Arts, Cultural Sectors Adapt to Coronavirus Closures

As cultural and creative institutions across the nation adjust to the economic impact of coronavirus containment measures, lockdown measures are having a surprising, and transformative, impact on the arts.

The call of ailing arts organisations was answered, in part, with the joint announcement by deputy prime minister Michael McCormack and federal arts minister Paul Fletcher of a targeted $27 million support package for indigenous art centres, regional arts and the live music and performance industry.

Industry bodies including Live Performance Australia and charity Support Act—the recipient of a $10 million slice of the funding—welcomed the measures, but warned that many in the industry would fall through the cracks.

“Governments still haven’t come to grips with the scale of the devastation that has been wreaked across our world class $4 billion live performance industry,” Live Performance Australia chief executive Evelyn Richardson said.

Organisations across the entire spectrum of creative and cultural industries were faced with the economic and social consequences of ongoing, long-term shutdowns related to the federal government’s coronavirus-related ban on events and gatherings across the country.

The cancellation of many of the nation's large arts and cultural events such as the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Sydney Writers’ Festival and Byron Bay's Bluesfest became an avalanche of indefinite closures as coronavirus took hold, with cultural institutions including the Sydney Opera House, Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and the National Gallery of Victoria among big-name casualties.

Since then, arts and cultural organisations large and small have found themselves forced to engage with online platforms in ways they may not have done previously.

The Sydney Opera House—in the midst of a fortuitously-timed $150m upgrade, launched its digital initiative, “From Our House to Yours”, aiming to “connect, inspire, educate and entertain local and global communities” while the venue’s doors are temporarily closed to the public.

Launching the Opera House's program, chief executive Louise Herron spoke for many in the industry in expressing a commitment to offering the best in arts, culture and entertainment, "online—from our house to yours".

"I hope this new digital program from the Opera House, a national symbol of creativity, will connect, inspire and comfort people around the world during this challenging time.”

An image of the "living artwork", "Tim", livestreamed from Tasmania's MONA gallery, to illustrate the way arts and cultural organisations are adapting to online platforms amid coronavirus.
▲ Tasmania's Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is one of many arts organisations adapting to online platforms during the coronavirus-related shutdowns, live-streaming the living artwork, "Tim" from its otherwise closed gallery. Image credit: Jesse Hunniford

The social and economic impact of coronavirus containment measures is undeniable, but there may be a silver lining in its highlighting of the ways arts organisations are engaging with online platforms: surely a boon for art-starved audiences confined to their lounge rooms—or couches, as the case may be.

In Queensland, faced with the federal government's drastic shutdown measures, the organisers of public art showcase, the Brisbane Street Art Festival, have committed to stepping up the action on its online platforms, delivering murals from local, interstate and international artists.

The Queensland Ballet also joined the fray, with artistic director Li Cunxin and some of the company’s star dancers filming ballet classes for fans missing out on stage performances to engage with from the comfort of their own home.

"As the severity of this [Covid-19] situation became apparent, we started looking for ways to maintain that connection," Li said.

And despite its closure, Tasmania's MONA is adapting to the online environment by live-streaming a human artwork, “Tim”, in a nod to the many artworks around the world hanging in empty galleries—a sign that, while coronavirus might be preventing live access to the arts, virtual access is allowing what for many may be unprecedented access.

The National Gallery of Victoria is but one of many cultural institutions around the world offering virtual tours, including the Louvre, the British Museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Vatican, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and the Van Gogh Museum, to name a few—along with more left-field offerings, including the Museum of Broken Relationships.

On a broader scale, a mammoth collaborative effort such as the “digital exploration” of Mexican artist Frida Khalo offers a virtual tour through a diverse selection of work curated from 33 collections around the world.

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