Every aspect of our lives has been reshaped by the pandemic, and the arts are no exception. Arts & Culture Deputy Editor Eva Ferguson explores just what those changes might entail.
With every passing day, it feels as though the instantaneity of the world, especially the ways in which we consume information, rises exponentially. Social media platforms, and their abilities to disperse information quickly and consistently play a key role in the instantaneous quality of life. From the distribution of news, to grocery shopping, all the way down to the intricacies of how we interact with one another on a daily basis, have evolved at an alarmingly quick rate. This would not have happened without the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has ushered in new technological changes to our doorsteps in a matter of weeks that, in otherwise normal circumstances, would have taken months or even years to develop. The nature of how we consume information, entertainment, and engage with practical matters such as grocery shopping, have evolved to unprecedented rates of immediacy. How will this unprecedented degree of instantaneity and immediacy affect the ways in which we engage with the arts?
Movies, TV shows, stand-up comedy, theater productions, symphony concerts, operas – the list is exhaustive. The creative arts have never before been so drastically transformed by a society rapidly changing in its consumer habits. Streaming platforms, in the last few years especially, have become one of the principle ways in which we engage with the performing arts. For example, the speed with which episodes can be watched in rapid-fire succession, thanks to Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming platforms, has transformed how shows are watched. Gone are the days where one had to wait seven days for the next forty-five-minute episode of their favorite TV show. Nights in, for many, now consist of binge sessions where an entire season (or more) can be finished in one night. This unprecedented transformation may pose the question to producers and directors: how to create new content that will engage with an audience for whom speed, and efficiency, are now seeping toward the top of their priority list.
The ever-changing innovation of social media platforms are causing more and more people to stray further from traditional modes of engagement and interaction with the arts. The extent to which this is either a good or bad thing, depends on the person you ask. However, COVID-19 has undoubtedly played a key role in igniting the seemingly forceful shift to virtually based platforms. Beginning in March of this year, as quarantine descended on the world, social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram became instrumental in keeping the spirit of the arts alive. Virtual concerts seemingly dominated newsfeeds. Friday nights consisted of DJs livestreaming, keeping a hopeful semblance of a wild night out, though a far cry from what they looked like before the virus lived in our midst. Museums became more accessible, opening up their “symbolic” doors in the form of virtual tours in the absence of rainy Saturday ventures to art galleries. Disney+ streamed Hamilton earlier this summer. Orchestras and choirs and bands around the world reunited to create virtual concerts for the enjoyment of online audiences; a connection only possible through a thin electronic screen, but a connection, nonetheless. Cinema and theater seats will likely remain cold and lonely for the near future, further adding on to the new innovations of streaming platforms and new ways to bring the theaters to our homes.
In conjunction with a society already making deep strides in technological advancements, particularly with regard to the speed in which content is released and subsequently consumed by audiences, the pandemic has only contributed to this fast-paced development. What does this mean for the future of the arts and entertainment? Will we be seeing more art galleries and concerts from our couches, or, will audiences feel frustrated and deprived of traditional modes of viewing the arts that things will go back to “normal”? What if the “normal” as we knew it no longer exists? These are important and necessary questions that, although lacking in answers, need to be addressed.
Does the future consist of people staying at home, watching holographic movies from the comforts of their couches? Will performances start to cater only to online platforms, disregarding the physical stage for a virtual one? Will we prefer to scroll through artwork online rather than in person? Personally, I would hope the craving of physical community and togetherness will be large enough to overcome any obstacle. Albeit with a few tweaks and nuances, the “old” ways we engaged with the arts will likely make a comeback. To what extent, however, remains to be seen. What I can say with certainty, is that the landscape of the performing arts has changed drastically within the span of a few months and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Change is the only constant, as they say.