I just attended an interesting online discussion organised by the British Academy about the future of public culture post-Coronavirus and what the pandemic’s long-term cultural effects might be. A bit of me thinks, and half fears, that human memory of difficulties will be short and once museums, cinemas and theatres have been allowed to re-open and once social distancing ceases to be necessary, normal activity will resume. But as François Matarasso pointed out, this is in practice increasingly implausible, because funding will have been decimated, some institutions may go under, and some cultural habits may have changed long-term, especially the greater use and experience of culture online. Some cultural forms have actually benefitted from Coronavirus: book sales are apparently up, so people are reading more; I have found that I have been able to experience music more, but not museums; I also think that social media have benign elements of sociability, even if they do act as echo chambers.
The biggest issue which came out from the discussion is how online cultural activity can ever be monetised, because we have got so used to experiencing it free. I have been enjoying the Wigmore Hall lunchtime concerts, but I have not so far been asked to pay, except through the licence fee. How performers get paid – actors, musicians, dancers, museum curators – feels deeply problematic and totally unresolved, unless through the public purse which will be, and is already, hideously depleted.