UCL Minds


Transcript: Episode 14

How has the pandemic changed arts and culture?


people, ucl, culture, arts, museum, moment, thinking, programme, audiences, theatre, world, sadler, venues, lockdown, hear, digital, industry, loss, sector, colleague


Anneliese Graham, Catriona Wilson, Stella Bruzzi, Vivienne Parry


Vivienne Parry  00:01

Hello and welcome to Coronavirus The Whole Story, the UCL podcast that looks at Coronavirus through the lens of UCL research. My name is Vivienne Parry, I'm a writer, broadcaster and UCL alumna. Right from the very beginning, I've been talking to the UCL community about their amazing work on every aspect of this pandemic. I've heard from medical students who went straight from their studies to peak frontline duties from engineers who developed life saving technologies, and behavioural scientists who advise government, and many, many more. You can listen to all of our previous episodes on the UCL Minds website. I think you'll find them fascinating. What struck me about them is that they're also the collective equivalent of the Coronavirus archaeological dig, with each episode revealing yet another of the big questions raised during the outbreak.

This week, our big question is what's next for arts and culture which has been one of the hardest hit sectors of all. The answer is certainly major, and even for some catastrophic, we'll hear more about it from this week's guests from UCL Arts and Humanities, and the aptly named for this episode, UCL Culture, as well as a director of programmes at Sadler's Wells. So let me introduce our guests this week. My first guest is Professor Stella Bruzzi, professor of film and dean of Arts and Humanities here at UCL. Stella has researched many aspects of film and television, from the portrayal of trials and the law to costume fashion and masculinity and written several books on her findings too. She's been a researcher for BBC television and a regular contributor to sight and sound. And she's also a fellow of the British Academy. Also with us today is Catriona Wilson, head of UCL’s wonderful Petrie museum. And if you haven't been there, please go along and look. Alongside her work in UCL museums, Catriona is an activist within the wider sector and serves as a committee member for fair museum jobs – a movement creating more inclusive and equitable museum recruitment processes. Catriona is also a gamer and trustee of the British Games Institute. My final guest is Anneliese Graham and the director of programme management at Sadler's Wells theatre. This means that she's had the nightmare job of trying to rethink their entire programme and stages and everything else. After lockdown. Of course, you'll know that Sadler's Wells is a world leading organisation dedicated to dance. And it's seen as being a venue in the former Olympic Park, the home of UCL East. So between all of us we’ll have a fair few of the different types of arts and culture covered. Let's begin by talking about the dramatic lights out and blackouts that have occurred right throughout the outbreak. Stella, the past few months have seen venues closed, events postponed and the arts industry effectively frozen, would have been the impact of this?

Stella Bruzzi  03:02

Well, I mean, we're always thinking about the economic impact, obviously, on a whole series of livelihoods and I was just in the meeting earlier, contemplating the kind of losses anticipated it's going to be about 16 billion with across the sector. 150,000 jobs, at least could potentially be be, be what happens. But I think actually, part of what I've been trying to also think through is with this great loss of, of the cultural industry or of being able to actually kind of go to the theatre. Go to museums is a more existential and symbolic one, which is the kind of loss of what I think of as being liveness, you know, and the importance of being able to interact spontaneously to go to a unique event not to have to plan everything to be there, you know, for a very special moment when something extraordinary happens on stage and knowing that it won't ever be be repeated again, that kind of interaction, I think is feels to me it's not just emotionally enriching but psychologically beneficial. And I fear that there's been that there's something which is quite kind of kind of magnitude of what we're losing when we have to think about every single action. We can't just spontaneous to go up and hug someone, etc, etc, is that it's also that which were which were losing alongside the, the kind of loss of a whole cultural industry and you think of Central London. I think it's, it's pretty empty at the moment, and it's gonna take quite a long time to come back. It will come back. I mean, you know, after the plague of 1603 the theatres did finally reopen. And there was an industry to go back to and but it's trying to negotiate trying to work work out what it's going to be like, I think is what's the problem.

Vivienne Parry  05:12

And the big issue is it's not just about buildings, of course that has to be, you know, still maintained during lockdown. But almost all the arts and culture factor depends on freelances. know people who are the talent, you know, everything from costume, costumeers, to actors, to musicians all over the place that often have.

Stella Bruzzi  05:39

Absolutely, and I think one of the major repercussions it's sort of it's not going to be necessarily the the more the older, more established people who suffer in quite the same way. As you know, younger people thinking of going into the arts, those from lower socio economic groups who might have been drawn to the sector and they you know, now this is not the sort of job I'm going to go into, I think there's going to be a ripple of significant long term effect of all of this - people making choices based on what they think of as being a secure job. I mean, the kind of Freelancer is dependent on there being, you know, on there being short term contracts, that's not the case now. So I think it's going to, it's going to lead to a vast a very kind of differentiated and unequal society.

Vivienne Parry  06:46

And there has been a lot of talk about this 1.75 billion pound emergency support package. But again, it's very unclear as to where that's going to go and how it's going to be distributed.

Stella Bruzzi  07:00

I was talking to Patrick has the English National Ballet or a colleague of mine was so. And he's saying, Well, basically that money is very welcome. But it's just for the mothballing phase, it's not actually able to just kind of generate new, new creative work. So it's it's, it's, there's also that tremendous uncertainty about longer term, what's going to happen mean, what it will mean is that things aren't going to close now. But unless we start to think through how to make you know how to ensure economic viability long term, it's just going to stay. It's just it's just a kind of stay of execution, I think is how some people are seeing it. But however, there is a real positive here so I'm being very gloomy there is a real positive, which is not only is it keeping businesses going, but it also suggests that someone out there in government has realised that the arts and culture are really important that we want to keep them. We want to, you know, keep them going. And that's an important message. I think that there, it's not just simply, oh, they're kind of nice to haves. It's also this is part of our society. It's part of how we engage with each other. You know, how we, how we feed off art and culture is part of what makes us human. So we need to keep these industries going, we might not need them in the way that we need the NHS. But I think this is a clear signal that government is understanding at least, that it's not just about need. It's also about other factors that, you know, keep us going emotionally, psychologically, and as people.

Vivienne Parry  08:53

So we've seen from the hsps, boundless creativity programme, there's been this massive pivot to digital, but they'd be not the problems with digital. You know, it doesn't really pay. Not unless you're about Korean pop band. I'm going to get their name wrong, but I think they're called BTS. And they managed to suddenly switch to digital, instead of going on tour, which they've been planning. And they managed to sell 750,000 tickets at full price to Kpop fans around the world, which is the equivalent of 60,000 Stadium shows. Unfortunately, I think that our cultural institutions have quite the pool of Kpop. And we haven't yet found a way to make digital pay. And I'm guessing actually, one of the most important things Stella, so just as you say, is that we're all craving live. We want that experience.

Stella Bruzzi  09:52

Absolutely we do. I mean, actually, as someone said, it gave me a really quite fascinating statistic recently, which is I thought it was good, which was that last year, I pre COVID more people went to the theatre than went to football matches, which I thought was great. I mean, obviously football only happens on certain times of the day. So it's not quite as surprising as it sounds. And there has been a huge move to tech Tech has tried to think of what Netflix tried to do. Netflix has sort of tried to try to replicate in some small form that kind of loss of likeness. And this morning, I heard that Sam Mendez is calling families and and other web based platforms such as Netflix, which have flourished during COVID because of these the access of tech culture, to help fund live theatre to another culture, which is quite an interesting idea. We'll see whether that's that works. But tech hasn't been I mean, tech is not a good substitute because we actually it's It's because you can never simulate adequately what it's like to actually be you, in that space at that time being there, being in the exhibition space choosing to watch the watch the paintings in your own idiosyncratic order for example. I think that is the kind of loss of individuality is much better than nothing. And some people have been you know, and it really is I mean to be able to access that kind of you know, met operas archive has been an amazing.

Vivienne Parry  11:35

The MET have been making money that way for a very long time. I mean, that predates a decade or so. Let me turn to Annalise. Obviously, Sadler's Wells normally has fantastic audiences throughout the week for ballet programmes and many other programmes which it was doing. But are you worried about What will happen when you open whether the audience will actually come back again?

Anneliese Graham  12:04

Yes, that's definitely a concern of ours, you know, when we normally operate, what operational kind of 60 to 80% capacity across all of our shows to make the whole thing financially viable, and even more so say Christmas. And so thinking that, you know, if those numbers go down by 30%, or even 50%, as some venues are kind of forecasting, that has quite a sort of catastrophic effect on the finances, as we raise kind of 80% of our income through ticket sales. So yes, it is a concern. And, and the biggest thing that's a challenge is that we just don't know. So we're kind of forecasting various different scenarios to see what what might happen. But, you know, we just don't know, you know, when people will start to return. Because at the moment, we don't actually know when we can open the theatre without social distancing or even with social distancing. So it's this kind of great unknown thing. And then we think well, how quickly will people return to the kind of the regular levels that they were at before? So I think that makes us sort of trying to plan out first year of operations after we're able to open quite difficult because it's very unknown as it is for many other businesses. So we have those concerns. And obviously the things that we're talking about a lot with our teams around what can we do to ensure that audiences are able to start returning confidently to live performance?

Vivienne Parry  13:15

And there is an issue with some cases where the audience is tend to be older. And actually, they're the people who have least confidence about returning

Anneliese Graham  13:28

Yes, absolutely. So when we kind of look at our audience figures and we're able to analyse by different kind of segments, as we call them, an age could be one of those. Yeah, that's that's a big concern for some productions, which we think actually do have quite a high level of kind of older audiences that they're potentially more risky kind of shows to programme in that first period. If they're not feeling confident, come out and come back.

Vivienne Parry  13:52

And tell me about Christmas shows because we've had a lot about panto, and I know that Sadler's Wells is very well known for fantastic Christmas shows, but they're a big money and are they for you and not have them is a bit of a disaster.

Anneliese Graham  14:08

It is. So obviously at Christmas, we're running a very high capacity, we always have a brilliant production by Matthew born. And this year we will plan his have his Nutcracker. So yeah, during that period, you know, we operate kind of 90% kind of capacity across these sort of six to eight weeks. And obviously all the bars are doing great business, it's kind of it's Christmas. It's a time when everyone's with their families, they're having some you know, really good family treat, they're spending a bit more money in the theatre, so we're able to generate a decent amount of income, which can then subsidise various things throughout the rest of the year. So, yes, not having a Christmas season is really critical. You know, we haven't made any final decisions on that yet, but that those decisions are going to come quite quickly. I think for a lot of the regional theatres around panto, and for us around our Christmas season and because we just don't yet no one will be able to reopen. It's just very uncertain as to whether or not we can go ahead and of course, we Need to make that decision now because of the sheer number of tickets you need to sell by December you need to kind of make that decision in about a month's time.

Vivienne Parry  15:08

So let's move away from the immediate dramas and worries and think, a bit more long term. What do you think the future is for arts and culture, particularly for performing arts, and how you're going to meet the needs of audiences? I'm sure you there'll be more online content. But as we've discussed already a bit it's not always seen the same way by audiences. And also the other thing, they're not prepared to pay for it because a lot of digital is deemed to be free content. And that's quite tricky, too. So what do you think the future is?

Anneliese Graham  15:52

Well, yeah, I mean, it's, it's tricky because we just, we just don't know. Yeah, I mean, obviously, we have tried, we did try and pilot a model where we Had some digital content which was paid to you via Vimeo, which was great. But you know, the kinds of money that people are paying five pounds per view is obviously quite low. So it's never going to be a huge effective revenue stream to kind of replace live performance. And there are some things that people will pay for if it's particularly kind of unique experience. But yes, it's never going to completely replace the live experience. I mean, I hope that we will eventually when all this passes, we're obviously right in the midst of it at the moment, people will want to return to live performance or that sense of gathering socialising sort of collective identity people will want to come back. It's just when that is and I think in between, then there will be a kind of mixture of possibly socially distanced performances with some sort of content towards a kind of full, a fuller reopening of the sector, but obviously, it that's all very uncertain at the moment.

Vivienne Parry  16:48

And Stella, I wondered, have you been back to the cinema yet?

Stella Bruzzi  16:52

To be honest, I haven't. I was thinking about that. I mean, because I know that my local Picture House has reopened. I've kind of It must have like four or five people in it in the small screen. And I'd be very interested to see the difference it makes having like four or five people in an auditorium that would normally take. I know, I made bad numbers about 50. You know, thinking in my head, what the what it looks like. I do think this is a radical moment, though, that were that we're living through, obviously. I mean, that's to state the obvious, but I think it's not going to be a question of going back to how it was. It never will be. It'll be a question of how can we rethink this? And how can we make it work for us? I mean, I think we can see a recalibration of the relationship, for example, between the provincial, the local, the small scale, and the big, you know, the big central venues. I mean, I think people are more reticent ironically because of its huge importance economically of going back to the big urban centres and their cultural spaces than the much smaller local venues, or that's what one's hearing at the moment. Anecdotally, and so I think this is a moment for of thinking through, even when we have a vaccine. Are there certain things that will, that will have changed fundamentally be really interesting to hear from Annalise and from Catriona, about what, you know, the kind of things that how they envisage that kind of long term new normal, because even if we can go back to full theatres and everyone laughing at the same, you know, at the same comedy, we have to be aware that we've we've now know what it's like to, to lose that. So I do think that we need to be radically rethinking how it is that we enjoy and consume Culture and the Arts.

Vivienne Parry  18:57

Continue, let me turn to you now to talk about the either side of this industry, the audience, how do you think the Coronavirus has changed the relationship between audiences on live shows on spaces?

Catriona Wilson  19:10

Yeah, so that's something that we've been talking a lot about within UCL culture at the moment because to our audiences, but this is a highly new thing. And we've talked a lot about whether venues and artists offer digital experiences but are wondering at the moment is whether audiences actually are geared up to receive those experiences, whether they want to or not, and something that I think about quite a lot, this disparity in access to equipment. And so on the one hand, the very positive side, many museums have looked into this and created this wonderful content, and there's been a huge uptake. I've read recently that The Louvre used to receive something around 40,000 visits per day to its website before this and now with all the material they're sending out there receiving 400,000 visits a day. And there are some fabulous successful examples of Online engagement. So for example, Egypt exploration society have been running a series of online lectures, and also closer to home, the Friends of the Petrie museum as well. They have seen a really, really positive uptake, thousands of people have participated in these things. And it's provided a way for everybody to come together. So the Friends of the Petrie run these sessions on zoom so that everyone can see everybody else's faces, and it's like being in the room with everybody. And but then, of course, many museums don't actually have the skills and stuff time to ever dream of doing this, even if they've been able to do some things. The long term impacts will be quite integral.

Vivienne Parry

What is UCL Culture’s role in this?

Anneliese Graham 

So in terms of UCL culture, we talked at the outset about how the industry has been frozen and doing lockdown and what we can do to unfreeze. And but really, for colleagues within UCL culture, although personally I've actually been on carriers, leaving them furloughed for a chunk of time. I think we felt busier than ever We've been working on preparing blended learning materials for term one, because we've got this, this cohort of students are coming to us this term. And we want them to have as good an experience as they possibly can. And so we're preparing a lot of material that we would normally deliver face to face handling sessions and activities within the museum spaces. So that we can shift chunks of those online and support our academic colleagues in the material that they're preparing which, as well, I imagine if you talk to an academic at the moment, they're also working really hard. And, and I think we've also been running a series of student placements, for example, in various activities so that we can carry on this engagement with students and support the students throughout this entire period.

Vivienne Parry  21:49

I think we're going to have to change our culture, perhaps, in the future. But I didn't want to let this occasion go without saying how important culture is in recovery. From Coronavirus, not least in economic recovery. I was just thinking, Anneliese, from Sadler's Wells point point of view that actually having a cultural organisation anchoring regeneration, as we've seen, for instance, with the sage in Gateshead is tremendously important for the future. So the answers are often regarded as kind of fluffy, or the cherry on top, but actually they are critical and vital for for the future.

Anneliese Graham  22:33

Yeah, absolutely. No, I would completely agree with that. I think, you know, our cities would feel very, and they do feel weird at the moment with a lot of these venues being closed, where people don't have that reason to kind of go into them. And you know, just to touch on the economic point first, yeah, you know, in the West End all the spend on the restaurants and the hotels or people going in with it without those kind of cultural venues, being able to kind of work that all of that kind of falls away. So the economic argument is kind of enormous. But also things around well being gathering, kind of socialising and a sort of sense of collective identity as well, that culture provides. I think they're all really important things, especially in the aftermath. When we get to that point of this kind of crisis, I think they'll become increasingly important.

Vivienne Parry  23:19

We will get to the other side, folks, we will, we will. So one final thing to discuss with you all, so many people have turned to the arts and all its many forms during lockdown, for comfort for distraction. We're connecting with people all over the world. But yet preserving British arts and culture hasn't seemed to be so much of a priority. It's come very late in the day. Just very briefly, why do you think that is? Let's start with Stella.

Stella Bruzzi  23:55

Well, I think there is a sad perception that art and culture as sort of nice to have. And I thought it was it was probably the castle ever who's perceived of art as the lie that enables us to realise the truth. And I think actually, perhaps we're belatedly realising that the act of thinking critically if you like about art and culture has always been a very important active engagement with the world around us. And it's always been a mechanism by which we kind of can and do tackle the biggest issues. So it's not just a just a just a nice to have. It's not just a way of retreating from the world. It's also a way of understanding it.

Vivienne Parry  24:43

Catriona, can I ask you to put your gaming hat on for a moment because gaming industry is worth an extraordinary amount to the British economy?

Catriona Wilson  24:55

Yes, absolutely. I'm trustee of the British games Institute's and we oversee The National video game Museum, and for the organisations that have been contacting us and communicating with us, they've seen a massive increase in engagement with video games throughout lockdown. And I'm apparently one of many thousands of people across the world who've been playing Animal Crossing every day. And some days Animal Crossing has been the main way I've known which day of the week it is, and those who know it will know what I mean. And I think that this role of video games as a way to take you away from your immediate worries has really come to the fore throughout this, particularly games like Animal Crossing where you can communicate with people all over the world. They can come and visit you and talk to you. And it's really something quite wonderful. And I think I would echo what Stella said about how often arts and culture and heritage is seen as the nice to have but I think how much more have we valued culture during lockdown how many people have found a mental health not just boosted by music and literature and film, TV video games heritage, are reliant on that idea. I'm sure I'm not alone in in finding that. By having these things in my life I have a little boy by by having TV available for him and activities and books and stories, we've been able to travel far away from the things that are bothering us on our day to day life, and participate in this rich and imaginative world of culture. And I think we don't just need culture to thrive, we need it to survive as a as a community.

Vivienne Parry  26:25

Science explains life, but it's the arts that give it meaning. And it's a rich irony, isn't it? But at a time when people have been consuming television, movies, Netflix on tap. Actually, they haven't people haven't been able to demand at its greatest. The supply side is about to dry up. And filming has become a nightmare. I know from my own experience, you just can't go filming. So that's been very difficult. I want to finish by asking each of you, what's been your comfort during your lockdown. What's been your secret pleasure, but what's been the thing that kept you going? And let's start with you, Anneliese.

Anneliese Graham  27:15

I suppose now I find myself having a lot more time at home. I have been able to do a lot more reading in the evenings and read a lot more. A lot of different books and novels. And that's been a real kind of pleasure during this time.

Vivienne Parry  27:30

Stella, has it been movies for you?

Stella Bruzzi  27:35

Predictably, well, for me personally, I've gone back to it. I find myself wanting to go back to things that I haven't read for a long time. So I bet me personally, but with the greatest pleasure has been that because I've had both my children here. I mean, they're sort of older, you know, 21 and 16, as I did is watching something every night pretty much every night together. So we've got through old movies. We've got through Netflix series, we've got through a few documentaries, but they're not my daughter especially is less keen on those. So they've been the wonderful communal, you know, family moments in front of a screen

Vivienne Parry  28:14

Catriona, what about you? For me, although I would certainly echo both of the previous few comments, and it's been this, participate in digital learning from my own professional development with activities all over the world. I mean, last Thursday, I ended a lecture that was beamed out of Cairo about modern Egyptians view of ancient Egypt and to hear Egypt a colleague to of course, are really significant in everything we do at the Peachtree Museum, telling us what they think about ancient Egypt. It was really, really brilliant. And, you know, I really enjoyed that, particularly because I do have a little boy and it can be a bit tricky out is usually a normal life. So yeah, that's been a huge highlight for me.

Vivienne Parry  28:56

Well, thank you all. I'm really grateful to you for making the time today it's a very difficult period of everyone and I think if you're involved in the arts and culture world for you, it's been especially tricky, so we're thinking of all of you.

You've been listening to Coronavirus the Whole Story. This episode was presented by myself Vivienne Parry produced by UCL with support from UCL Health of the Public and UCL grand challenges and edited by cash sadly, our guest today will Professor Stella Bruzzi, Catriona Wilson and Anneliese Graham. If you'd like to hear more of these podcasts from UCL Minds, subscribe wherever you download your podcasts, or visit ucl.ac.uk forward slash Coronavirus. Whilst you’re there, please fill in our survey. This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise to event digital content. An activity is open to everyone. Hope to be with you again soon. Bye for now.

Translated by otter.ai

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