of performance seasons that involve people coming together to create their art. One day, concerts and performances will have to take place again. When this day will be remains uncertain; until then, the sector can only rely on the support of governments and financial solidarity shown by the public. The Czech Republic for instance, is leading by example: people there are buying tickets for cancelled cultural events in order to support the arts scene and its institutions.
While this article does not intend to downplay the seriousness of the situation – the economic consequences of the pandemic are already predicted to be astronomically high, and will thus also affect the arts severely – it is important to remember that there is hope: this is not the first pandemic in the history of humanity that the arts have survived. Art, in some form, has accompanied us from almost the very beginning of our existence as a species, as is visible for instance in discoveries of pre-civilizational instruments and cave drawings in Lascaux or Altamira. Although we don´t often realize, art is as necessary to most of us as is a regular supply of food – or toilet paper.
By Cristina Coellen