2 July 2020

Lessons from Covid-19: building a strategic vision for the future of the arts & culture sector

In this guest blog, Caroline Macfarland (Director, Common Vision) reveals how new research will build a ‘snapshot’ picture of how arts organisations are responding and adapting to the COVID-19 context

Caroline Macfarland

How will immediate lessons from the COVID-19 crisis help build a strategic vision for the future of the arts and culture sector?

The economic and social disruption resulting from the global Coronavirus pandemic will have a profound and lasting effect on all sectors and segments of our society. In the short term, organisations of all shapes and sizes are having to adapt and respond to the rapidly changing COVID climate, whilst the potential long-term impacts provide almost overwhelming scope for speculation.

Over the last few months, arts and cultural organisations have had to navigate significant immediate challenges – not least in response to social distancing and national lockdown measures affecting venues, artistic programming and audience engagement – and longer-term pressures of uncertainty.

As the situation stabilises there will continue to be profound implications for working arrangements, relationships and partnerships within and across the cultural ecosystem. Understanding these immediate trends will be important for the response from policymakers, funders and practitioners themselves, which is why Common Vision’s new research project will seek to build a ‘snapshot’ picture of responses so far and how arts and cultural leaders are preparing to adapt to a ‘new normal’.

“Understanding these immediate trends will be important for the response from policymakers, funders and practitioners themselves.”

Our research so far (which includes desk research and mapping, inductive interviews with leaders, funders and practitioners around the UK, and local place-based focus groups) has already emphasised the tremendous pressure which arts and culture organisations are currently facing, with many in “survival mode”. Different arts organisations are undergoing different challenges: Some have been able to adapt their activities both online and offline in local communities, while others have largely furloughed staff and “mothballed” existing plans. Some are currently preparing to reopen while others face disruption for months to come. For many, what looked like the most sustainable models before the pandemic are now the most risky.

“Some are currently preparing to reopen while others face disruption for months to come. For many, what looked like the most sustainable models before the pandemic are now the most risky.”

There are many positive lessons from what’s happened so far too: from the ways in which funders have become more flexible and agile in their support, to the new communities that have been reached as arts organisations tailor their activities to local need, and the leadership shown at a local level by smaller, community-based organisations.

Beyond understanding the responses to date, we also need to look longer term at the challenges, consequences and opportunities for the arts and culture sector moving forward. Organisations that do survive the immediate economic crisis will almost certainly need to reimagine their role in society and local communities. The actions they are taking now may well be pivotal to this survival.

How might new relationships, collaborative models and delivery methods lead to systemic change in the future? At the moment we have more questions than answers. What will audiences expect and demand in the post-COVID world, and how is this an opportunity for organisations to change the way they plan and deliver their cultural offer? How can we use the lessons of “dispersed leadership” to empower communities to be the drivers of their cultural connections and activities? What power and equality structures might change across the arts ecosystem? How do larger arts institutions, funders and policy responses enable and support new relationships on this basis?

“How can we use the lessons of “dispersed leadership” to empower communities to be the drivers of their cultural connections and activities?”

Communities all around the UK and the people within them are grieving, isolated and grappling with uncertainty. This is a difficult time with challenging questions. But there are also clear opportunities which will emerge in the post-COVID social and economic landscape. Using insights and learning around where arts organisations have positively shaped social outcomes, and applying these to the bigger picture, could help to build a more responsive, resilient and collaborative cultural ecosystem as we look to the future.

 

Further information about the research project: http://covi.org.uk/dev4/arts-organisations-and-covid-19/

Nominate/ recommend organisations to feature in the research: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdQDpHJsJ5bfIr6EQbiOfKUP65C6iUKRJGF1GFXGcZ7tQFc9w/viewform