Culture & Arts during COVID-19 ..or How Virtual Life Brought Us Closer To Each Other


Empty Entrance Hall in Hermitage Museum in Russia, Saint-Petersburg

Today, on 19th March of 2020, I am sitting at home in Finland, where I just finished watching local YLE News about coronavirus pandemic we are all deeply affected by now with multiple updates done yesterday, Tuesday and on Monday, explaining the situation and giving important advice and instructions to everyone. Finnish government has listed several procedures to be made in order to protect Finnish citizens and its country visitors from the spread of corona virus and finally decided to close all schools, libraries, museums, swimming pools etc. and other places with large group activities leaving only grocery stores and pharmacies to serve their clients like they did before; restricted participation in any live events dropping the number of coexistent participants amount allowed from originally (as per Monday 16th*) 500 people to a maximum of 10 (on Tuesday 17th) at a time and urging people to avoid public places, if they can, and stay at home, as well as closing country borders tonight on 19th and considering possible restrictions of moving around in the cities later on and further rules to comply with. 

Needless to say, all this seems so surreal to me and rather reminds me of a sci-fi movie, and I'm sure not many people truly understand/comprehend our reality and what exactly is happening right now - no one would ever believe this few weeks or even a week ago with such big changes all of a sudden and none of us was prepared to it, but here we are and this all has already affected local economy (I'm only talking about Finland right now) and almost all businesses - especially event production, transportation and service sector, changed the way we behave in our free time putting us to even work from our homes, restricted our movement drastically as well as has spread fear in us to some extent. Even though some fear is pretty hysterical thanks to the media during the past few months, causing people to go stockpiling the goods and toilet paper, most of the fear is very practical and is coming from reality that many people will and already have - no money and all their fees and expenses still running at the same time obviously means either a bankruptcy, unemployement or both. With so many small companies here going down due to this pandemic and government requests to "slow down" their work, if possible, to achieve better social distancing results, it is very saddening to see how many of us will have to live in a constant stress of losing our income, deal with uncertainity and rethink our strategies in order to sell something to survive in these highly uncomfortable circumstances. 

I talked to my friend, lecturer in Humak University of Applied Sciences, on last week's Friday during our virtual meeting, when this all seemed too distant to us here, yet already pretty close, as we can see it now, and asked about his thoughts on the impact of coronavirus to a cultural sector from a cultural producer point of view, when there are no events and people are actually quite scared to move around and meet with others (as our natural self-defense instinct), even if that was allowed, which now has been in a full effect since Monday and personally I decided to stay at home as much as I can. I asked, whether he thinks that virtual reality with its possibilies being enhanced and developed all the time in the past few years will become our new way of life, since this is the only option right now and we won't recover from the epidemic too fast and even then if we did, it would take a while for people to believe we are safe and continue with their lives like usual. He said that he strongly believes that we will become more local communities, take part in much smaller events and not necessarily become all virtual, but very connected in person instead. Our personal relations will get stronger and we will enjoy and explore more cultural activities, that will require us to get to know each other better and support local businesses. I so hope that it's true. 

And though digital world is basically saving us right now, giving us much better chance to connect with others, while being on a lockdown in our apartments alone or with our families, and even go on with our work remotely (and I continue my studies online as well), I believe this is already something new and we really strive for connection and realize its importance more than ever before.

..When COVID-19 first panic started in late February and beginning of March, after all news coming from either Italy or China, and the rest of the world was just following this situation, sharing the memes about toilet paper and stockpiling food in supermarkets thinking it won't affect any of us, but, however, it did. Watching the death and infections numbers growing day by day for every single country worldwide with not so clear views on how to actually cure this virus, forcing people to stay at home to save the elders lives and protect their own, is somewhat sad and truly worrying. Especially when everything changes so fast and in just one day some countries can close their borders, leaving lots of tourists stuck in between of two lands on the roads, announcing emergency state and applying rules of no moving around and restricting people from leaving their houses without a valid reason (groceries, pharmacy and doctor, going to work, going home and walking the dog are the only ones), and aircraft companies cancelling their usual routes and leaving many foreigners stuck at the airports without any tickets to go home. Watching the videos about e.g. Spain (and now also France) with completely empty cities and police patrolling on the streets, checking for reasons of going out and giving pretty expensive fines if movement was not allowed, and reading Facebook updates of tired and scared, desperate people (a lot of Finns living in Spanish Costa del Sol) and Finnish and other tourists being removed from their hotel rooms on their vacations they paid for, due to accommodations getting closed just like the rest of the places despite no movement on the streets rule, which literally means they have no place to go, and not being able to switch to earlier flights to get back home, as Finnair and Norwegian (the ones that fly directly from Málaga to Helsinki) are both cutting down their services and will stop operating this Saturday after both countries (Finland and Spain) borders will close, I feel really sorry for all of them and hope they will find a way to get home healthy and safe as quick as they can. 

So now, when every economy is being put on hold, people are on a lockdown following strict rules and can't travel, all borders slowly close and no one is certain about the future and when this will end, you would think that it will stop everyone from enjoying their lives - and it surely does to some significant extent, making it impossible to consume culture and arts and usual services and provide our own like we used to, making a huge change to the ways we are made to adjust to right now and putting us even further away from each other physically, because we rely only on digital tools and miss important real life interaction. Countries closing their borders is also far from true globalism we were all being forced to get used to during past several years. So at first I was very afraid that it will cause some massive depression and fear wave amongst population and feeling disarmed in a way, where no one would think they are powerful enough to make any drastic change. Of course, with the social distancing most people started to unite online pretty fast and understood, what their actions can do to all of us. Many decided to stay at home even before those restricting rules were applied and forced by officials, because they wanted to make it easier for all, but I wasn't sure about the rest. But when I saw some videos being posted on Facebook and recorded from Italy, where people arranged "from home" concerts and were singing along on their balconies, I smiled a lot. And when I saw videos from Spain, where people arranged to do the same and clap to the hospital workers every evening from their homes to say "thank you" to them for saving lives, I was amazed. And if I go local, a lot of Finnish entrepreneurs affected by this current corona crisis created multiple Facebook groups, that somehow reached everyone to whom it may concern just in a few days, providing answers to the most critical questions, promoting each other further and even offering some altruistic help to the ones, who are most in need. Furthermore, the artists in music industry got the first hit, as their concerts got cancelled for the unknown period of time with the expenses still running. Solutions were very quick - setting up stream live concerts as a virtual alternative and a group of people building a website in a day for musicians and artists, singers, who wanted to join it and start selling tickets to their streams. That kind of cooperation and group organization and being united truly makes me proud of us, people, and of all of my colleagues. So we don't lose hope and creativity will find the way no matter what.


My main industry, photography, however, as well as culture & arts, which I am also involved in, both suffer from the consequences of COVID-19 right now, as there is no physical interaction and no events allowed. So, if museums can offer virtual tours to their collections and art fairs can gather online via variety of online tools like Zoom, Instagram and Youtube live etc., which isn't perfect and works more as temporary solution to not lose the rest of the audience and instead come to their homes, where they are locked into, we cannot create much if any photography from the distance, neither can we promote ourselves for our future bookings, until we know when pandemic will come to its end, so pretty hard times for all of us for sure. This also means, that magazines cannot book any shoots right now, because of the same reasons and no travel/no groups, and rely on stock images and their own archives as long as they can. Printing doesn't make any sense either, unless they have to deliver subscription issues, as shipping companies still operate and hopefully will also continue their work. Everything is in stand by mode right now and e.g. Photokina (a major photography trade show) announced that it will postpone its important industry event for two whole years from May 2020, as first planned, to May of 2022. There is nothing I can add to it, really. We all understand, that we need to cut everything down and wait, and search for a side work for any income and some will unfortunately have to close their businesses. Many photographers and artists along with other workers and freelancers in cultural and arts field / creative industries already suffer from low wage and dumping related problems and don't have much stability in anyway, basically not giving them any chance to have many savings. So instead of buying a photo from stock agency for peanuts or downloading it from variety of pages (I won't advertise it in here) for free, which won't help any of us to make ends meet especially during this difficult situation, it is better to support your local entrepreneurs, if you can. 

P.S. Here is a link to a blog post by Artwork Archive on how to support artists and the arts during COVID-19: www.artworkarchive.com/blog/how-to-support-artists-and-the-arts-during-covid-19 Here is a link to financial relief resources for artists during COVID-19: www.artworkarchive.com/blog/financial-relief-resources-for-artists-during-covid-19. -VL

When unemployement rates will rise, after and if we win this epidemic, not many people will have the money to buy anything aside from the goods for their basic needs, as we already can see, so I'm very concerned about what will happen to our and many other services. And if this all continues for a longer while, what exactly will happen to photography and photographers, if we must stay at our homes and are not allowed to go out to shoot nor interact with anyone? Food for thought for sure and this pandemic situation is almost worthwile any movie script, because by itself it seems like the end of the world, as we know it from these surrealistic movies. What's very important right now is to not lose our touch with the culture and even try to produce more of it, if we can (and I already see how so many people are getting creative on their quarantine lockdown, so it's not even my biggest concern anymore) and finally we may see the true value of art to/as consumers, not taking it for granted, like we sometimes do, when it's actually the only thing that will entertain us for the upcoming weeks or even months to come.

So in order to support the idea of beneficial art consuming and to help you get more productive/creative during your mandatory staying at home, here is a list (which will be updated all the time, so come back here again later +you can post your finds in the comments) of some articles with tips and links to the sources, where you can enjoy variety of virtual museum visits, study courses and even find some activity for your kids. P.S. Thank you for reading my blog post about my opinions on corona virus and wish you all to stay healthy and safe and positive during this time. Cheer each other up, call your friends and I hope this will soon be over and it will become another experience and a good lesson, how we must take care of our Earth and ourselves, and pay attention to our loved ones.  Yours , Veronica Lounge / Photographer and Editor of Lounge & Lifestyle

STUDYING:

- Coursera free courses for students till 31.7. - https://www.coursera.org/coronavirus

- 450 Ivy League free courses (Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia ja Pennsylvanian universities etc.) - https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/ivy-league-free-online-courses-a0d7ae675869/

-  free CreativeLive classes (on air themes: Photo&Video, Craft, Art&Design, Money&Life, Music etc.) - https://www.creativelive.com/onair

- remote learning solutions - https://education-nation.99math.com  


PHOTOGRAPHY:

-  free CreativeLive classes (on air) - https://www.creativelive.com/onair/photography/

- FlakPhoto by Andy Adams Youtube photography videos playlist - http://bit.ly/flackphotovids

- PhotoShelter resources for photographers - https://blog.photoshelter.com/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-resources-for-photographers  

- free online education for the next 2 weeks by PPA, Professional Photographers of America - https://www.ppa.com/education-unlocked

- Financial relief resources for artists by Artwork Archive - https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/financial-relief-resources-for-artists-during-covid-19

- Punctum Magazine quarantine photography recommendations -  https://www.punctummagazine.com/essays/photorecs

-NASA media library public and copyright free - https://www.diyphotography.net/nasa-makes-entire-media-library-publicly-accessible-copyright-free/


MUSEUMS/ART:



- Hermitage Museum 5 hours video tour - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MU73rsL9qE

- The Metropolitan Opera stream - https://www.metopera.org/ 

- Wien Opera live broadcast - https://www.staatsoperlive.com/

- Mariinsky theatre broadcast - https://mariinsky.tv/e


OFFICE/WORK:

 - Vimeo webinar (26 March) on how to plan a virtual event - https://vimeo.com/enterprise/live-production-broadcast



KIDS:

- Virtual field trips with links (San Diego Zoo, animal cameras, virtual farm tour) - https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SvIdgTx9djKO6SjyvPDsoGlkgE3iExmi3qh2KRRku_w/preview

Veronica Lounge

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