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.
2 thoughts on “The Future of Public Culture”
People’s habits may well change, even dramatically; travelling – public transport – more problematic. And we have been asked to pay not with a fixed sum but to donate, every Wigmore concert for example if on screen is accompanied by text showing the audience how to donate voluntarily. Donations of course are hardly fixed income, and all the streaming of music hitherto has also had an effect on making everything seem free. There has also been interesting newspaper correspondence on those who already felt disenfranchised from experiencing the arts due to finance and distance thrilled with being let in through the current streamings. ROH asks for specific ticket prices for their ‘free’ concerts for example – a huge subject.
Dear Marina, Yes, these feel like the key issues: what constitutes free and how is it in practice funded ? And has the audience for culture online broadened or remained narrow ? Charles