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Creativity During Crisis—The Arts During COVID-19

Binging on visual content and listening to music has spiked ever since the world was forced indoors amidst the pandemic. Almost everyone has binge-watched ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ on Netflix or obsessed over ‘Positions’‒Ariana Grande’s most recent album. The pandemic and its repercussions on our lives, such as the issuing of lockdowns and restrictions on social gatherings, has changed social culture and many industries—the vast Arts Industry being one of them. The Arts, and everything associated with it, has had to completely reform how it functions as businesses, and more importantly, as modes of creativity. 

Shifting Stages 

The most prominent hit that the industry took was due to the numerous cancellations of shows. Concerts, stage performances, and the filming of movies and television series were suspended due to the dangers that large gatherings posed. The silver lining to all of this though, is the prominent digital presence that artists have developed in response to these cancellations. Many artists have produced more consistent and vulnerable pieces, strengthening the way they connect with their fans, which has helped create art that holds more meaning to the audience as they tell more relatable stories. Taylor Swift’s latest albums, ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’‒released in quick succession—shared heartbreaking narratives and explained parts of her family life that she had not spoken about in the past. The Weeknd’s latest albums, especially the messages that he has tried to convey through the music videos have shown his vulnerable side, even if they were unhappy to realise for most.  ‘After Hours’ unapologetically reveals how traumatising it is to constantly be under the limelight, and the toll it can take on an individual.  BTS’ “Map of the Soul: 7” was the first full-length album since 2018, something fans were waiting for months on end for. The album maps the band’s journey, through their ups and downs and in and outs, all of it for their fans to experience. 

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“Map of the Soul: 7”

With the pandemic granting them the time to create better content and engage in production more frequently, artists have become eager to drop their music across more platforms. New pop artists are emerging into the limelight with jaw-dropping content and veterans are reaching new heights of success.  Olivia Rodrigo, a young 18-year-old actor from Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, broke millions of hearts when she released her debut single, ‘Driver’s License’—a song she states to have written amidst the most vulnerable and insecure moments of a breakup. In addition to the song shattering several record charts, fans unconditionally responded and continue to love the song, with many writing newer versions of it from other perspectives and covers. It remains on Billboard’s “HOT 100” chart as number 1 even six weeks after its release. Diljit Dosanjh’s 11th album “G.O.A.T” achieved global success after its release, topping most Indian platforms, even entering the Top 20 Canadian Albums chart and other charts in New Zealand and the UK.

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A still from ‘Driver’s License’ music video

Artists have not missed the opportunity to raise money for organizations and charities they support during this unprecedented time. The iHeart Living Room Concert for America hosted by Elton John featured artists from all generations‒including Billie Eilish, Dave Grohl, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, and Backstreet Boys, all performing from their homes and raising over $8 million for charities such as Feeding America and First Responders Children’s Foundation. Looking at the other side of the world, Spanish actress Eva González and radio DJ Tony Aguilar, conducted a virtual festival with performances from Alejandro Sanz, Juanes, Luis Fonsi, Morat, Manuel Carrasco, and others, to raise money with the Santander Bank Foundation to dedicate funds for medical equipment and supplies in conjunction with health authorities and national sports councils. 

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The iHeart living room concert promotional poster

Access to Broader Audiences

The Arts were already experiencing a major cultural revolution, but the pandemic has accelerated the pace at which these changes were taking place. The shutting down of museums and locations dedicated to showcasing art has made smaller artists come into the limelight. The elitism prevalent in the industry of 2D art because of its expensive nature sobered down‒as many younger, lesser-known artists are being noticed. The accessibility to art that the audience has due to social media and virtual resources during this time has widened, with more people around the globe being able to contribute to arts and culture, instead of small exclusive groups. For example, Buzzfeed began featuring various small artists and business owners across Instagram and other social media sites, thus increasing their exposure. TikTok’s #NativeFamily initiative gave way for creators to share their native heritage with millions of people. @kobykpb, two Afro-Indigenous creators share beautiful content of dances in their cultural colorful clothing, educating and informing people on the platform. The quality of the art in focus is being assessed at deeper levels, as consumers are becoming increasingly educated on art and its importance in their daily life, be it in a cultural sense or from a merely aesthetic perspective. 

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Amira Rahim’s paintings on her Instagram page

Opening It up to Society

Movies and shows have made significant changes in conducting business, whether positive or negative. In addition to losses that production companies have suffered due to the sudden shutdowns and shut-ins that the pandemic caused, movie and television industries have had to downsize on crew sizes. This has been devastating for individuals that have lost jobs, and has made working on set a lot more demanding and exhaustive for those employed. At the same timethe demand for quality television by the general public has increased, as they have the time and resources to accurately evaluate productions. With movies being released on OTTs, mainstream actors are looking to be featured on smaller pieces of work on multiple platforms, rather than solely the silver screen. This, in turn, has increased the value of small-screen productions, presenting stories of greater quality to an inviting audience that truly appreciates valuable content. The pandemic has also forced many shows, web-series, and movies to finally tackle social issues that are being experienced globally. ‘Euphoria’ and ‘This Is Us’ making direct references to the BLM movement and their stand in solidarity with it is just one of many examples of prevalent issues that have been discussed in mainstream media. Yet, in spite of all the advantages that these mediums possess, questions have been raised over their biased algorithms that favour those who understand the algorithm over those that have more talent. 

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Amazon Prime Video—an OTT platform with hundreds of small and big releases

The Rise of Virtual Education in the Arts

Working individuals in the industry are not the only people that have experienced magnanimous changes during the pandemic. Students seeking to work in the industry have had to adjust and experience art school programs virtually. Many Liberal Arts colleges globally are known to be exclusive, but the pandemic and its role in switching education towards more online-based programs have made access to these colleges and courses more inclusive. Internships and digital co-ops are being offered to them towards the beginning of their art college journeys in order for them to witness the real-life experience that the art industry has to offer. Students have also been able to gain access to more professionals and their experiences as online education has made it easier to collaborate with artists, who all around the world—are looking to impart knowledge to new blood through social media and video conferencing platforms. 

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An adapted Art and Design class at the University of Northern Colorado

Although many positive changes have taken place regarding college education in the arts, the losses are many. The dismissal of jobs for multiple professors and members of arts administration at colleges has inevitably occurred. Theatre students have had to accept a majority of their rehearsals to have taken a back seat during online classes, and in-person productions have had to turn to remote short film production and online theatre experiences. Although these setbacks have posed challenges such as using new technology to sustain their roles in shows, it has also created opportunities to venture into territory that would have otherwise been lost to students. The entertainment industry has tried its best to reach out and compensate. Warner Bros. Television’s casting department has created a virtual platform for students at the undergraduate, graduate, and conservatory levels whose final years of training were interrupted or cancelled by the pandemic.

The pandemic has been a terrifying and difficult experience for many industries and the arts is not any different. However, along with difficulties, the pandemic has given birth to everlasting opportunities that are going to make the business more inclusive, inviting, and socially aware. 

Featured Image credits: Debasmita Kanungo