Three feelings sum up the Arts Sector’s response to COVID–19. Firstly, a feeling of doom and nothing seeming to work. Secondly, a sense of paralysis, coupled with a curiosity about what might work. Thirdly, there’s an optimism about the future, and a fierce determination to survive and thrive in this trying time.

I don’t think these feelings are confined to the Arts Sector, of course, and these feelings alternate with each other even over a single day. Arts organisations are faring better than individual artists. Jobs have some protection, but freelance work sadly does not. Individual artists that have very low incomes, in any case, have lost almost all opportunity. It’s hard to imagine the Arts without human contact but painters, writers and sculptors, unlike performers and musicians, don’t need crowds to work. It is hard to have no live audience, but audiences for the Arts are increasing online. Increased online capacity for the Arts will be the great legacy of this pandemic.

Where the Arts are now. Image: The Arts Council Umbrella.

For the City Arts Office Cruinniú na nÓg, the National Day of Creativity for children in June, and Culture Night in September, this new online capability will be tested as the institutions and artists involved will be recording and broadcasting their work, many for the first time, with support from RTÉ. The Abbey Theatre’s Dear Ireland initiative, which is the product of creative work by 50 Writers and 50 actors, has shown that online performances can have real power. Supporting this growth in online artistic capacity is a key priority. Helping artists to build their online capabilities and, as restrictions lift, providing facilities to record and broadcast are initiatives that Dublin City Council will support. There is a lot of debate about what online art is, but some artists have been active in the virtual space for some time, and some are recording their work and editing it to broadcast ‘as live’, while others are playing live on air. Each of these approaches has different standards and expectations from the audience, such as editing, sound quality and tolerance for interruptions.

‘new normal’ is an experiment

There are also several states of human cultural interaction (or lack of it) to plan for:
1. Lockdown (while it is now beginning to end, it might come back).
2. The interim phase, starting soon, as Dublin re-opens, allowing more and more freedom throughout this year.
3. Returning to the ‘new normal’. Will life as we knew it return as before or be altered with continuing social distancing?

Where the Arts are now. Image: Bus Exterior Rainbow March 2017 Alight, Dublin's Culture Connects The National Neighbourhood, by Vanessa Daws.The interim phase of reducing restrictions is the most immediate and most challenging concern for all involved in the Arts. Galleries will open in July, and as social distancing is achievable in these spaces, how will we develop the protocols that inspire confidence and keep the public safe? Artist workspaces and studios should re-open as construction workers return. Theatres and concert halls are scheduled to reopen from August 10th. In all of these cases, the Arts community must consider how best to protect the public, and how reduced capacity through social distancing is implemented, just like any other business or public space. Although guidelines exist, there will be many specific situations where judgement and risk will have to be balanced. Equally, reduced capacity means reduced revenue for venues, providing challenges to finances. How will funding work in this case?

There is a broad agreement that this ‘new normal’ is an experiment – or rather a series of experiments – and that failure has been viewed as an essential part of learning. The Arts will adapt their form and content and may require exceptional support as new forms emerge. If there was ever a time though that individual artists need support by the Government and the public, this is it.

Ray Yeates

Ray Yeates works for Dublin City Council in the role of The City Arts Officer. If you want to contact him email ray.yeates@dublincity.ie

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE...

Doors Closed, Hearts Open

Katie Kavanagh, a Dublin 8 based photographer, had an idea. As we’re generally stuck indoors due to COVID-19 restrictions, she’d take portrait shots of her neighbours at their doors. The idea grew legs and she’s linked up with Purple House Cancer Support Centre for the project, Doors Closed, Hearts Open. Their aim is to create a gallery of 200,000 ‘Doortraits’ to support the 200,000 people living with Cancer i

Read More

Number 14 Henrietta Street

No street in Dublin illuminates the history of the city quite like Henrietta Street. The vast houses on this cobblestone street have run the gamut from Georgian grandeur to tenement squalor within the three hundred years of their existence. Now, Number 14 Henrietta Street has been restored as a museum, telling the story of the house’s journey from being the grand residence of a family of four in the 1720s, to a home to over one hundred people by 1911. All the big events of Irish history buffeted the residents here. The Act of Union of 1801 moved aristocracy away, and the Famine moved the poor here in droves, “Dublin’s broken union men” died

Read More

Dublin’s Top Ten Works of Art

The Book of Kells in Trinity is arguably Dublin’s most famous work of art but what of all the internationally renowned masterpieces housed in the Dublin galleries? Here are ten of the major artworks waiting to be discovered behind doors you walk past every day. In the National Gallery: 1. Caravaggio – The Taking of Christ Caravaggio painted this dramatic scene of the arresting of Jesus in 1602 for the Roman Marquis Ciriaco Mattei. We see Judas identifying Christ with a kiss and the guards moving in for the arrest. The darkness of the painting is lit from within by a lantern held by St Peter, although this is considered to be a self-p

Read More