Will the Arts Survive the Pandemic?

Pier Paolo Ergueta

     Famous geologist, biologist, and naturalist Charles Darwin was emphatic that survival isn’t of “the strongest or the most intelligent”. Darwin said that survival depended on those “most adaptive to change.” Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic for the New York Magazine describes art as: “flexible, adaptive, pervious, hungry for change — else all art would still look like Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mesopotamian carving, or a Raphael Madonna.” Social distancing and other measures may have caused the mass cancellation or postponements of exhibitions, concerts, dance performances, and more, but the arts will live on amidst our current situation. 

     Due to the lack of revenue from ticket sales, gift shops, and declining sponsorships, the total amount of financial losses of the arts sector amount to an estimated $3.2 billion says a recent survey from Americans for the Arts. Izzy Miller ‘23 brings up a great point: “Due to the skyrocketing unemployment rate and the weakening economy, many people aren’t in a place financially where they can purchase artwork, leaving artists in a difficult position.” According to Americans for the Arts, “Nonprofit organizations across the country are in economic freefall” due to the coronavirus pandemic. Galleries and museums have gone dark all over the world, dance companies and theatre productions have closed, and it seems as though the arts have taken a massive hit that many companies and studios will not be able to recover from. 

     Many galleries and museums are trying to make art available online. The Louvre in Paris offers free virtual tours of several of its most popular exhibits online. The 16th-century halls of The Uffizi Gallery are available for exploring via Google Maps as well. Those galleries are only a few of the many prominent galleries open to the public online. The Royal Opera House, however, has started streaming free ballet and opera during the coronavirus outbreak. Similarly, the National Theatre streams one of their world-class performances on Youtube every week. There is plenty of visual, musical, and theatrical content to view from home, and all of it contributes to the relevancy of keeping the arts afloat. 

     Sadly, no amount of online foot traffic can keep art galleries and dance studios alive. As mentioned before, the arts are in a financial slump. However, money is trying to be raised as the group Americans for the Arts have called for a $4 billion fund from the American government to aid arts and culture around the 50 states. Many are frustrated with Trump’s reaction to the cry for help, more specifically his $75 million grant to the Kennedy Center. American theater “does not live in a single building,” writes Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theater Communications Group. “We’re happy to see the Kennedy Center supported in this time of crisis, and we’re advocating for similar levels of support for our field as a whole.” Money will be raised, either way, it’s just a matter of who will step up to support it. 

    So, will the arts survive this pandemic? Harry Anderson ‘20 has hope. “Mainstream art like movies and music from big record labels will take a hit because of the logistics of needing to socially distance. However, I think people will become increasingly creative through all of this, and art can serve as a way for people to express the emotions they feel in this tough time.” 

     This point of view raises another question; can art change today’s world? Izzy Miller ‘23 believes that “art can raise awareness on important topics, change people’s mindsets on controversial issues, and even bring a bit of positivity into an otherwise unfortunate situation” like COVID-19. “Tough times throughout history have influenced art in many ways and I think this (the pandemic) could be just another example,” states Harry Anderson ‘20. Jerry Saltz also responded to the question and stated the following: “In respect to those suffering and about to suffer around the world, we must say no. However, art does change lives, and lives can change the world” That’s why the arts will live on. Ars longa, vita brevis; or Latin for “Life is short, art is long.”