“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” - Robin Williams
In a world dominated by the pandemic, Williams’ words in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society still resonate with many. During months in quarantine and isolation, both the “noble pursuits” of life and appreciation for the arts flourished under the dire circumstances of the coronavirus.
In medicine and technology, COVID-19 pushed scientists to focus their research and make new discoveries on the path to a vaccine, and innovators to create tools to interact remotely. Millions applauded healthcare workers for their continuous hard work and sacrifices throughout the pandemic.
The public also experienced a renewed appreciation for the arts since last March. Whether time was spent reading, painting or learning a new instrument, many were thankful for creative outlets in the endless hours of isolation.
While medical industries can still financially prosper during these difficult times, the art world struggles to survive against the coronavirus’s destructive force. With many aspects of art heavily founded on an active audience, from live concerts to art exhibits, travel restrictions and social distancing requirements present serious obstacles to the success of the art industry. After experiencing the disastrous effects of COVID-19, creators and art-lovers alike now ask: How can we support the arts during a pandemic?
Luckily, the diverse areas of the art community answer with a number of creative alternatives.
The pandemic hit the music industry particularly hard, with many live music events being canceled. These performances represented a key point of revenue for many musicians, and the ability to revive and gain support from fans. Playing to stadium audiences, however, directly violates the terms of social distancing and puts many lives at risk. Instead, artists created unique ways to support their music and maintain enthusiasm within their supporters.
Virtual performances enabled many musicians to play for fans and best replicate the concert experience, and some of these performances were free, making concerts more accessible. Artists could choose to perform from the casual settings of their homes or from conventional performance venues.
Some notable online concerts include Post Malone’s tribute to Nirvana and Billie Eilish’s “Where Do We Go?” Livestream. Malone live-streamed his performance on Youtube in April 2020 from his home and used the video to raise funds for COVID-19 relief. In contrast, Eilish highlighted a more realistic approach for future concerts. Fans could purchase tickets for $30 to virtually attend the event, and Eilish utilized lighting, sound and special effects to imitate her normal performances. Music-lovers everywhere can look to the Billboard website, where they display a list of upcoming virtual concerts and festivals to attend in the future.
Other artists used their time in quarantine to work on creative projects. Taylor Swift is a perfect example. Over the course of quarantine, the singer-songwriter released 2 albums, 2 music videos, and her film Folklore: The Long Pond Sessions on Disney+. Even now, Swift is rerecording her previous albums, and recently released the new version of her original song, “Love Story.” While Taylor Swift exceeds standards in content creation, various artists are also undertaking new endeavors in music.
Billie Eilish announced her future documentary, Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry on Apple TV+, which is set to premiere on Feb. 26, 2021. With these new vehicles for entertainment in the music industry, fans can still support their favorite musicians by consistently watching, listening, and participating in creative content online. This engagement will not only help artists financially but further build an appreciation for music despite the difficulties of COVID.
Art museums also fell victim to the detrimental impacts of the pandemic. The first months of quarantine initially halted large art galleries across the world, similar to what many businesses enduring the coronavirus. COVID-19, however, threatens to permanently close these exhibits due to the lack of international tourism and restrictions against indoor events. Travel bans also prevented artists and speakers from showcasing their works, as many needed to travel either between states or countries to present their art. To follow mandatory healthcare guidelines, many institutions looked to innovations online and within their own programs.
Several art institutions began taking advantage of the digital landscape to create virtual exhibits, curator video conferences and digital or take-home activities. These alternatives safely and effectively mirror the museum experience, as shown through the public’s growing interest in online art shows.
The Boston Institute of Contemporary Art specifically demonstrates the success of take-home art kits. While this museum usually offers a hands-on “Art Lab,” in which visitors actively engage in processes related to contemporary art, it now formats these projects for the home. Guests are provided with the supplies, information, and experience similar to the actual “Art Lab,” and can choose a specific kit related to a theme or artist.
Boston College’s own McMullen Museum of Art added a “McMullen from Home” page to its website, inviting students, faculty, and the wider community to engage with exhibitions remotely.
Overall, these virtual methods allow the public to support the arts they love from the safety of their homes. While not the same as they were before, music and art offer entertainment and an emotional outlet as the pandemic drags on.
With governments gradually distributing vaccines around the world, the future of the art and music industries remains unclear. Various artists and institutions want to return to their traditional practices before COVID-19, wishing to forget the struggles and obstacles they endured throughout the pandemic. The growing popularity of virtual alternatives, however, may permanently transform the art world. Online performances, galleries, conferences and art activities made the best aspects of art accessible to the majority of the population. Once considered alternatives to true art during the pandemic, these virtual experiences may become vital elements of the art community.