Culture in Times of Coronavirus

By Catrin Lewis

Cultural events across the country have been put on hold in response to the surge in UK coronavirus cases.  From concerts to premieres, many highly anticipated events will not be going ahead as planned this year. People across the globe have been left disappointed following the cancellation of their summer plans as the virus has well and truly thrown a spanner in the works.  However, creatives across the globe have shown resilience and refused to let the coronavirus ruin their plans entirely. Over recent weeks a range of alternatives has arisen for events that would usually consist of large gatherings and face to face interaction.

It is reported that 30 million people attended gigs or festivals in the UK in 2018 and statistics like this highlight just how important live music is to unify the nation.  Glastonbury, Coachella and Reading are amongst the festivals that have announced that they won’t be going ahead as planned, leaving eager fans disappointed.  Some of the biggest names in the music industry were set to perform at the festivals including Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey and Lewis Capaldi.  The festivals have now either been postponed indefinitely or rescheduled for later this year. However, there is still a glimmer of hope as despite the festivals (understandably) not going ahead, a range of online festivals have emerged to lift the spirits of a nation that is, for the most part, stuck indoors.  Brazil’s infamous Tomorrowland Winter festival live-streamed a full day of music on the 31st of March which included exclusive sets from artists such as Afrojack and Lost Frequencies.  The Welsh music festival Maes B, which was set to take place in August, is also taking part in the trend by hosting weekly live sets by Welsh artists on Instagram.

Some of the world’s biggest musicians have taken to Instagram live to continue being able to perform for fans during this time.  Artists like Declan Mckenna and Miley Cyrus are amongst those that have taken to the platform to keep fans entertained and make up for any missed concerts during the outbreak.  Of course, live streams don’t have the same atmosphere as being in a room with your favourite artist and thousands of other fans but given the circumstances, it’s close enough. An added benefit of live streaming, as opposed to concerts or gigs, is that it allows those who usually wouldn’t be able to afford concert tickets to experience live performances from their favourite artists.  It’s also arguably easier for fans to communicate with artists as the comment section means that they can leave a message or even a song request. The downside? It’s likely that smaller artists, in particular, will be hit hard as many rely on revenue from tours and gigs to make a living.  

The music industry isn’t the only one affected by the virus as the production of several upcoming films have been brought to a halt by the pandemic.  Film releases such as the highly anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 and the latest addition to the James Bond franchise, No Time to Die, have been postponed for the time being.  The closure of cinemas across the country has led to films with scheduled releases amid the coronavirus outbreak having to resort to untraditional release platforms.  Universal Pictures announced that DreamWorks Animation’s latest film, Trolls World Tour, would be released as an in-home rental without being shown in theatres first.  Similarly, it was announced that Pixar’s Onward would be available to rent or stream whereas Birds of Prey could be purchased by at-home viewers months earlier than expected.  This has all been done in a desperate attempt to minimise any losses that may come from the inability to show films, on which millions have already been spent, in theatres.

Whilst the effects of the virus are clear and unavoidable, creative minds have proved that it can’t get in their way.  More people than ever have used their creativity for good by using their newfound free time to write poems and essays to share with others.  The poetry festival I know I wish I will which is targeted at five to twenty-five-year-olds is a great example of how the negatives are being turned into positives.  The festival, endorsed by Stephen Fry and UNESCO UK, was set to take place in the West End on March 21st. The event, created as a celebration of World Poetry Day, still went ahead but for an online audience instead.  Participants were asked to record their performances and post them along with the hashtag #knowwishwill to ensure that their creativity could still be shared globally.  The event being held online made it more accessible for young poets that weren’t originally going to attend and allowed them to express their creativity whilst simultaneously being a positive outlet for them to share their thoughts.

COVID-19 has also led to museums and galleries, from the Louvre to the Natural History Museum, shutting their doors.  The temporary closure of such places means that people will no longer be able to admire their unique art and artefacts for the time being.  Whilst looking at art online isn’t quite like seeing the real thing, the virus has led to an influx of the internet’s very own art over recent weeks – memes.  An abundance of coronavirus related memes have flooded social media as people try to make light of an otherwise bleak situation. From Twitter to TikTok, ordinary teens across the globe have created everything from short sketches to viral dances during self-isolation.  Internet culture is playing an increasingly prominent role within society and it has proved its importance by allowing people to create and share during these unprecedented times in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. 

Despite the uncertainty and negativity caused by the coronavirus, people across the globe have proved that there’s still room for positivity.  Whilst cultural industries are certain to be negatively affected, it’s important not to overlook the good things that have been created during these dark times.  With more people bored at home, there has undoubtedly been an increased appreciation for the art and cultural industries as they provide a brief escape for those who need it most.