What role does art play in a pandemic?
Rhian Hutchings shares her views on the importance of art in a time of crisis
Whether it’s been one of those days or an occasion to celebrate, the arts are undoubtedly a constant when life is anything but. During these tumultuous times where the norm seems like an abstract concept, our reliance on books, music and film become the glue keeping us together during lockdown. These are undoubtedly times of unprecedented uncertainty, where concrete plans for the summer ahead have melted into endless days of public restrictions and lockdown. Reason and logic can be scarce in such panicked times. The arts have endured brutal political regimes, world wars and over the past couple of weeks, a global pandemic.
“During these tumultuous times where the norm seems like an abstract concept, our reliance on books, music and film become the glue keeping us together during lockdown
Stories have always existed as a way of making sense of things. Stories whether they’re written, captured in a picture or told in a song, seize the spectrum of human emotion. In a time where the arts are often seen as extra-curricular for children and an escapist hobby for many adults, they are now all we have. We are now finding solace in the world of fiction, relying on the otherworldly to distract us from this fantastical reality. Even with the cancellations of plays, festivals and literary events across the country people are still managing to connect with culture. Moving the sofas for a Saturday night gig has now become a weekly ritual for my family. Comedians, authors, actors and musicians have been streaming content since the beginning of this lockdown, providing a sense of togetherness when we couldn’t be further apart.
This isn’t the first global crisis where the arts have been used as a tool to elicit solidarity and solace. The Poet Laureate Simon Armitage has written a poetic response to the Corona virus crisis. He explores customs from plagues and outbreaks centuries ago, enabling time travel from our 21st century lockdown at home to quarantines many centuries ago. The line “star-crossed lovers on either side of the quarantine line” could apply to the current times of facetiming in isolation as much as it applies to the lovers of the 17th century plague in Eyam, communicating through a boundary stone. Whether we respond to our surroundings with literature or through music, the arts are what makes this experience human.
“The arts have been used as a tool to elicit solidarity and solace”
As well as poetry, music has been uniting nations across Europe with singing from balconies in Italy and Spain to Facebook sing-alongs in Wales. ‘Côr-ona’ is a Welsh Facebook page with over 44,000 members posting their favourite welsh songs every day. People of all ages are posting renditions of their favourite Welsh songs from across the ages proving that for many countries, not even the Corona virus will silence our need for song and melody.
Fast-paced daily life has been paused abruptly, everything now takes place from the comfort of a bedroom or a living room. We need the arts now not merely to entertain us but to take us elsewhere. Using only my bookshelf I’ve managed to travel America, India and Ireland during the past three weeks of lockdown. The arts have a role not only in keeping us busy, but they keep us sane. We will use the arts to explain the current tragedies surrounding us for years to come. I hope that after all of this is over, we will not forget how culture kept our imaginations alive and ignited in us some hope amongst the bleak backdrop that is COVID-19.