COVID-19 – 10 ways the arts sector can respond to the crisis

Maria Roberts

We are in the middle of a health emergency that will have a short-term dire economic impact – Spain has already declared a National State of Emergency, with more to follow. The long term seems so far away, but IAM editor Maria Roberts has 10 things you can do right now to make a difference.

  1. Make the most of official livestreams – World Health Organization, national channels, and the EU Commission, as well as public health departments at universities, have daily livestreams on LinkedIn and their own platforms. Stay up-to-date with official statements and not the media bite-sized help that takes the shock headlines and repackages them. You’ll also find out about billions of pounds, euros and dollars already being earmarked for recovery (announced on the EU Commission livestream) and the plans the National Endowment for the Arts has to support workers in hardship. Your country will have its own strategy, sign up to the newsletters and check in at the IFACCA website for arts councils’ news.

  2. Coordinate your communications strategy – let your workers know as soon as possible if their show is being cancelled. Twitter is awash with devastated artists upset that they have found out that they are out of work on social media or in the news. Be very aware of the human impact of these decisions: you will be employing these people again no doubt, so we should build trust with one another. Before you are swift, be kind. See our article by psychotherapist Ian Jenkins here.

  3. Like Hong Kong Arts Festival, who were ahead of the curve, invite audiences to donate their ticket fees – this can either be in full (or part, but push for full donations) to the company rather than requesting a refund. The money has already been spent by your patrons, explain how this small gesture will help everyone involved. We arts lovers are charitable by nature. Well…most of us.

  4. This is the digital age, use your archives wisely – Keep visible by livestreaming backstage stories, livestream your decision processes, add photos, audio and video to your platforms like Vimeo, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok. Be present, be informative and better still – have a sense of humour. We can help get your content out there via webinars and videos and so forth. Contact us for more information.

  5. If nothing is happening right now at your venue due to cancellations, it is not time to rest or take a holiday – This is the time to get your business in order and plan for later in the year. Activate a crisis strategy. For example, my inbox is full of news about cancellations – but the wiser companies are driving hard for coverage now for events from September through to December and into 2021.If I can see the difference between those companies that are ambivalent and complacent, and those that want to push hard into the future, then your audiences will too.

  6.  The performing arts sector thrives on drive and optimism – you are all creative thinkers, so be creative. For example, get VR headsets out to the elderly or isolated, or open up your paid digital channels for free for a short while. There are some issues around broadcasts: Teatro Real in Madrid have just had their plans scuppered for the broadcasts of Achille in Sciro. Today in an email they wrote: “The increasingly drastic guidelines that the Spanish Ministry of Health requires for public safety make it practically unfeasible that the opera be recorded or broadcast.” It won’t be easy. You will need to be nifty and think outside of the box.

  7. A lot of people are going to be sitting at home – this means their bosses are not looking over their shoulders! They are browsing the internet… so advertise: sell! sell! sell! When the pandemic has all blown over, people will want to go out and have fun, be prepared for the onslaught. (For example, the well-known UK retailer John Lewis is pushing adverts for summer dresses at me hard. Also, I’ve very nearly been persuaded to buy a new car and a new sofa. Thank goodness I’m too busy to shop online!)

  8. Do not be gloomy in gloomy times – many of us are at risk of losing our incomes and all the trauma that comes with that. Remember, the arts sector has been through storms before: fires, #MeToo, SARS, MERS, Ebola, hurricanes, war, and terrorist attacks. Be inspired by others who have experienced much worse (ISPA panel speakers are an endless source of inspiration). OK – nothing of this scale has hit the global performing arts scene before, that’s for sure, but let’s look forward to what we can do, and let’s be inspired by icons of the past who didn’t have the ease of travel we do today: Shakespeare, for example, Mozart!

  9. Keep talking to us at International Arts Manager – Yes, tell us about cancellations (of course) but also let us know the good you are doing. You may not be touring, but we can look at the education and outreach projects that have been a success, internal training, digital strategies, sustainability, eco-projects. We all have a lot to offer right now.

  10. And if you can’t go global, then go local – Make maximum impact on a smaller scale. Now is the time to connect with local media, radio shows, bloggers and local networks e.g. community Facebook pages with thousands of followers.

Your fans are out there, waiting. Go find them!
Keep well, my friends.

Maria Roberts
International Arts Manager
@Maria_Roberts / @IntArtsManager