Arts and culture is a big part of many peoples lives, but it isn’t that way for everybody. Sometimes out of choice, but there are obvious social barriers that bring inaccessibility – costs, place, content, city centricity and/or isolation. Sometimes I ask myself what culture even is. I grew up without ‘culture’ as we know it, but surrounded by culture of community; a seaside town, a housing estate, industries, class and ways of life.

‘Culture’ is now part of my everyday – galleries, cinema, festivals, creativity. One reason for that is the move to a city, discovering the word ‘venue’ and finding like-minded people. I can now never go back. As individuals, and as organisations, it is everybody’s responsibility to strive for inclusion and accessibility to reach wider audiences than the typical ‘theatre goers’. Some venues and galleries (both corporate and grassroot) are making a huge amount of effort to do this, even against social barriers, and this is heart warming to see.

Covid19 has flipped the problem, creating barriers where venues can no longer invite audiences in to create experiences. They have been forced into a situation to continue to engage from afar, which (although without a doubt brings big challenges) has potential to bring culture to more audiences. Although the pandemic has caused shutdowns and suspensions of events worldwide, I can’t help but feel that this may disrupt culture as we know it. It has been interesting to watch many leading venues who have adapted and responded using digital technology to bring culture and experiences to more people. 

Is this the change we need to see? Having more choice within streaming: boxsets, films, comedy, music, theatre, an exhibition; all from our own home. This widens inclusion through choice.

Here are some examples of organisations and venues paving the way, pushing cultural accessibility and inclusion to stay relevant during the pandemic:

Baltic have released – the home of the Digital Archive, Archive Catalogue and Library Catalogue. They are engaging and staying relevant using engaging digital media content including exhibition walk throughs, audio, live webcams and Baltic Connect Meet and Make. You can also take a tour around the building.

Google Arts and Culture
Google bring brilliant tool to explore collections and buildings of iconic art venues around the world, along with art activities, virtual tours and daily dose of arts and culture.

Stand Comedy Club
The show must go on! The Stand are presenting comedy live on screen with the message ‘Stay safe and well, be good to each other and keep laughing.’ 

Reclaim the Frame
Reclaim the Frame is a brilliant initiative celebrating wider perspectives and bringing films by women to independent cinemas across the UK. They have temporarily shifted to online events including artist interviews, screenings and discussions.

Family Arts Campaign
Family Arts Campaign have launched a brilliant resource to create nationwide activities that family can access online.

National Theatre
National Theatre at Home is showing a different performance each week, free to stream for seven days.  They are also giving wider access to UK schools, teachers and pupils at home. Upcoming shows include: Jane Eyre, Treasure island and Twelfth Night.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag play will be streamed online by Soho Theatre On demand. The show was sold out when touring, and now will be streamed to raise money for those affected by Covid-19. We’ll definitely be checking in!

GIFT festival
Gateshead International Festival of Theatre presents a digital, tenth edition programme of performance art and interactive events- to connect artists and audiences globally to share and inspire creativity at a time when we need it most.

Lindisfarne Festival
The brilliant Lindisfarne Festival are doing Lockdown lives with artists and performers that are due to be playing at the festival in September. We are thoroughly loving joining in with these and dancing round the kitchen!

Mermaids held a digi fest using Twitch to continue support and bring solidarity to trans young people everywhere. The day featured live discussions and words of strength from celebrities and public figures.

IWeigh have always been digital first, but they’ve turned up the volume with Covid19. Featuring podcasts and platforms for artists to connect to communities and audiences. Providing much needed positivity during bleak times!

NewBridge Project
NewBridge are finding alternative ways to host events, share new work, remotely ‘hang out’ and support the more vulnerable in our communities – they hope to find ways to ‘make social isolation less isolating’.

Nobody knows what the future holds, but, amidst this difficult time, we are seeing the world of arts and culture adapt and change before us. New technologies, new ways of working, reaching new audiences, and reprioritising things that matter.

Stay safe all.

Further on from this blog, a project we are fully behind at the moment is intensive research project ‘Does Culture Matter?’ by Crystallised in which they are collecting insights and individual perspectives during this surreal time, get involved here.