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The pandemic and beyond

The preface sets the context for the Pandemic and Beyond series and outlines how it is shaped by and sits within the research and funding landscape for arts and humanities during the pandemic. The series arises from a research co-ordination project funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and brought together over 70 solutions-focused research projects that addressed the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic between 2020 and 2022. The preface reflects on the unique conditions that shaped this body of research and the methodologies employed, and on the importance of arts and humanities research in addressing the human impacts that intersected in this moment, working to resolve them, mitigate harms, and examine some of the most fundamental human questions across macro and micro crisis contexts. It argues that the series exemplifies the creation of a ‘pandemic humanities’ that demonstrates how arts and humanities are a vital tool in responding to and preparing for complex crises.

Open Access (free)
Creative approaches to wellbeing during a pandemic and beyond
Karen Gray
and
Victoria Tischler

The introduction sets the scene for the volume and the contributions within it, offering a brief outline of their historical precedent within, and contribution to, the field of arts, health and wellbeing practice. It introduces some of the key theoretical concepts underpinning work in the volume, including ideas around ‘coping’, ‘resilience’ and ‘everyday creativity’. Individual chapters are summarised and the editors reflect on the value and contribution of the research presented.

in Creative approaches to wellbeing
Open Access (free)
How England’s theatre organisations responded to the COVID-19 pandemic
Karen Gray
and
Ben Walmsley

During the Covid-19 pandemic, workers in the UK’s theatre and performing arts sector were among those most negatively affected. Some of these negative impacts relate to historic structural issues, including inequalities within the workforce, funding gaps and disparities, and unsustainable business models. During the crisis, the theatre sector made and accelerated changes to the strategies and modes used to make work and engage with audiences, including through digital adaptation and distribution. Alongside enforced and repeated closure of buildings, these shifts challenged organisations of all scales to make radical decisions and tackle issues of productivity, quality, capacity and skills. Lockdown experiences of making and watching theatre have raised important questions about the future roles of physical spaces, shared or synchronous experiences and definitions of authenticity, and regarding audience perceptions of the relative value of digital and live performance. They have drawn closer attention to inequalities of access of all kinds. Innovative and adapted models for engagement using remote, hybrid and blended formats have been trialled. Intensified attention has been paid towards the social and civic role of theatre. In this chapter we examine these phenomena and discuss their implications. We build on research engaging with theories and concepts drawn from arts management, cultural leadership, cultural value, cultural policy studies and audience studies.

At the chapter’s heart are the insights gained from over fifty semi-structured depth interviews undertaken throughout 2020–2021 with professionals working in theatre organisations across England. These experiences are also explored in depth via three short illustrative case studies.

in Pandemic culture
Museums and galleries in northern England during the COVID-19 pandemic
Danielle Child
,
Karen Gray
, and
Harry Weeks

During the Covid-19 pandemic, museums and galleries were forced to rapidly rethink how they engaged with their publics. While some focused their energies on reaching wider audiences (often via digital and online provision), many asked what they could do to help the communities that immediately surrounded them. The north of England was hit particularly hard by the pandemic, experiencing extended lockdowns and high-tier restrictions. From interviews with over thirty gallery, museum and arts workers in the north-east and north-west of England, the authors identify an increase in community engagement and outreach from galleries and museums throughout the pandemic.

The chapter examines the community engagement and outreach activities provided by these institutions and asks: How do galleries and museums provide support during unprecedented times? Who do galleries and museums serve? Who benefits from this provision and can it be sustained in the long term? What are the implications for the workforce, missions and business models of galleries and museums? How do these practices inform new narratives of ‘levelling up’ and post-pandemic recovery within areas already highlighted for investment? In responding to these fundamental questions about the civic responsibility of arts institutions in times of crisis, the chapter undertakes a close analysis of three case studies: a large art gallery; a local authority museum; and a small, embedded arts organisation.

in Pandemic culture