More required of SA government and art institutions in the face of coronavirus

2020-03-18 21:30

With art institutions globally taking a proactive stance in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus by prioritising the health and safety of artists, staff and visitors, it is imperative that South African art establishments, including government, follow suit.

Recognising that most art experiences involve being in crowded spaces, cultural institutions across cultural capitals of the world are temporarily closing their doors in response to the rapidly evolving pandemic concerns.

This is despite the staggering negative economic effects, estimated at trillions of dollars worldwide.

With the current spotlight on Italy and China, both face a drastic embargo on visual and live arts and in the case of China, all state- and privately-owned museums, and art galleries are closed.

In London and New York, the majority of galleries have temporarily closed down although some remain open by appointment only.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Imag
A sign is seen on the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, Scotland. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Similarly, most auction houses have shut their locations across the US and Europe until further notice.

The art fair calendar has been turned upside down with Art Basel, the most important fair of modern and contemporary art, scheduled for 18-21 June, potentially being postponed until later in the year. Frieze New York continues to monitor the situation closely especially in light of US President Donald Trump’s European travel ban which means that sales may be severely impacted.

Museums such as the four Tate galleries as well as those located in Europe are also closed.

In an effort to keep the arts industry alive, a number of institutions have quickly shifted their physical operations to internet innovation.

Many of them are now digitally streaming exhibitions, talks, events and performances on Instagram and other digital platforms.

Some galleries have wasted no time and have reached out to artists inviting them to show their works in virtual exhibitions.

In South Africa, the response by the major galleries has been mixed.

Goodman Gallery has led the way by closing its galleries until further notice, as has CIRCA.

They will open by appointment only.

Goodman has gone a step further by making its exhibitions available digitally and have expressed an intention to explore innovative ways of presenting exhibitions and works by arts through digital platforms.

Stevenson Galleries continue to operate until further notice as are Gallery Momo and Everard Read – they will monitor the situation closely.

There is no indication from the state-owned Johannesburg Art Gallery as to the steps taken by them to contain the pandemic.

The privately-owned Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation has made a decision to postpone the private previews and public opening of the exhibitions until further notice.

The privately-owned and recently opened Javett Art Centre situated at the University of Pretoria continues to operate normally for now.

The City of Cape Town announced its decision to close all museums and art centres which it controls with immediate effect.

In addition to this, Zeitz Mocca issued a statement on Tuesday to the effect that it will be temporarily closed until April 6 2020.

Norval Foundation and A4 Arts Foundation have also closed until further notice.

We are not prioritising the real concerns of artists, staff and visitors which are aligned with those of the rest of the cultural capitals.

In response to the pandemic, the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival will not be going ahead as planned and in further developments, the National Arts Festival will be going digital this year.

FNBArt Joburg has just launched a platform where they will be streaming current gallery exhibitions, and Latitudes On Line has also announced the launch of a platform for collectors to connect with artists, galleries and curators from across the continent.

Of interest is also how governments across the world are handling the impact of the pandemic as it affects individual artists.

A number of meaningful government interventions have already been planned, with some already being implemented.

Singapore, for instance, has set aside $1.6m for the arts and culture sector as part of its support for the community.

In the UK, the Arts Council England has announced a plan to help artists and freelancers during the pandemic, and this mission is hope to be achieved by refocusing some grant programmes to help compensate individual artists and freelancers for lost earnings; it also anticipated that this plan should be completed in the next ten days.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, we remain the laggards of cultural capitals in these efforts.

Earlier in the week our Minister of Culture, Arts and Sport had a meeting with 26 entities under their wing to have a “coordinated approach” and to “share ideas on how we can minimise the impact of the performing arts as a result of the severe but necessary restriction on public events, because of the coronavirus”.

We are not prioritising the real concerns of artists, staff and visitors which are aligned with those of the rest of the cultural capitals.

In the absence of a press briefing, the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa which “cemented itself as the real sole voice of the cultural and creative sectors”, summed it up by saying that it was committing to “wage war” against Covid-19, and to spreading “a message to all independent music producers who own recording studios to ensure that each studio has sanitizers and masks”.

The opportunity to co-develop concrete plans that are designed to support artists was missed, with politicking taking centre stage.

. Pule Kingston is patron of the arts and an entrepreneur

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March 29 2020