Watch: The state of the arts under Covid-19 (a CN&CO webinar)

It was drama, drama, drama – with some visual art, tech and dance thrown in – in CN&CO’s recent webinar entitled “The state of the arts under Covid-19”.

“The arts help us to make sense of society and to move it forward,” said CN&CO’s Carel Nolte, who acted as MC for the webinar. “It’s done so through the ages and it will continue to do so.”

One of Carel’s biggest regrets, by the way, is that he didn’t live 400 years ago, when he could have had a drink with Shakespeare during the plague.

And that set the tone for fascinating hour and a half…

Janet Baylis, head of drama at St Mary’s School in Johannesburg and co-director of the Festival of Excellence in Dramatic Arts, gave an impassioned talk about how young people are finding and expressing their creativity in these uncertain times.

“Even in times of trauma, while the world is imploding around us, young people are still inspired,” she said. “They are still writing. They are still looking for a platform where they can express how they feel.

“They are the future of theatre – they are the new playwrights, the new actors, the new creatives. We need to make damn sure we’re listening to them because they have a lot of really important things to say. And if you don’t listen, it’s at your own peril… because they will get really angry.”

Savannah Feeke-Fortuin gave some interesting perceptions into the culture of proximity.

“Cultural boundaries are collapsing rapidly thanks to the internet and technology. Influence can now come from anywhere or anything. We are the creators and the creatives. This forces those who used to own the mass culture, like celebrities, government and brands, to stop and take note.

“Now you can be a kid on the internet with your phone and you can influence millions of people.”

Ann Roberts, art world practitioner, academic and general manager of the Goodman Gallery, spoke on the topic “How structural racism has impacted the way people buy art and artists make art” – which was the topic of her Masters research.

“There is a substantial difference in the way that black and white people buy art, and what motivates them,” she said. “White buyers’ motivations are aligned directly with those from Europe, but black buyers in South Africa buy for different reasons.”

Ann says her research revealed a predominance of Western notions of what legitimate culture is and what valid contemporary art is – and some fascinating insights ensued.

Our final speaker for the day was Simon Walker, founder and CEO of Marquee TV, a performing arts streaming service that recently launched in South Africa. Simon spoke animatedly about the rise of on-demand video streaming over the past five years – and particularly in the past three months under Covid-19 conditions.

“Marquee TV… we just had to build it because it wasn’t there,” he said.  “If you love the ballet, you can find some on YouTube – but it tends to be the ripped performances; they tend to be pirated and they are never the full-length services.”

Streaming services, he said, also provide access to prime content for audiences who might not be able to afford to go and see a live show at, for example, the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“The cost of the whole experience means that theatre audiences tend to be mostly older and wealthier so, not through any deliberate fault, it tends to exclude younger, more diverse audiences.”

But it wasn’t just audience demand for performing arts content that inspired the launch of Marquee TV. Simon says the service aims to help its partner organisations as well.

“If you’re the Royal Shakespeare Company and you’re filming all of your content, suddenly you’re a production company. It’s not simply about putting art on stage and bums on seats anymore… and that was our opportunity to come in and work with them.”

The webinar showed just a snippet of the diversity that exists in the art world, a world we are very proud to be part of at CN&CO.

In case you missed it, you can watch the webinar on YouTube below. (Also watch the free screening of Scottish Ballet’s “Tremble” on Marquee TV, which was shown after Simon’s chat.)