Arts & Culture in the Time of Corona

Nature art print by Claire Burbridge'Lichen Drawing,' from the UO Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art exhibition Claire Burbridge: Pathways to the Invisible, can now be seen in exquisite detail online

In the current state of quarantine, the hashtag #MuseumFromHome is trending. Among the first types of institution to shutter, museums—as well as art fairs, galleries, and other cultural institutions—are quickly adapting to the void left by visitors and embracing the virtual.

“This is a period of experimentation," the Guggenheim Museum's Senior Curator of Asian Art Alexandra Munroe told CNN.

Acting Director of the School of Art + Design and Associate Professor of Art Charlene Liu noted, “During moments of crisis, art and cultural production can help to describe and recalibrate our collective experience and can strengthen our sense of community.”

“I’m continually reminded how resilient and innovative America’s artists are. Artists and arts organizations are already building entrepreneurial opportunities for people to engage in the arts,” said Patricia Lambert, a professor of cultural policy and arts management and director of the Graduate Certificate in Arts Management program in the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management. “For example, artists are quickly building new businesses that provide online visual arts lessons and music lessons to children and adults in their homes.”

Going virtual is as much of a boon to the institutions—allowing them to still reach audiences—as it is to the audience. Many studies have confirmed that viewing a work of art can reduce stress and anxiety, as well foster empathy in the eye of the beholder. (See this Time article for more on the research).

sculptures and paintings in a galleryA screenshot of Google Arts & Culture's virtual tour of Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

Perhaps the easiest way to access a plethora of virtual tours is via Google Arts & Culture, which has collaborated with several hundred museums (there’s a phone app, too). Some standouts include:

A blue and green canvas by Okeeffe and a painting of a gardenGeorgia O'Keeffe's painting 'Blue and Green Music'; a detail of Kim Bohie's 'The Days,' one of the artworks in the virtual exhibition Garden at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, South Korea

Outside of museums, one the biggest pieces of virtual eye candy is the special digital edition of “Savage Beauty,” a light art installation by Finnish artist Kari Kola that transformed “Ireland’s Connemara mountains with colour and light in the largest site-specific light artwork ever created.” While the art site was expected to draw 20,000 visitors over a four-day period, the digital version, including video and photography is an ethereal exercise in blue and green light cast against landscapes.

While the Art Dubai festival will cater only to festival-goers online such as with the adaption of the performance art series “On(line) Healing,” which aims “to give rise to unexpected relationships among diverse and heterogeneous knowledges and to establish a medicinal space for our collective therapy to exist.”

LA Weekly reports on a Santa Monica show, “Love in the Time of Corona,” at the bG Gallery that will have a virtual reception on March 28.

A photograph of a person in textiles and a photograph of a couple fighting in a kitchenDetail of Alia Ali's photo 'Orange Palms,' on view online for Art Dubai; Ryan Schude's photo 'Kitchen' is part of the Love in the Time of Corona exhibition

Closer to home, Around the O compiles a list of virtual cultural experiences on campus and around the world, from the UO Channel’s College of Design category featuring visiting artist lectures and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA) YouTube channel to the prank Andy Warhol played on the University of Oregon in 1968.

The JSMA is working on moving more materials and activities into the virtual space, such as the new video series, “The Minute Exhibit.” The museum has also put a stunning exhibition catalogue online (free to download) for Claire Burbridge: Pathways to the Invisible.


The first installment in the new JSMA video series 'The Minute Exhibit'

Even with the innovation of the cultural sector, the arts, like most industries, will be hit hard.

“America’s arts and culture sector is in a full-scale economic disaster,” said Lambert. “As of Monday, March 23, the financial losses to the nonprofit arts to date due are estimated to be 3.6 billion dollars. And when considering the arts within the much broader creative economy that includes huge industries like entertainment and cultural tourism, the economic impact of COVID-19 is incalculable.”

Photo of the exterior of the Louvre MuseumThe Louvre, the world's largest art museum, has closed its door to the public, but offers virtual tours

However, Lambert explained that she is most concerned about the livelihoods of artists.

“Most professional artists are in the middle class, but this is because they have portfolio careers. What this means is that they have their artist production and performance income, their arts-related income such as teaching, and their non-arts income,” she said. This last group is where you find other employment like graphic design, administrative work, and waiting tables. All of these have been devastated by the coronavirus.”

Graffiti that says Together We Create on brick wall

The bright side is that art groups and communities are beginning to rally:

  • Locally, the nonprofit Lane Arts Council has started the Lane County Artist Relief Fund, and is requesting donations. Executive Director Liora Sponko writes, “Lane Arts Council created the Lane County Artist Relief Fund to aid individual artists who have lost work during the pandemic. Funding will be distributed to as many qualifying artists as possible, including visual artists, performing artists, literary artists, and event production workers.”
  • The City of Boston has started a Boston Artist Relief Fund
  • The Art Newspaper reports that artists and galleries are helping “raise coronavirus relief funds through print edition sales” to provide relief to creative industries, including the initiative Print Aid.
  • The Washington Post reports that on a $75 million relief fund for New York social service, arts, and cultural organizations, will potentially serve as a model for the rest of the country.

“In the long term, this experiment in offering opportunities to remotely engage in the arts may transform how we think about arts participation,” Lambert said.