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Lifting lockdown and live shows: how are the arts responding to easing restrictions?

As Mother Nature draws back the curtain on another beautiful Spring, we’re loving seeing the sunny spotlight on everything from tiny flowers to excitable squirrels, with long evenings making the world feel a little more welcoming and joyful. What a great time to be alive!

At Chaptr, we’re inspired by the arts and the vital role they play as the lifeblood of our culture. Our rich cultural history is as foundational to UK life as the robins and snowdrops that call this island home. It’s who we are. 

Seeing the bursts of life all around us got us thinking: how are galleries, museums, theatres, artists, and musicians responding to the eased restrictions, and what can we learn from all of this?

Scene change 

Venues that have always relied on feet through the door and bums on seats for their revenue had to pivot quickly and creatively to turn the looming spectre of lockdown into an opportunity.

Being passionately digital, one of the silver linings of the lockdown – at least for us – has been the way technology has empowered our inspiring muses to take their talents online. Few would have imagined this world a year ago. And many may have questioned whether there was a space for digital versions of live events at all – how could they have the same impact as an in-person experience? Yet, to our collective surprise and delight, an unanticipated side-effect of the pandemic seems to have been that the arts are more accessible, to more people, than ever before.

Artists and venues have had to get creative. We’ve seen it in the phenomenal talents of the Riverdance crew, cleverly choreographed in eerily quiet streets across continents, paying tribute to our brave frontline workers. Digital newspapers have made philanthropic moves to both share great music and support local musicians like Swiggle Mandela – and so magically also creating global platforms for artists we might never otherwise have encountered.

We’ve seen whole plays performed online. The pandemic has already inspired songs and films that help us understand and process this most unprecedented of moments in our shared history. Deeply philosophical art installations – all virtual – challenge us to look inwards at what it means to be human, and the power of art to unite us in times of challenge and crisis. 

Phil Allison, owner and founder of culture-focused multi-disciplinary agency Cultureshock explained how print media suddenly made an unexpected come-back during the pandemic, too. “From being a nice-to-have, last-on-list add-on, printed magazines for members suddenly became key commodities, crucial ways for established venues to stay connected with their patrons and offer something of value in exchange for their ongoing loyalty and support, while the content within also was perfectly placed to pivot onto digital platforms as well,” he explains. 

It’s clear that, while we haven’t been able to attend events in person, people haven’t stopped loving – and supporting – the arts. To meet the growing demand, artists and venues have had to innovate and find creative solutions to take their art to the people.

And it’s worked! We’ve been inspired by courageous virtual galleries like this one, by CheerUpLuv, and delighted to be able to experience almost-live performances of Broadway hits like Hamilton in the comfort of our cosy, safe, self-isolated front rooms. The whole country – and the whole world – has had unprecedented access to the arts. In fact, earlier this year, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s newest patron, HRH Prince Charles attended a soiree via video link – a perfect example of how broadly accessible live performances can be thanks to digital advances.

Springing back onto the scene

At Chaptr, we used the pandemic like so many of us have: as a time to reflect and reposition. We identified our passion for the arts as a driving motivator for us, and pivoted the entire agency to providing best-in-class online experiences for culture and creative sites. Think of it as the agency equivalent of a glow-up. 

Chaptr MD Joe Perkins describes the trend he’s seeing in the art world as lockdown eases: “We have clients like art galleries who have created an audience through lockdown with webinars and 3D tours, and they don’t want to lose them once things open up again.

While the arts have been shut down in lockdown but their funding has increased with a renewed focus on digital.”

More than ever, people have realised the importance of being good at digital and having those digital skills and partnerships

The Arts Marketing Association (AMA) agrees. Strategic Partnerships Manager Ciara Harris reflects, “When the first lockdown hit, we were concerned for our members. There was a feeling that the sector would be closing down and it was going to be really tough.” 

In many ways, it has been. 

“But actually,” says Ciara, “our membership has grown as people see the value in upskilling to flex and adjust to this new world. So many of our members [marketing specialists in the arts and culture sector] have been left to pick up all the pieces and communicate what the new world looks like for their venues. Our role is to help them understand how to make digital work for them, and how to create and balance this new online/offline hybrid that audiences are looking for.”

Act 2: What’s next for the arts in a digital, post-covid world?

The cost involved in taking plays online is hefty – but there’s certainly demand. As restrictions ease, it’s exciting to start planning (and even booking) live events again. Artists and venues alike will need to get even more creative to find the elusive balance between real-life and online art, a rare hybrid that simultaneously expands our horizons, broadens our minds, and brings life and beauty into our homes. Just as art and culture have always done.