In many ways it seemed as though something in the universe had been telling me the coronavirus pandemic was to come. I miraculously chose this semester to take a leave of absence from my college (which is five miles west of New Rochelle, the epicenter of the New York outbreak) and to spend it, instead, at Artscope Magazine’s “underground bunker” (so nick-named for its location under a rug shop). At the beginning of the pandemic I joked that COVID-19 was a form of divine intervention… a “Noah’s arc-type situation.” I don’t know if that’s what this is exactly, but I do know that what is happening now is both an ecological/biological and social/cultural episode.
The pandemic did not come as a surprise to everyone. The first recorded travel-related COVID-19 case came to America on January 21, while the outbreak in Wuhan had been ongoing since December. People like Bill Gates have been warning of something like this for years. Nonetheless, its timing and magnitude undoubtedly constitute a shock to our collective system(s). As an intern at Artscope, I find myself in a unique position to see this panemic’s effect on art, culture and media. From sitting in on strategic team meetings, to reading emails from worried galleries, to curating an online collection of resources to keep us all as engaged and connected as possible, my first-hand interaction with the art world as it copes with this disaster continues to be profoundly educational and inspiring.
Despite the massive economic fallout of COVID-19 (much of which is still to take place), for many artists and creatives our current physical, social, and political climates constitute fertile ground for creation. While selling art may not be easy at the moment, it is not difficult to imagine the possibilities this crisis holds for anyone with a creative practice. As a time characterized by major underlying anxieties and uncertainties, the future of our communities, and indeed our world, lie in limbo. Importantly, within that “not knowing” is the challenge and freedom to imagine, to reflect and to create.
Following this initial lockdown we will likely see the birth of an art movement fueled by COVID-19-inspired works. And we will need that renaissance: in the aftermath of a global crisis we will be looking to art to help us make sense of our experience. Some of these works (paintings, songs, performances, etc.) have already been made and are clear indicators of what broad themes might emerge across all genres and styles of art. Topics which are not new, like isolation and technology, may well become more popular arenas of discussion. Issues of inequality and climate change may also come into the limelight. The intersections between health, wealth and environment are becoming clearer and clearer as both the disease and the crisis continue to disproportionately impact low-income individuals and communities of color—those bearing the brunt of today’s environmental-related health issues. For many artists, this pandemic will be a call to action; the kind of external and internal pressure that requires the use of one’s voice.
As I watch the art world plunge ahead through this uncertainty, whether via social media, virtual artists’ talks, or at-home art activities for youth, I find threads of hope. This work and continued engagement by the public makes clear that art is an essential service. Like food, it brings people together around a common table and acts as sustenance. And art is a kind of sustenance. One that is spiritual, intensely human and not to be taken for granted. How we choose to honor that truth is up to us. From my perspective (Artscope’s virtual bunker) the most exciting and poetic example of doing so is by creating and sustaining connections. Whether between artists and art-appreciators or galleries and the media, each of the roles we play in keeping the arts community alive and thriving is vital—COVID-19 has made it clear that we are all stronger, happier and healthier when we are connected.