Are the arts important in the new normal?

Are the arts important in the new normal?

The arts have been hit harder than most industries during the pandemic. However, just because live performances are on hiatus and art galleries are closed, it doesn’t mean the arts aren’t important anymore. In fact, as we start to make sense of the “new normal,” the arts bring with them some of the support we badly need.

Art brings people together

Loneliness has been a big problem during Britain’s lockdowns. People who live on their own have struggled, but so have people who live with those they aren’t close to. Fortunately, the arts play their part in bringing people together. The National Theatre at Home gave people’s weeks some shape during the first lockdown, with social media ablaze with views and comments on the performance the nation had just watched en masse.

Meanwhile, choirs have met online via Zoom, bringing people together through music, like this one in support of the immunotherapy charity, Topic of Cancer. Art clubs abound on social media, with known artists such as Grayson Perry inviting us lesser mortals to submit our work and become part of a collective creative experience.

The arts provide an emotional outlet 

Never has there been so great a need to express ourselves. We can’t go to the theatre or exhibit our work in galleries at the moment, but the arts are still there to help us.  Thanks to the arts, we can express ourselves and process our emotions, both of which are profoundly important for good mental health. You can find out more about Surrey’s NHS arts therapy programme here.

We might express ourselves through drawing, painting, photography, music, sewing, writing or anything else that chimes with us. Websites selling craft supplies are booming and Hobbycraft reported a doubling in profits in the first two months of the 2020 lockdown. Woking’s art gallery, the Lightbox, have been sharing craft workshops on their blog. This has provided creative lockdown support and a reminder that the gallery will still be there whenever it is allowed to open again.

But the work of professional performers and artists can help us process our emotions as well. We need films and TV programs, online art exhibitions, concerts and gigs to show us the world through the eyes of others. In so doing, we understand our own lives better. Never underestimate the importance of escapism either. Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming options are reporting profits, which they seem to be ploughing straight back into new shows. This reflects both the success of home cinema and the need to make more of it.

The economic and social contribution of the arts

Approximately one percent of employed people work in the arts sector, in every level from Elton John downwards. In better times, the arts contributed at least £856m per annum in tourist spending. If we let theatres and music venues die out now, that’s a contribution we won’t be able to claw back in future.

Of course, the people in the art industry are not just numbers, and they do substantially more than contribute to the economy. Many of them have worked hard to get where they are. As they join with their fellow artists to provide support and escapism to the nation, it is unacceptable that they should be forced to change career because of coronavirus.

Is there any point to preserving life for a colourless world?

Theatres, cinemas and other performance venues are closed for the time being, while we all stay at home to save lives. It’s tough, but it’s the right thing to do. But we must not let our arts industry decline beyond hope because of lockdown. The lives we are trying to protect deserve to be fulfilling, creative and expressive. This will only be possible if the arts are given the place they deserve in the new normal.

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