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What lies ahead for arts and culture?

It has been a challenging time for the arts and culture sector. The volume of cancellations and closures has left many organizations, on the one hand, quickly responding to the sudden changes, and on the other, seriously wondering what their future looks like. The challenges are ongoing as museums, galleries, festivals, and theatres continue to grapple with difficult decisions every day. With this in mind, it is the second question we wish to dedicate this newsletter edition to, as a respite from the hardship and as a reminder of what lies ahead.

Without diverting attention from the more immediate challenges, we have to wonder what the longer-term implications of these adjustments and, in some cases, dramatic changes will be. How will this crisis transform the arts and culture sector?

We have asked different leaders from arts and culture to share their thoughts on what they see as possible paths forward. Their responses offer a diversity of perspectives and point at different opportunities for action. Here’s what they have to say

It’s too early to say exactly what the sector will look like on the other side. We may be on the verge of a paradigm shift in the way museums operate.  

During the pandemic, we have seen some museums pivot quickly, providing virtually accessible resources. These contributions reinforce the value of museums and the critical role they can and must play in society.  

That being said, museums risk not being able to fulfill their much-needed role. Several have closed their doors, exhibits have been cancelled, collections lack the constant care normally afforded to them, and many workers have been laid off. We worry about the hardest hit, the many small museums.  

We appreciate the government’s relief efforts, but they are not enough to ensure the sector’s viability. So we are advocating for a dedicated museum relief fund to support lost revenues and an emergency development fund for digital activities. We are also maintaining pressure to update the 30 year-old National Museum Policy. If funding was at the appropriate levels and if what the policy covers was modernized, museums could ostensibly be better poised to weather the situation. 

There’s no question the museum sector will need to adapt to a new reality.  I remain hopeful that with adequate support and modernized policies, the future of our sector is bright. 

 Right now, many of us are in rapid response mode. But, for those of us who have a bit of capacity, I hope we have some time to dream about the future. Here’s an article I wrote about how to slow down, take stock, and reimagine my role in building a more equitable future. 

The question I’m holding is – how do we want to transform ourselves in the long term because of this crisis? What new futures do we want to create? If we acknowledge that “normal” was not fully equitable, how can we change that?  

Because of these questions, I’m spending a lot of time visioning. Especially for cultural organizations, I think it’s meaningful to envision how we want to reopen and who we want to be our partners in making that happen. 

If you have five minutes, I invite you to write a journal entry imagining that bright day, and how the world might be different. It might help you figure out what you most want to do next. 

 

COVID-19 is forcing the music industry as a whole to take a step back and reevaluate how musicians and audiences interact with each other.

So much of what drives music revenue is built around the gathering of human bodies, in large quantities, into contained spaces. And both medical and music industry professionals agree, we likely won’t be able to do that again for quite some time.

Perhaps here is where change can happen and it can be driven by each and every one of us.

In the past few years, the music industry was scrambling to find ways to remain relevant. Record labels were becoming artist management companies and large concert promoters owned all the commercial radio. Now that we’re in lockdown, we still see how relevant music remains while the gatekeepers put in place to profit from art become less and less relevant.

As music consumers, we have the power to engage and support our favourite artists directly through digital portals created by and for artists. We have the collective power to support locally and to help emerging and mid-career artists flourish both financially and creatively.

And artists need to not just adapt to the technology but expand the constraints of these platforms through creative and unorthodox thinking. Musicians must become well-rounded creatives, capable of not just writing and performing songs, but delivering eye-catching visuals and theatrical experiences built on multi-disciplinary methods and aesthetics.

 A return to directly empowering local, grassroots artistic communities is a tangible step towards an equitable and inclusive arts economy.

COVID-19 has already been transformative for many within the arts and culture sector. From the fear of layoffs to anticipated budgetary cuts over the next while, the arts and culture sector faces an uncertain path forward.

But within this uncertainty, lies opportunity.

What has become apparent within the COVID-10 crisis is the importance of human connection within a context that is, necessarily, limiting our ability to connect in person. In this context, the arts and culture sector can play a key role in generating and maintaining human connection.

As such, COVID-19 may indeed act as a catalyst for a reinvigorated commitment on the part of cultural institutions to fostering empathy, understanding and connection, and doing so in innovative ways. For instance, encouraging institutions to experiment with new, remote ways to connect and to share stories is just one way in which the focus of our work has already changed; as this crisis develops, it may also engender new innovations in delivery and communication for the sector as a whole.

New formats for delivery and communication to foster human connection may also necessitate other changes within the sector, beyond the immediate. For instance, a greater focus on digital engagement and the retention of specialists in the field of online design and delivery may be required. In addition, an understanding of the barriers to access that many face in a digital world reveals deep structural inequity and will surely require institutions and professionals to find innovative ways to enhance inclusion and participation.


We can all agree that this is a terrible time for humanity. COVID-19 endangers lives, weakens the vulnerable and creates collective anxiety, particularly notable in the arts sector, which now finds itself disoriented. These are violent times in many ways, but they could lay the ground for profound transformation and place meaning at the centre of our existence and our organizations.

Upon leaving the camp in 1946, the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote about the importance of meaning as a true source of resilience. According to him, the question wasn’t what do I expect from life? but rather what does life expect from me? Considering what we could give over what we couldn’t get as a way to create meaning. This can help us ask ourselves some good questions in relation to our cultural institutions:

What do we want to cultivate?

Whom and what do we want to care for, individually and collectively?

Why do performing arts? For what purpose? Why?

Where are the needs?

How can we help today?

Let’s use our creativity and collective intelligence to answer these questions. Let’s use the limitations as a basis for inventiveness. Let’s put aside the past and the future that cause us so much anxiety and focus on how to honour the living right now. This is certainly the best position from which to build trust with our communities and become part of a new system.

One of the main challenges museums will face after COVID-19 is having to balance the pressing need to collect and preserve the testimonies of those who have been most affected, with the obligation to adhere to strong ethical principles such as the minimization of harm and respect for human dignity.

Many of these communities, which have been historically excluded or misrepresented in many of our museums, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Museums have a responsibility to ensure that the stories of the underrepresented won’t be lost, overlooked, exploited or replaced by privileging only heroic narratives.

I believe and I hope that after COVID-19, museums will be pushed to be more self-reflective and work more ethically when researching, collecting, archiving, interpreting and exhibiting the stories of historically marginalized communities.

It is our responsibility as museum professionals to bring these discussions to light so that the museum sector can emerge stronger and in solidarity with the communities we intend to serve.

 

 The global creative community has taken a remarkable leadership role in organizing, adapting and responding to the health emergency. This timely and proactive reaction has raised visibility of the sector, establishing it as a fundamental and necessary part of contemporary life. I am confident that this recognition will help strengthen public budgets for the sector and will lead to greater sustainability for the community.

A large number of cultural activities have been virtually reprogrammed using digital technologies, immediately multiplying their audiences and global outreach. These creative endeavours have helped to alleviate the psychological stress of millions of people who are in isolation, preventing the spread of the virus.

This renewed presence of cultural goods and services enriches the cultural diversity within the digital landscape. Most importantly, it reminds us that on the other side of the pandemic culture and art await us in a physical space; a place where the desires, illusions and dreams of humanity coincide globally. The day we get to attend our first concert after these adverse times, we will experience it as if it was our first time. We will never forget the value of culture again.

*These responses have been edited for clarity and length