“Culture is not everything,” the movie theater marquee reads, ” but without culture, nothing is worth anything!”
The coronavirus pandemic has in fact taken a toll on the arts and culture scene. Whatever encouraging words politicians have uttered over the past months, they have still sounded helpless more than anything, when they said the sector would findcreative solutions. Despite financial hardships — and not everyone reacted like German actor and singer Tom Schilling, who feels “a certain joy in extreme situations or tragedies” and was “downright inspired” by the lockdown in the spring — the people who work in the culture sector have nevertheless defied the fraught situation with compelling concepts in recent months.
The term “hygiene concept” will undoubtedly be remembered as typical of 2020. After the first lockdown, hygiene strategies became necessary everywhere in venues that wanted to have audiences, albeit following strict rules. The performances were enthusiastically received throughout Germany; the longing for live acts and plays was as great among the audience as it was among the artists. The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, for instance, held multiple performances with changing audiences on any given day. Yet the performances were not very profitable due to the small audience size.
Clubs, orchestras and theaters alike proved that streaming is not just for binge-watching Netflix series. Shortly after the start of the lockdown, clubs in Berlin joined forces and broadcast party nights right into people’s living rooms under the motto “United we Stream.” DJs played their sets live in the clubs to empty dance floors. Orchestras around the world also went digital. Star pianist Igor Levit gave house concerts from his living room, and Alexander Iskin, a Berlin artist, let people watch him work live via webcam for 50 days.
The Augsburg State Theater offered productions people could watch at home with VR headsets — no risk of infection involved. In 2021, the theater will allow people nationwide to rent VR headsets if they don’t have one of their own to stream the plays and ballet performances on offer. Thanks to their 360 degree perspective, the VR experience offers added value compared to a regular audience-attended performance. Museums also reacted to the shutdowns and offered digital tours of their exhibitions.
‘Unprecedented times’ in the arts
Yet the pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact on the arts. How will painters and singers, authors and actors process the experiences and changes in society? During the summer weeks, Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria showed a special exhibition that traced “the precariousness of life since the beginning of the corona crisis. While the sciences attempt to offer solutions, it is the arts that portray the predicaments of the crisis,” the exhibition center writes on its website. Some artists sent recent works that were already reflections on the crisis, including one by the South African contemporary artist William Kentridge. Others participated with older works, some reflecting skepticism of progress and melancholy that seemed almost to be premonitions of the pandemic.
Language is culture, so major social events tend to affect how we communicate. These days, probably everyone knows how to spell “epidemiology” and “quarantine.” Before the pandemic, how often did you come across the world “sneeze guard?”
The coronavirus has triggered the creation of entirely new words in the German language, too: about 1,000 terms found their way onto the list of the Leibniz Institute for the German Language, including Super Spreader-Ereignis (super spreader event), Wellenbrecher-Lockdown (breakwater lockdown, a term for a kind of lockdown light) and Zoom party.
Now, Germans are headed into 2021 on what is being called “Impfstrasse” — literally, vaccination street, a reference to the large vaccination centers that will have to manage a steady flow of people who want to be inoculated against COVID-19.