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Art and Music in Times of Lockdown

How Artists Around the World Use Social Media to Keep Audiences Entertained During the Ongoing Coronavirus Crisis

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Close-up of a person playing the violin on a balcony. The trees in the background are blurred.

As, country by country, the world goes on lockdown, many industries are directly affected. Among them, those that are more or less built on the principle of people congregating in one place. But the developments of the past few days and weeks have shown that art is not fated to disappear in the light of social distancing.

Creatives around the world are using social media and streaming to keep making their art and music available to as many people as possible. Their tools: Facebook Live, Instagram Live, TwitterPeriscope, Twitch, YouTube, Patreon, etc. Live streaming is the new going out!

It’s a great way to keep people entertained and stave off cabin fever but, hopefully, it will also provide a way for artists — a precarious occupation in the best of times — to make a bit of money and not lose their livelihoods.

So let’s have a look at what people are doing around the world, whether it’s monetised or not. 

Virtual dance parties on Instagram

Mark Kanemura, a professional dancer and former contestant on So You Think You Can Dance is hosting live dance parties on Instagram. 

People tune in, dance along, and then post their own videos. It’s absolutely delightful.

It’s well-known that dance helps people cope with stressful situations and brings joy, so join Mark’s daily 10-minute dance parties, which are streamed on his Instagram account. Just keep an eye on his Instagram for dance party announcements.

Tony Award-winning actor (and star of the Netflix show “The Politician”) Ben Platt also hosted a dance party with two of his Broadway colleagues.

Classical music live streams

Opera houses and concert halls around the world were quick to close to keep people safe and have started offering live streams of previously recorded works — for free.

When Europe went on lockdown, the Vienna State Opera fairly quickly opened up its archive of past performances. Each day, it offers a different opera or ballet performance from the archives.

Similarly, the Met Opera is offering nightly live streams of previous performances. Demand has been high, and the website seems to be operating at near-capacity. So if you have difficulties getting to the live stream, you can use the Met Opera on Demand apps on Apple, Amazon, Roku and Samsung Smart TV devices.

The Berlin Philharmonic has also opened its Digital Concert Hall for free. “The Philharmonie is closed – so we will come to you!” says the Philharmonic’s announcement.

Live concerts

The list here is pretty much never-ending, which is fantastic news for music fans. Possibly, we can assume that Chris Martin and Coldplay kicked the whole thing off by doing an Instagram concert on March 16. And many many musicians have followed since.

To name just a few:

The Indigo Girls, who are releasing a new album in May and have been ramping up to go on tour, cancelled all live performances and instead held a Facebook Live concert on March 19. The concert is treated like any other concert in the lineup, which is a nice way to show that they have no issue adjusting to the new normal.

Screenshot of the Indigo Girls website that shows cancellations for upcoming shows, as well as an announcement for the Facebook Live concert.

The Dropkick Murphys, who have been performing their Boston St Patrick’s Day concert uninterruptedly for 24 years, switched to a live stream concert this year. The two-hour show is now available on YouTube.

John Legend live-streamed a concert from his home and made it interactive, to boot. His wife Chrissy Teigen even gave her followers the opportunity to vote for what outfit she’d wear for the stream. Fans loved the one-hour show, which involved Chrissy Teigen sitting on the piano wrapped in a bath towel.

Frank Turner and Jess Guise held a live concert on Facebook while also fundraising for their own “touring family”, which is a good way to mitigate the hit for artists and crew. At the moment of this blog post being written, the campaign has raised more than £40k.

Dan Mangan and his band simply decided to play a show in an empty concert hall, since they had already set up the stage when their last concert got cancelled. They recorded the “empty show” with proper audio and camera setup and everything, and put it on YouTube.

Many DJs, including Diplo, have started doing regular virtual sets. Meanwhile, TECH IT DEEP is even holding a “lockdown mixtape challenge” promising to promote the winning submission.

Overall, NPR has a great list for live virtual concerts (including all types of music) that is constantly being updated.

Furthermore, many individuals, amateurs, YouTubers, etc. are putting up songs on YouTube using the hashtag #quarantunes

Interactive events

Arne Nerjordet and Carlos Zachrison, a Scandinavian designer and textile artist duo, have been quarantined in Norway, so they started a Daily Quarantine Knitting Podcast and knitalong.

Canadian band Arkells are holding daily Instagram Live music classes teaching people how to play their songs:

Choir! Choir! Choir!, a weekly drop-in singing event that started in Toronto, organised the Choir!ntine: EPIC Social Distan-Sing-Along!, which involved people singing along at home, recording it and sending it in. Choir! Choir! Choir! have plans to repeat the event as well as making their usual events virtual.

Wendy Macnaughton, the illustrator behind Samin Nosrats popular cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat is offering drawing classes for kids on Instagram.

Or you could do LUNCH DOODLES with Mo Willems! Mo Willems is an illustrator and the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence. The episodes are posted on YouTube as well as the Kennedy Center website and are an exploration in storytelling and drawing, suited for adults and kids. Doodles can also be shared on social media using #MoLunchDoodles.

Virtual festivals and event calendars

A few virtual festivals have sprung up already, although many of them are currently still in the planning phase.

The Creative Distance Festival is one of them. It’s based on the pay as much as you think it’s worth principle, and proceeds are funnelled back to the contributing artists.

Meanwhile, the Social Distancing Festival serves as an aggregator for live digital performances, and Stay At Home Fest offers a calendar for virtual events. 

Art and museums

Many museums are giving people a good virtual look at their art these days, whether it’s in dedicated virtual tours or through in-depth posts on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

Swipe left to discover something new at MoMA → Two views of the Moon, painted decades and worlds apart. #VincentvanGogh heralded modern painting’s new embrace of mood, expression, symbol, and sentiment with #TheStarryNight. Inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, #StarryNight is both an exercise in observation and a clear departure from it. In thick, sweeping brushstrokes, a flamelike cypress unites the churning sky and the quiet village below. The village was partly invented, and the church spire evokes #VanGogh's native land, the Netherlands. Experience his masterpiece in Gallery 501: 19th-Century Innovators. #TarsiladoAmaral first showed "A Lua (The Moon)" in Paris, soon after she painted it in 1928. With works like this, the Brazilian artist debuted a new style distinct from anything on the Parisian scene: sensuous, highly stylized landscapes and depictions of daily life rendered in a rich palette of saturated color. In this fantastical scene, a lone cactus in the foreground begins to take on the characteristics of a human figure. The wavy curves of a rippling stream, a quarter moon, and an undulating horizon resonate, infusing Amaral’s world with dreamlike qualities. See "The Moon" in Gallery 514: Paris 1920s. #MoMACollection #newMoMA — [Left to right: Vincent van Gogh. "The Starry Night" (detail). Saint Rémy, June 1889. Oil on canvas. 29 x 36 1/4" (73.7 x 92.1 cm); Tarsila do Amaral. "The Moon." 1928. Oil on canvas. 43 5/16 × 43 5/16" (110 × 110 cm)]

A post shared by MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (@themuseumofmodernart) on

Many museums make use of the Google Arts and Culture app to provide virtual tours and online exhibits. Among them are Le Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence, Italy), the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, 

Now is your chance to virtually visit the Louvre in Paris one day and the National Women’s History Museum in Virginia, USA, the next.

Meanwhile, the hashtag #MuseumFromHome is bringing interesting museum content to Twitter, and #MuseumMomentOfZen is bringing calming art from museums around the world.

The Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria has started doing insightful daily tours through the museum that are broadcast live at 3 pm CET and collected on a social media wall. Unfortunately, at this point, the tours are in German only. However, many collections can be viewed digitally, as well.

A screenshot of the Belvedere's digital landing page, offering digital tour videos and an embed of the social wall.
Screenshot of the Belvedere Wien digital hub with the social wall embedded

Comedy and theatre

Comedian Lane More, who happens to be the author of a book called How To Be Alone has started broadcasting a comedy show of the same name on Twitch.

The Caveat comedy club in NYC is offering live streams with a changing lineup of hosts.

The BBC has announced a “virtual art festival” called Culture in Quarantine that will include recorded performances as well as new plays written especially for broadcast.

Small happy things

The entertainment options we have introduced here are only a fraction of everything on offer out there right now. These events are probably just the beginning of it. People are already organising events for the future, like this virtual kid lit festival in May.

And that’s not even counting all those things that are happening on a much smaller scale on social media, like Lizzo’s meditation prompts or cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s #SongsOfComfort.

All those bits and pieces, no matter how small they are, will make someone happy and make isolation and anxiety in these scary times just a tiny bit more bearable. Because that’s what art does. 

More access is fairer access

A wonderful side effect of all this is that now more people can enjoy these performances or pieces of art. Physical access is no longer a requirement, which creates the accessibility that these kinds of events have often lacked.

Big concerts aren’t always particularly accessible for disabled folks. Some bands tend to only play in the US. Not everyone can afford entry to a museum or travel to Paris to see the Louvre. But in all this terrible chaos, we are seeing art and music become more egalitarian and inclusive, and that’s a wonderful thing.