(copied from my other site http://www.flowprojects.org.uk)
If end of lockdown means the loss of access to fantastic cultural performances online, I don’t want it to end. There’s a lot of learning going on as we adjust to our lockdown lives. We’re reflecting on what is important to us, and what isn’t.
The wonderful array of live dance, music and theatre being beamed into homes via the internet makes living in a rural area a fantastic place to be. Not that it wasn’t before – but because the cost of travel, tickets and accommodation to top theatres like the Albert Hall are simply prohibitive for those of us on a local income, I confess I have felt culturally deprived in recent years. Not that there isn’t some wonderful work going on locally, but world-class acts don’t have venues to play in the Forest of Dean. Indeed, we don’t even have a theatre.
Seeing the BBC screening of Hofesh Shechter’s Clowns dance performance, filmed at Battersea Arts Centre, or Richard Thompson on Youtube playing in his home, managed by the Albert Hall to continue connecting with existing and potential audiences, has been amazing.
When I first moved here, I used to go to Bristol to see contemporary dance and theatre. But over the last ten years the roads have become gridlocked, the train service is what can only be described as ‘the long way round’ and tickets for train fares prohibitive. Not to mention the (understandable) end of any on-street parking. All very green and sensible, reducing cars on the roads. Whilst city dwellers can easily access the countryside without parking charge or traffic queues (and lets face it drive their cars to get here – not so green!), it doesn’t work the other way around. Cities are increasingly unwelcoming to those that don’t live in them.
Galleries in Bristol, such as Arnolfini, have suffered so many cuts their budgets must resemble paper doilies. Dig around a bit online and you will find some great films of previous shows at Arnolfini, like this one, Emotional Archaeology from 2016 by Daphne Wright.
Artist studios are becoming few and far between (though at least there are some in Bristol – there are no studio groups in the Forest of Dean). Excuse my constant edits, but I keep finding other things to mention – like this video of an empty theatre – Caretaker – A durational installation by Hester Chillingworth at the Royal Court Theatre. This is a very moving work, pregnant with longing for someone to step onto the stage. Maybe they could share files of the footage capture and invite performers and artists to lay blue-screen activity onto the film, to re-animate the stage?
During the pandemic, being in a rural place is ideal in terms of reduced risk of Covid19 infection. We’re not out of the woods (metaphorically or literally), of course, but we can walk freely in openly accessible landscapes without meeting a policeman. We follow social distancing strictly, our village shop and butchers allow one person to go in at a time. Neighbours lookout for each other, share shopping tasks. Very Vicar of Dibley around here. With the pubs and clubs being closed, people like me (who essentially don’t hang out in pubs and clubs anyway), are finding the online live cultural offer a gift gained from a crisis.
The BBC are hosting lots of cultural programmes, including live life drawing, sewing bees and pottery. But still, on TV and in media, we hear people mourning the loss of sports. I understand that – and also believe online screening will never be able to replace ‘the real thing’ – but isn’t it great to have more cultural alternatives now?
In terms of accessibility, live streaming or well filmed performances re-presented as a secondary medium (online or filmed), has to be a good thing. It is ‘as well as live’ not instead of. Perhaps we are learning that rural audiences will lap up what is provided and could even be willing to pay per view, if they are given the choice.
Prior to the pandemic, few of us got to see the outputs big, publicly funded theatres, in London. Yes, there have been film screenings, but I am afraid going to see that in a rural cinema will never simulate the real thing. (See previous blogpost). But it will widen audience bases and could contribute to financing the huge, beautiful, expensive theatres that are only for those who can afford to, can get to.
This is accessibility in action. The Arts Council mantra of Great Art for Everyone is happening, now, as an outcome of the pandemic.
Let’s use this moment to get world-class culture on the national agenda at all levels, for all people. Not just those that can afford it.
Please don’t stop this when lockdown ends. It has made social isolation bearable and can improve access for all in the future. And maybe even a slot after the national news, just like sport gets.
Because culture matters.
And so do people who live in rural areas.
For other covid-aware writing please visit my arts practice blog.