Arts and Humanities in Times of Corona – The Sequel

by Roel Griffioen

This time a year ago, this blog published contributions written by students for the course ‘Arts and Humanities in Times of Corona’, which was designed rather ad hoc as a substitute for the MA internship at a moment that institutions had to close their doors, cultural agendas were wiped clean and the pandemic was still relatively new but already seemed to last forever. The idea was to help students, as a substitute for work experience that cannot actually be replicated or simulated, to orientate themselves in the professional field in which they will operate after their studies. At the same time, the course aimed to assess the aesthetic, social, political and economic impact of the pandemic by collaboratively studying texts and analysing cultural products. 

At the time, it was hard to foresee that a year later, life would still be dominated by Covid-19; that academic education would still be (largely) digital and remote; that cultural life had still not fully taken off; that, in fact, culture would still be primarily consumed through screens. It was equally difficult to foresee that due to these circumstances a rerun of this course would be necessary.

In this edition too, we want to use this blog to showcase a number of student contributions. Written blog posts, but also – and this is a first for this platform – videos. Some students chose to reflect on concepts that have been covered in class, such as crisis, mobility, precarity, or commoning. Others have chosen a more practice oriented subject, or selected one particular case study to discuss in detail. Together with last year’s student contributions, that can still be found on this blog, the texts and videos form a valuable cross-section of thinking about art, culture and cultural work in times of pandemic.

Unfolding languages and cities: Georges Salameh in conversation with Rabab El Mouadden

Georges Salameh is a Greek-Lebanese filmmaker and visual artist. He studied Cinema in Paris at the University VIII St. Denis and since 1998 has created a series of videos, documentaries, experimental and essay films, and photographic installations. He has lived in many Mediterranean cities but is currently based in Athens. The recent book, HEAR YOU ATHENS (2021), is a correspondence between two friends who observed Athens during the period 1998-2006. In our discussion, he referred to the city as a lover. Since then, the city has changed as well as the way we experience and see it. In the following interview, Georges introduces us to his relationship with languages, the urban landscape, the crisis, and precarity through his own eyes, or even better through his lens.

Agios Panteleimon square, HEAR YOU ATHENS (2021)

Rabab El Mouadden: In your film Maesmak, which has a reference point one day in Rutba, a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq by the American forces, we observe parallel stories but also the use of many languages that unfold one after the other. What is the importance of language in your work?

Georges Salameh: This movie is essentially a first complete attempt to find a language that lingers between a documentary, an essay, a narrative — it is an alloy of many things. I realized that the film had Arabic, German, Russian, English, Italian, Persian, Greek – it had excerpts from many languages I understand. I said that it is a movie that will be read entirely differently depending on each person’s language. Most of the time, you do not get exactly the right feeling with the subtitles.

My greatest aspiration is still poetry. So I always put my visual craftsmanship at the service of this unattainable goal! Because of my numerous migrations, I have always avoided putting a national label on myself or my work. I’d give legs and brain, curiosity and reasoning to Athens – that’s my apprenticeship. Heart and kidney, love and refuge go to Sicily – that’s where my son is growing up. Hands and ears, artisanship, and a sense of listening go to Lebanon – that’s where my origins are. Tongue and eyes, language and gaze go to France – that’s where I got my education. If there’s a common denominator, it’s probably the Mediterranean; the dark blue sea. And if, as an artist, there is some general citizenship for me, it’s constantly a foreigner. Mine is a convoluted notion of nationality – but there’s an undocumented migrant in each one of us.

Farewell, HEAR YOU ATHENS (2021)

RE M: You have stayed in various cities before settling in Athens, and your status as a walker or self-exile concerns your work as an artist. Do you think that if this identity ceased to exist one day, how different would your work be?

GS: I do not identify myself as a self-exile. Everything I do has this meaning in it, but it does not define my whole identity. In general, I have the feeling that in all these years, I do not have something stable. Identity is in flux and a continuous configuration. The only thing I can identify with is the dark blue Mediterranean sea that unites all these places I have been to.

RE M: In a recent interview, you referred to the change that Athens has undergone since the years of the economic crisis of 2011. Here another quality of yours seems to be that of an urban geologist. Your images  capture the center of Athens, such as Victoria square or Egypt square, where the most degraded social groups live. What is the purpose of this mapping? In this context, it would be interesting for you to talk to me about the new book published very recently, ‘HEAR YOU ATHENS.’

GS: These are materials from the place where I lived. At that time, the war in Kosovo had just ended. I produced these images between 1998 and 2006. In other words, they have been taken long before the recent economic crisis. It is the first generation of large migration influx in Greece. Wars and the fall of the Soviet Union brought these people here. Somehow, when I was gathering the material, being myself uprooted by the civil war in Lebanon, I had in mind all these people who had come to Greece because they are like waves. I mention the word ‘wave’ because it always takes me to the Mediterranean sea. They are the waves that have never ended; they are in history from the beginning of humankind until today—one out of many migrations over the centuries.

Cafavy, HEAR YOU ATHENS (2021)

RE M: During this period, we have gone through a multidimensional crisis which had a great impact on Arts. Last year, we saw the #SupportArtWorkers movement as a response of artists to the adverse conditions they are going through. Recently the autonomous cultural space EMPROS was closed on the initiative of the state. How did you personally experience the pandemic crisis, and what do you think could be the ways to calm such a situation?

GS: I do not know when the crisis in Athens begins and ends. I lived in those years, in 1997-2005, a professional flourishing in Athens because at that time Greek cinema was also blooming. Athens had not yet entered the European currency. For me, the big crisis is that someone who is 20-25 years old today will never live the experience I had in Athens then. The ease of doing things, gaining experience, and feeling safe no longer exists.

To return to the issue of precarity, I have always been precarious. I was never looking for economic security. I knew that from the moment I chose to do this profession in Greece, there would be no career because there is no market for a job, whether cinema or any other form of art. You can get subsidies from the state or a few producers, but you are always in a precarious position. I saw it while working; it is not just an assumption or suspicion.

R EM: How do you view the future?

GS: In Athens?

RE M: Yes.

GS: Deciding to stay in Athens means that I would not have a career. This time it meant more than that—I had to fight very hard for anything I wanted to create in the future. But in the margins that I was all my life is also Athens. Athens is not in the center of the markets. It is not Berlin. However, the most exciting things happen in the margins, whether in the arts or the real economy.

Athens was fascinating then and is still exciting today. As a city, it weighs with the crises and the gentrifications. Once again, the city center will change, but I think it is there where you find a meaning for fighting for something because there are so many struggles that the new generation has to face. #SupportArtWorkers is an exciting and healthy situation because it rediscovers that you have to fight for some rights.The least you can do is support. They will fight for the same things you once fought. I gave you this example because you asked me, but there is so much more. From the aeolics to (natural) disasters, open fronts are infinite. You have to choose and focus somewhere to fight.

The Impact of Covid-19 on Harmony, Fanfare and Brassband Music (HaFaBra)

By Ruben Gjaltema

In this project I have looked into the impact of corona on HaFaBra (Harmony, Fanfare and Brassband) music in the Netherlands. More specifically I’ve looked at how Covid-19 (as a whole) changed the way music is made, and what this entails for the future (seeing this form of music is grounded in live performance). A major problem is that the varying Covid-19 measures and lockdowns have made it difficult to meet to practice or perform, especially in large numbers. This also meant that the specific scores written for harmony, fanfare, and brassbands couldn’t be played in the same way as before. Professional orchestras in the Netherlands have sidestepped this problem by dividing the different sections and arranging concerts per section. In the last three months, various concerts have been given by the brass section of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (especially small brass), and the flugel-horn section of the Orkest Koninklijke Marechaussee. Moreover, various new ensembles have been established during the pandemic. The interviews with Peter Kleine Schaars, Pieter Gjaltema and Durk Krol reveal that within the HaFaBra music market new compositions are released, specifically for these new ensembles. What does this mean for the future of HaFaBra?

Being an Independent Musician During a Pandemic

By Ryan Oldenburger

Even in ‘normal’ times, the  music industry can be an uncertain place for many independent artists. This is especially true for young artists that are trying to gain a foothold in an industry that can feel inaccessible and is founded on the further strengthening of already established reputations. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic raging around the world, many starting artists are feeling completely lost. The pandemic has stripped them of many of the ways they could otherwise market themselves and to get their music heard, and has made finding a lasting place in the industry even more difficult.

In this video, I examine the effect the crisis has had on upcoming, independent musicians, and whether or not it influenced their creative process and overall mindset regarding being a musician. Furthermore, I will discuss strategies that musicians can employ in order to market themselves regardless of the pandemic, and how streaming ‘levels the playing field’ for new artists that want to be heard, be that a positive or a negative. Finally, I will talk about the at times ‘touchy’ subject of monetization, and point out various methods that independent artists can utilize to still earn some money off of their work.

All of these topics will be discussed in reference to existing literature, plus an interview I did with one such independent artist, Andrew Fernandez. Andrew spearheads his own project Data Kiss, whilst also being a full-time member of the Groningen-based, indie-pop band No Shame Rosé. His personal insights are very telling and truly encapsulate how many musicians have felt during this pandemic.

This video is meant mostly for upcoming, independent artists (musicians, producers, etc.) who are trying to find ways to thrive and build a successful career, despite the current external factors.

Showtime in the Stay-at-Home Era: How a South-Korean label and boy band are pioneering online music gigs

By Dana Sasu

On January 22, 2020, HYBE Corporation, a recent rebrand of the South-Korean music and entertainment company Big Hit Entertainment, announced the schedule for the worldwide concert tour Map of the Soul Tour, headlined by K-Pop boy band BTS. The tour was supposed to kick-off on April 11 at the Seoul Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, and then travel to venues all over the globe. We all know what happened since. A global health crisis broke out and the tour was cancelled.

In this blog post, I look at how HYBE Corporation and their most famous act, BTS, responded to the challenges faced by the music and entertainment industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How to survive in a time when performing in front of an audience is no longer a given and travelling restrictions have made touring impossible? How to absorb the loss of the important revenue source of selling tickets for live music, or the loss of the collective fan experience that a concert can offer? The example of HYBE and BTS shows how some brands and bands in the industry have used the pandemic to further invest in virtual concepts for performing music and for engaging with fans. Concepts that may have a lasting impact on the industry, even as societies are slowly opening up again and live concerts with audiences are once again taking place.

First Endeavor: Bang Bang Con

For many artists in the music industry, online presence is an afterthought, but the seven-member K-Pop group BTS has always been comfortably at home on the internet. In their journey through the years – BTS was formed in 2010 and debuted in 2013– the boy band has steadily built up an enormous online following. At the moment, the group’s Twitter page (the platform they use the most when posting personal content) has 37,6 million followers. Their label HYBE Corporation has equally always been online minded. The Korean music industry is highly competitive, and it is fair to say that the company’s success at a global level is not only the result of the content it provides, but also of the many media – online and offline – it utilizes to disseminate this content.

In an interview with Rolling Stone India, HYBE’s Global CEO Lenzo Yoon recently explained that the company’s marketing strategy is to assure the fans’ easy access to content: “We have a principle: ‘content and fans matter the most.’ We try to understand fans, proactively provide what fans want, and improve the quality of contents based on high standards. At the same time, we constantly think about the types, delivery methods, and technologies so that fans could experience our contents more pleasantly in their daily lives.”

Fast-forward to April 2020, when HYBE came up with the idea of Bang Bang Con, a special free online streaming event of BTS’s previous concerts and fan-meetings. It was set to last for two days, during which fans could enjoy a streaming marathon of eight concerts, four per each day. There were in-between concerts   ‘Guide Videos‘ where the seven members came up with tips for enjoying the streaming event: drinks, snacks, stretching break, dancing time, singing time and getting the family and friends involved (pets were not forgotten). The event recorded 2.24 concurrent million viewers and an overall count of 50 million clicks for its two days of online attendance. The event was free of cost and it was accessible via the group’s official YouTube account, BANGTANTV.

A special role in the virtual concerts and online get-togethers was assigned to the so-called ‘ARMY Bomb’, the band’s ‘official’ light-stick that is named after the collective self-identity of their fans as ARMY. In ‘normal times’ the ARMY Bomb, which has a Bluetooth feature through which its light syncs up with the beat of BTS’s songs, was an important feature at live concerts. They can be controlled by the staging team so they sync up and generate large-scale texts that light up the arena.

During the streaming event the ARMY Bombs could be activated at home, with the result that millions of ARMY Bombs around the world were synced up to the beat of the songs featured throughout the stream.   

Next endeavors
A few months later, on June 14 2020, celebrating seven years since the band’s first musical release, BTS hosted Bang Bang Con The Live. This event was their first paid online concert, selling 756.000 tickets to viewers in 107 countries (The Diplomat). The online concert was available for live streaming via the platform Weverse, an online space designed by HYBE (Big Hit Entertainment at the time). It presents a Twitter-like format where artists can post images, videos, texts or respond to fans’ posts. Beside this, it also acts as a streaming platform, creating a space similar to YouTube, which displays artists’ music videos or other video contents. The app’s developers also plan to include a live feature, through which artists could start live videos on their own.

Later in 2020, on October 10 and October 11, BTS took part in another paid online concert, where they promoted their latest released album Map of the Soul: 7 (initially meant to be promoted during the tour that was canceled). This event was technologically and logistically even more complex than their previous online events. During the two days of concerts, 993.000 fans from 191 different regions around the world (Soompi) witnessed performances which included the use of augmented reality and extended reality software and hardware spectrums.

The concert itself was held at Seoul’s Olympic Gymnastics Arena, while fans had access to a multi-viewing streaming service which allowed them to enjoy the event by choosing between six different camera angles. (Aju Business Daily). 

In June 2021, the band took part in Muster Sowoozoo, a paid two-day live streaming concert event, celebrating the band’s eight years since their debut. While streamed on Weverse, the concert was hosted out-doors, in front of Seoul’s Jamsil Olympic Stadium and the seven members were backed up (literally) by a screen which displayed their online audience. In a similar way, the ‘on-site audience’ was made-up of screens, decorated on top with the ARMY Bomb light sticks, which showed fans who took part at the live stream. The virtual show was held on June 13 and June 14 and it garnered 1.33 million paid viewers from across 195 countries (Indian Express), more than the band’s previous online concerts.

The seven members of BTS are ‘backed up’ by their fans via technological means.

More than just concerts
Questions still remain whether the technology of streaming concerts will be further developed once the pandemic is over. But given the success of the two online concerts headlined by BTS, it seems that HYBE is fully dedicated to improving their services when providing innovative technological solutions to the online demand of content. This may lead to a new trend within the South Korean entertainment industry, as it looks like more and more companies are willing to adopt the live streaming formula. And the success that HYBE and BTS are having with their innovative live streaming concerts has not go unnoticed outside the music and entertainment industry. In fact, it caused the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to invest into the construction of a concert hall designed specifically for hosting online concerts. This initiative is meant to support artists coming from small or medium-sized labels and indie musicians who do not have the financial possibilities of hosting online events (Aju Business Daily).

HYBE itself is currently heavily invested in improving their online platform, Weverse, which it sees as being more than a communication platform. Ultimately, the company is focusing on an undergoing process of turning the platform into an all-inclusive “virtuous ecosystem”: a social media network, music and video streaming platform, online shop, online magazine and environment for live music experiences all wrapped into one digital environment; easy to access for everyone but tailored to the fans’ different technological resources, media and music preferences (Rolling Stones India).

This points to a possible future, where the online space will become like a second home for live performing events. HYBE may play an important role here – and not for South Korea only. The company recently merged with American company Ithaca Holdings in a $1 billion deal, expressing the desire to make their presence known within the world’s largest music industry (Variety). Will this eventually have a worldwide impact on the emerging online streaming culture of concerts? It might be, as HYBE accepts artists from all countries to join Weverse. Only time can tell whether live streaming concerts will still be around after the pandemic ends. But if that is the case, HYBE will have a large share in its future, and as such in the future of the music industry in general.

Works Cited

“CONNECT, BTS.” BTS Wiki, bts.fandom.com/wiki/CONNECT,_BTS. Accessed 7 June 2021.

“BTS Muster Sowoozoo 2021: BTS Earns over $71 Million, Fan Event Breaks Viewership Record.” The Indian Express, 16 June 2021, indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/music/bts-muster-sowoozoo-2021-bts-earns-72-million-dollars-two-day-fan-event/. Accessed June 25 2021.

Chakraborty, Riddhi, and Divyansha Dongre. “The A to Z of HYBE Corporation: How the South Korean Entertainment Giant Is Taking Over the Music Industry.” Rolling Stones India, 8 May 2021, rollingstoneindia.com/the-a-to-z-of-hybe-corporation-how-the-south-korean-entertainment-giant-is-taking-over-the-music-industry/ . Accessed 25 June 2021.

Halperin, Shirley, and Patrick Frater. “BTS Label Owner HYBE Merges With Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings for $1 Billion (EXCLUSIVE).” Variety, Variety, 5 Apr. 2021, variety.com/2021/music/news/hybe-merges-ithaca-holdings-scooter-braun-bts-1234943092/. Accessed June 25 2021.

Lim, Chang-won. “K-Pop Band BTS to Use up-to-Date Technologies for Online Concert in October.” AJU Business Daily, 29 Sept. 2020, ajudaily.com/view/20200929125221098. Accessed 25 June 2021.

S.P. (alias). “BTS Draws Nearly 1 Million Viewers With Online Concert ‘BTS Map Of The Soul ON:E.’” Soompi, Soompi, 12 Oct. 2020, soompi.com/article/1431059wpp/bts-draws-nearly-1-million-viewers-with-online-concert-bts-map-of-the-soul-one. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Vandenberg, Layne. “K-Pop Leads With ‘Contactless’ Concerts.” – The Diplomat, For The Diplomat, 16 July 2020, thediplomat.com/2020/07/k-pop-leads-with-contactless-concerts/. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Cultuur van en voor iedereen

Van rechten naar mogelijkheden

Door Geert Drion

“Cultuur van en voor iedereen” was de afgelopen kabinetsperiode het uitgangspunt van de minister. Op het eerste gezicht past die slogan goed bij het nieuwe begrip “culturele democratie” dat steeds vaker opduikt, vooral in relatie tot de “inclusiviteit” en “herijking van het stelsel”. Geert Drion waarschuwt voor een verborgen misverstand.

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Corona turns Public Culture into a OnlyFans zone

By Quirijn van den Hoogen

It is generally acknowledged that the cultural sector was hit extremely hard by the Corona pandemic. Around the globe, public life came to a standstill and cultural facilities were shut down: libraries and museums, the musical theatres of West End, pop music festivals, and amateur culture such as choir rehearsals, were all impossible because of social distancing rules. All three spheres of what British policy researcher John Holden denotes as cultural ecologies, came to a standstill: the publicly funded, the commercial, and the homegrown culture. Those institutions that have re-opened, such as the museums in Rome this week, can only receive a small fraction of the visitor numbers of before 2020.

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Arts and Humanities in the Times of the Corona Crisis The Role of Cultural Institutions

By Tooka Taheri

The museum, as an architectural typology, has its roots in the art collection which was typical of Renaissance Italy and its fascination with the past and products of antiquity. [1] However, it can be argued that its function as a cultural institution and a public service only began during the Enlightenment era. Prior to the 18th century, such collections were private and exclusive. Their aim was primarily due to their aesthetic value; for the pleasure and entertainment of the aristocracy and the wealthy. [2] In accordance with their enlightenment ideology, these private collections were opened to serve the general public. Thus, the museum was born: a building, renamed after the Greek ‘mouseion’ -μουσείο- , in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. A prominent and early example is when Sir Hans Sloane donated his collection to the British government in 1753, with the note that it should be exhibited to all the people of Britain. This resulted in the construction of the British Museum, open and free to all.

This change of ownership, from private collections to public, had consequences, resulting in the typology becoming a cornerstone of public and civic life. Since its conception, the significance of the museum has only increased. Many of them are compelling works of architecture, designed by the world’s most renowned architects and designers. H. P. Berlage’s Kuntsmuseum in The Hague and Zaha Hadid’s The Maxxi National Museum in Rome are just a few notable examples. This both reflects and expands upon the institute’s credibility and prominence within the city and society. Furthermore, the museum has the power to influence and regenerate the urban fabric, as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Tate Modern in London have done. Perhaps even more crucially, the museum is the conductor and curator of the individual’s particular experience of art in its many forms. This is supported by Anne de Haij, strategic advisor at Kunstmuseum The Hague, who mentioned the value a museum can have for people and for a community. She considers the cultural institutions as ‘vital for the mental and emotional health of our society.’ [3]

This significant position then comes to the fore at a time of the global pandemic. A situation which has had widespread drastic effects. However, at a time of great anxiety and difficulty, museums were forced to close their doors to the public. While a necessary move to protect the health of the population, it offers a sensible opportunity to ponder on the response of this cultural institution during this trying time as well as its role in society.

While the museum was physically absent from public and individual life, much like many other forms of interaction during the coronacrisis, there was a very strong digital presence. Online exhibitions, virtual tours, and a stronger presence on social media platforms became the new norm, practiced by many. From the National Theatre to the Royal Opera House, there are many institutes that have contributed their content online free of charge. [4]

The artist Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition ‘In Real Life’ at Tate Modern is one instance among many of the immersive and collective experience which would not have been possible in a digital format.

This trajectory towards digital means, which has been hastened due to the current crisis, is by no means a novel initiative. As far back as 2005 the British Museum boasted of its partnership with Google, which brought forth the possibility to view 5000 if its objects online. [5] It cannot be denied that digital content has the potential to reach an audience that far exceeds the boundaries of any physical building. The director of the British Museum at the time exclaimed how ‘that Enlightenment fantasy, about 25 years ago became an internet possibility, and today, thanks to the Google Cultural Institute, it is a practical reality.’ [6] There are numerous benefits in having this digital platform. Its availability and accessibility fulfill some of the institute’s roles; both in terms of education and research as well as merely entertainment and curiosity. In this way it does perform the Enlightenment’s aspiration to bring art and education to the general public which is at the root of the museum’s conception.

It would perhaps be apt to ponder on whether this move towards online platforms has rendered the cultural institute’s physical entity as superfluous. Yet, in certain places museums are slowly opening their doors, mindful of protective measures to ensure the health of their staff and visitors. It is again possible to look around The Kunstmuseum, and The National Gallery in London will showcase its collection to the public once more. It would be mistake to portray their role as merely a tool for educational purposes. Museums are also about the experience of art, within the space, at a given time. The immersive quality of certain exhibits is intertwined with the experience of the space. To reiterate Robert Oosterhuis, research coordinator at the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science: these virtual and digital contents are no substitute to art and the experience it provides up close.[7]

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an increase in this interaction between individuals and the museum’s online content. Traffic on the British Museum’s website is now three times higher than before the crisis.[8] However, this does not translate to a replacement or substitution of the museum experience. It rather addresses a more urgent and humane need within society during the current crisis. A study of the cultural field in Turkey during the pandemic accentuates how this online presence of cultural institutions ‘have offered people the sense of hope and unity they need’. [9] The document affirms the role that culture and arts have in dealing with the difficulties of the global crisis and refers to them as ‘one of the great uniting and healing powers for the public.’

Therefore, it can be said that the role of the museum as an institute is manifold and applies at various scales. From education, research, and entertainment on an individual level to the scale of the community and the city as a whole. While digital and online content are of value, and have offered a significant and necessary opportunity during the coronavirus crisis, it only provides a partial fulfillment of a museum’s role in society at best. It is not a replacement for the experience of the arts.


[1] Pevsner, Nikolaus. (1976) A History of Building Types. London: Thames and Hudson

[2] Newhouse, Victoria. (1998) Towards a New Museum.  The University of Michigan: Monacelli Press.

[3] Interview with Anne de Haij

[4] https://www.culturalpolicies.net/covid-19/online-initiatives/


[6] Ibid.

[7]Interview with Robert Oosterhuis


[9]The Uniting Power of Art and Needs of the Cultural Field During the Pandemic

Cultural Institutions in Times of the COVID-19 Crisis

By Joanna Zienkiewicz

Due to COVID-19 the activities of many cultural institutions, as well as of creative/artistic businesses and of self-employed creative workers had to be suspended. The situation has exposed and amplified the usual precariousness of the cultural industry’s workers, being exceptionally difficult for those dealing with artistic media that require liveness or social contact: music venues, festivals, theatres, etc. Many, for instance Berliner Schiller-Theater can count the losses from the performances that got cancelled in millions of euros, threatening the existence of the institutions and the jobs they offer (Wagińska-Marzec). Although audiences are usually encouraged to keep the tickets for events they already bought to use at later dates, any need to return the revenue already made adds extra pressures to the situation of reduced income. At the same time, arts and entertainment are consumed by the society of lockdown probably more than ever: stuck at home, many turn to watching series, films, reading books, listening to music, and participating in online cultural events from the comfort of their couches. The switch to online events allowed many institutions – for instance, the Groningen music venues Simplon and OOST who decided to stream their DJs live on platforms like Twitch or Zoom – to preserve their audiences; however, as the online events are normally expected to be free of charge, they cannot make up for the revenue lost from predicted ticket sales. While arts and entertainment are then nowhere close to disappearing, the threat of cultural institutions and workers not being able to deal with the financial losses experienced in the pandemic leads to widespread calls for crisis funds, grants, and larger subsidies from the cultural sector.

In these times, it might be especially crucial to examine what leads to such vulnerability of cultural institutions in the times of crisis, and how it might be dealt with. As Bojana Kunst pointed out in 2018, precarity is at the core of cultural institutions – a highly flexible, but also insecure sector (168). With a focus on projects, institutions are grounded in projective temporality creating a peculiar loop between the present and the future (Kunst 169). They are simultaneously imagined and suppressing irrational imaginations through protocols, bound by the neoliberal falsehood of progression and economization of creativity, in a “complex rhythmical loop between acting as-if and imagining of what is not-yet” (Kunst 178). In her view, already before the pandemic there was a strong “need to develop imaginative temporal forms of working that would have the power to resist the flexibility and precarity of contemporary work” (Kunst 177). Today, this need seems more urgent than ever. In fact, the crisis appears to intensify the “not-yet” aspect of cultural institution workings: maintaining grants and previously made ticket sale profits depends largely on the promises of delivering the live performances/festivals to the public in an unspecified time of ‘once the COVID-19 pandemic is over’.

In response to the social calls for supporting the arts, many financial measures have been promised by governments, ministeries, and art funds on national and European level.  In the Netherlands, funds for non-subsidized professional arts workers, programs of support for subsidized cultural institutions, and allowances to pay fixed costs have been already introduced; a few more funds and loans are waiting to come into action (CulturalPolicies.net). Some other countries- for instance Poland- still wait for the proposed financial measures for the cultural sector (“subsidies for the development of digital forms of artistic creativity and an additional programme compensating losses in culture caused by the epidemic”) to be implemented, with the only one adopted so far being the “Anti-Crisis Shield” fiscal leniency program (CulturalPolicies.net).

The pandemic – and the financial losses associated with it- do not wait. Still, the procedures for obtaining funds, grants, and subsidies continue to be lengthy, even in the times of crisis. Often, they require artists to participate in creative project competitions and to prove the economic value that their “not-yet” imagined futures (in which they obtain the funds) would bring. The bureaucracy associated with such competitions leads to their potential inadequacy for the fast-developing crisis: for instance, choosing the winning projects within the Polish ministerial program promising “20 million Polish zloty for culture on the internet” took around 2 months, causing the program to not be implemented until the end of May – the time by which many cultural institutions were already allowed to begin reopening (Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego). Additionally, as Daria Gosek-Popiołek (a Polish Left deputy) argued, many relief plans and grants assume that the no-contract employees of the cultural institutions are artists only, which leads to a failure of financial measures to address the loss of income experienced by other workers carrying out activities in connection with such institutions: an example could be workers who contribute to language, sport, and psychological courses publically available in regional cultural centers (Januszewska).

The reason for the inadequacies of some financial measures can often be traced back to deeper misunderstandings of the role of arts and culture within the neoliberal framework. Art subsidies, as Robert Oosterhuis stated, are often not viewed as legitimate by the public in the first place – this is the result of the subsidy boards catering mainly to the opinions of professionals rather than employing audiences, users, and participants in their decisions. Cultural institutions need to constantly prove their use for the society; project proposals and competitions exist to codify human creativity in the constraints of “progression” and “economystification” (Kunst). While seeking to liberate the arts from such constraints of neoliberalism can be an ultimate goal, one might also ask – within the system, why is culture regarded as inferior (for example, to the sciences) in economic value and potential of contribution to the society in the first place? Seeing as the arts make substantial contributions to the national GDP of most European countries (e.g. in the Netherlands: 3.7 percent, which is considerably more than agriculture, forestry, and fishing (CBS)), the prevalent questioning of economic and social legitimacy of art appears to be ideological rather than practical. In other words, it might be that the issue was never in an actual lesser socioeconomic value of the arts; but rather, in the difficulty to discuss the “logic of imagination” (Kunst) in terms of contained solid spaces and protocols which the current social order came to privilege.

For the cultural institutions to persist in the pandemic, the support offered to them should aim to resist precarity first and foremost. It could be beneficial for application procedures to be simplified and de-bureaucratized at least; additionally, the funds could address the crisis better if they were developed in close discussion with cultural institutions.

Works cited:

CBS. ‘’Culture and Media Contribute 3.7 Percent to GDP”. CBS, 3 Dec. 2019, https://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2019/29/culture-and-media-contribute-3-7-percent-to-gdp.

CulturalPolicies.net. ’’Comparative Overview: Financial Measures”. CulturalPolicies.net, 11 Jun. 2020, https://www.culturalpolicies.net/covid-19/comparative-overview-financial/.

Januszewska, Paulina. ’’Koronawirus Zabija Instytucje Kultury. Czy Rząd Wyciągnie do nas Rękę?”. Krytyka Polityczna, 17 Mar. 2020, https://krytykapolityczna.pl/kraj/koronawirus-instytucje-kultury-daria-gosek-popiolek/.

Kunst, Bojana. ’’The Paradox of the New Institution: On Time and Imagination”. The Future of the New, edited by Thijs Lijster, Valiz, 2018, pp. 168-179.

Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego. ’’20 mln zł na Stypendia dla Artystów! Rozstrzygnęliśmy II Część Programu Kultura w Sieci”. Gov.pl, 22 May 2020, https://www.gov.pl/web/kultura/20-mln-zl-na-stypendia-dla-artystow-rozstrzygnelismy-ii-czesc-programu-kultura-w-sieci2.

Wagińska-Marzec, Maria. “Niemieckie instytucje kultury w okresie pandemii koronawirusa”. E-Teatr, 24 Mar. 2020, http://www.e-teatr.pl/pl/artykuly/288332.html.

Humanities overcoming crises

By Elisabetta Cuccaro

The Covid-19 outbreak is a crisis that is showing us the true face of our society: the virus, in itself so ‘democratic’ -everybody can get it and die because of it-, reveals with crude realism the inequalities present in our times. The most vulnerable categories are suffering the most, their precarity enhanced. How can you stay home, if you have none? How can you wash your hands, if there is no water? We could say that the health crisis provoked by the virus is actually a symptom or an indicator of a deeper crisis. We call it ecological crisis, doomily summarized as climate change.

Of course, looking at this bigger crisis which is threatening our own survival as a species, the question that spontaneously arises is: what are the causes of climate change? How can we mitigate it (we are already so far that it is unavoidable)? Science is warning us since a very long time: “In 1972, Limits to Growth was published as the first worldwide report on the human environment. […] The report stated that if human habits did not change, industrial production did not revolutionize, and ecological concerns were not embedded in business models, the limits of the Earth’s resources would be reached in the next 50 to 100 years” [1].

Evidently, things did not take a different path: not only our habits did not drastically change, but also the very denial of the problem has been ongoing: “Faced with a crisis that threatens our survival as a species, our entire culture is continuing to do the very thing that caused the crisis, only with an extra dose of elbow grease behind it” [2]. We can agree that this denial seems to be the real problem, the scientific facts are ignored as not valid. But why? Following Castillo and Egginton, the spread of anti-intellectualism and the subsequent disregard for scientific indictments can be analyzed as follow: “The explanation for this apparently willful ignorance lies in today’s medialogy.”[3]. This statement summarizes in the concept of medialogy the problems of our times. This term, at once, describes both the partiality of media and their specific functioning as framing device. Medialogy, which can be intended as the logic of the media, is the current state in which media are used by a limited elite as the main tool to make people see reality in the way that will make the elite profit. The logic of medialogy is neoliberalism, and it works for the latter’s aims. Medialogy’s interpretation of the world reduces it into a series of exploitable resources, while the person is represented or intended just as a consumer. The aim of this frame is the unlimited growth of the market, its constant expansion, as well as an increase of profit. Our medialogy frames reality as such, pretending to be the only viable way of interpretation.

Thus, survival of our species seems to lie in a battle of interpretation, where what reality could be and how we should read it is at stake. Here the Humanities enters in the game, as the possible savior, being the field where to practice interpretation: “Literature, art, and philosophy have the capacity to teach us to think differently, precisely and especially when they are not captive to a strictly representationalist or objectivist logic. […] Reading literature and viewing art and thinking and writing about these experiences is the vital and indispensable foundation for any possible liberation from today’s medialogy and the self-destructive traps of desire it engenders”[4]. This because the Humanities allow us to see not just a different version of the world, but “[…] how the world can produce so many versions of itself”[5].

But here it emerges the hardest observation that is truly needed, the real crisis that the Humanities are facing. Humanities are a medicine nobody knows it is needed, and this ignorance is not only medialogy’s fault. In order to save the world, the Humanities have to overcome an even longer-lasting crisis: their own crisis, the crisis of culture tout court. A crisis brilliantly diagnosed already in 1936 by Denis de Rougemont in his book Penser avec les mains. He finds that the problem lies in the separation between culture and the productive world; in other words between intellectuals and who is described as “profane”, who is not an intellectual (I would say, who is busy with state or market affairs). De Rougemont believes that intellectuals are guilty: “The fault I imputed them (the intellectuals), is not to have badly guided public opinion. Rather, they have refused of guiding it, invoking the pretest of our cowardice: the pretest of impotence” [6]. What is the result? That culture speaks in a vacuum. This happens because: “[…] it asks nothing […] culture in considered as a commodity and not as an activity of production”[7]. The active side of culture has been lost. Culture should be a “battle, […] a means for fighting”[8]. Action and words have to join forces again, to change culture’s fate as well as human survival.

The Humanities resemble democracy in that they share the same risk of “talking to nobody”. Both should keep in mind that they have practical implications, as suggested by the title of George Huszar’s book Practical Implication of Democracy (1945). When he wrote his book, his worries were that: “[…] the nation might soon experience the kind of “disintegration” of democratic culture which enabled the rise of dictators in Europe and Japan. And this was because democracy had become a thing of words rather than actions. Huszar writes, “Democracy is something you do; not something you talk about. It is more than a form of government, or an attitude or opinion. It is participation” (xiii)”[9]. Paraphrasing it: culture is something you do. It is an active participation in the ongoing process of society. And today, this process needs all of our creativity and engagement for the good of our own survival. We need to imagine differently, and we need to make these alternative visions a shared value. This could be the duty of the Humanities right now: “In the all- pervasive market society, it is not enough to defend the value of the humanities in an increasingly corporatized university. Instead the humanities can and should go on the offensive to denounce the blinding effects of market fundamentalism and poke holes in the media- framed reality that’s coextensive with it”[10]. Humanities, let’s get our hands dirty.

Once we’re all agreed that we’re living in a world in ruins, the ways in which we go about tackling the possibilities for change are important. (Fabrizio Terranova in interview with Sophie Soukias, BRUZZ 2016).

Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival by, 2016.

Addendum in memory of George Floyd.

The world is trembling, injustices hit harder and riots cannot but spread.

It is not enough to be non-racist and we need to be anti-racist. Non-racism resembles the appearance of talk-democracy, while anti-racism the one of do-democracy. We need to be engaged, one by one, and take a stance, and our behavior has to follow our values, and our values have to shape our behaviors. I think the same of culture, of the Humanities. It is not enough to be non-ignorant. We need to be anti-ignorance. And maybe the combination of anti-ignorance, anti-racist, anti-homophobic acts and values will make the difference needed to break the spell.

[1]   N. Petrešin-Bachelez, On Slow Institutions, in How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse, eds. P. O’Neill, L. Steeds, M. Wilson, MIT Press, 2017, p. 41.

[2]   N. Klein, This Changes Everything, 2, quoted in D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 99.

[3]   Ibid. p. 101

[4]   Ibid. p. 98.

[5]   Ibid. p. 97.

[6]   D. de Rougemont, Pensare con le mani. Le radici culturali della crisi europea, Transeuropa, 2012 p. 23

[7]   Ibid. p. 28.

[8]   Ibid. p. 33.

[9]   http://henryjenkins.org/blog/2019/5/30/participatory-politics-in-an-age-of-crisis-henry-jenkins-amp-nico-carpentier-part-i

[10] D. Castillo, W. Egginton, The Humanities in the Age of Information and Post-Truth, Northwestern University Press, 2019, p. 103.