For our editorial, we’ve combined our own five cents on the matter with the brain pickings of some of the responders to YOUTH 21 to find out what the arts mean to them and what things might look like in the post-COVID cultural world.
“We have our Arts so we won't die of Truth.”
The American author puts in a delightful one-liner, what this edition of YOUTH is trying to encapsulate. It’s hard to comprehend a society that’s been shelled of its arts, but the curtailment we’ve suffered in the last six months gave us a taster and suddenly we could start to picture the horror of an arts-less world. Without the arts we are joyless drones, working, eating, sleeping, but for what? Without the arts, creative expression is shouting into the wind, for both the creators and consumers of arts, their absence would be a breakdown in the chain that keeps the sparks of creativity, inspiration, enjoyment and creation alive.
Arts provide escapism for us as a society, somewhere to go in our minds when the world gets a little too much. And *squints at internet*, yeah, 2020 has gone totally extra on serving up a hellscape to us all. The pandemic has created a paradox for the arts, they have never been more obviously needed and appreciated, yet neither have they ever faced a more profound existential threat.
The importance of the arts for those working in its realm cannot be underestimated, but it’s not merely arts professionals who would lose out in an artless world, even those who think they’re disconnected would find life a grey place without some sort of cultural diversion.
“The Arts to me is everything and is my life. I’ve grown up with Theatre and TV. It's all I’ve ever done. What I do for a living isn’t heart surgery or saving lives but I have the ability to bring happiness and escapism to people. Make people laugh or cry or come together. The world needs the arts now more than ever, no matter if that’s in theatre, on screen, in a concert hall or a festival. We need to be able to continue to enjoy every part of it. Whatever happens we can’t afford to lose it.”
Niall Connolly, Art Director, ITV, UK.
The clarity brought about by the cultural standstill of the last few months gave us pause to realise the things that mean most to us. The lifeline of joy and support were most often cultural ones. Expression and connection are essential to us as humans and the arts give us a platform for expression and through shared experience, a means of connection.
“The arts mean everything to me, it’s like breathing. I need it to live and it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The arts is usually the least important sector in the eyes of many, but the arts gives us so much, especially during lockdown. When in isolation our mental health was probably at its poorest, we were never alone because we had the arts to get us through.
Every piece of music that let us dance around our homes and move our bodies while we had to stay inside, every movie or tv show we watched to help us forget our troubles, every book we read whose pages we could escape within. Every performer who came together online to play us music, dance for us, perform for us, who made us feel like we were a part of something, like we were together even when we were alone. The arts have and always will help connect people, in the good times and the bad times the arts always supports us, encourages us, helps us to connect and express.
We don't just live to make money, reproduce and then die. We live to express, to connect, to feel, to love, to enjoy, to appreciate and the arts create magic, strange new worlds, stories to get lost in, works that evoke emotion. The arts bring us joy and show us how truly beautiful and deep the human imagination is.”
Sinead Bailey Kelly,
Director of H&G Creations, Bespoke Event Production and Styling Service, Dublin.
The opportunity to dive into the more accessible arts was what saved many of us from despair when our existence was first threatened. We lost the ability to attend theatres, cinemas, galleries, gigs and festivals. We could no longer connect over these things with each other, so we sought new ways of making these connections and consuming art. The massive rise in TikTok seen in the lockdown pointed at our search for new ways to create and connect. In the absence of live arts, our love for the accessible ones soared. We picked up books, we played music. Both industries which were hit by the pandemic, but which saw a surprising flourish in the wake of the restrictions, looking to find a mixture of escapism and relatability or “fellow feeling” Creators have found new audiences and audiences have found new art mediums.
“In a post-coronavirus lockdown world, our priorities have shifted. People are remembering what's truly important: seeing friends, travelling, hugs (!) and culture. During quarantine, culture, in various forms, has kept everyone sane. Some mediums are easier to experience remotely and should rightly be celebrated for their accessibility - be it music (Taylor Swift releasing a new album, National Gallery of Ireland collaborating with Other Voices Live, Beyonce's Disney + visual album release), TV shows and Movies (eg. Netflix, Disney +, iPlayers), podcasts (BBC Sounds new programming) and literature (In the UK, fiction sales climbed by a third and children’s educational titles went up 234% to the third-highest level on record in the final week of March, according to a BBC report.) It's amazing to see what people have been turning to and celebrating, in this weird time we find ourselves! I think people have been engaging in more art and culture than ever, without even realising it. I hope that this has been a moment for those making and programming art to reflect on audiences, access and how to do what we do better.”
Eleanor C, Visual Arts Professional, London.
Looking into the future isn’t easy when the lens is constantly shifting in reaction to the global situation but art creation remains and in some cases thrives in reaction to this. Whether we’re looking down the barrel of a permanently changed world in terms of how we’ll live alongside a threatening virus or the possibility of this being a temporary epoch (if a vaccine is found), one thing is certain, this period will be mirrored in kaleidoscopic colour across all artforms.
“I’m looking at things in the macro and not the micro, in that regard, I’m not thinking 12 months from now, what art will look like, but I’m thinking in a decade from now, how will this time be documented for history through the art that’s produced out of a global pandemic.
I think 30 years from now there will be college classes on Pandemic Theatre, Pandemic Poetry Pandemic Literature…. We are living through a huge, global cultural moment, that I really hope will be accurately immortalised through art. For me, that's the only way history can be properly immortalized is through art. It's not through historians or the lens of the overseers of history, it's through the artists.”
Associate Producer. The Mint Theatre Company, New York.
“Creativity takes courage” said Henry Matisse, but when we look at how we’ve reacted to the pandemic’s effect on the arts, we realise that it’s not only courage that leads to creatvity, it’s nature. Arts have found their way despite the most challenging of circumstances. Forms are changing shape and means of expression tweaked to ensure a constant, (if wildly altered) stream of creation, expression and consumption. The question of what we are without the arts really is an unanswerable paradox, because arts are at our core and we’ll find a way to continue making and seeing as long as we survive.