Will the coronavirus change creative industries forever?

I’m not going to go on about how scary and weird things are at the moment, the news is doing that enough for us. What I wanted to talk about was how this has affected the art scene, how it has affected Cotton On MCR and how the art world is reacting to all these changes.

Cotton On MCR is mainly an online business, so yes we should be able to carry on as normal right – wrong! As you may know our Art All-Dayer event had to be postponed, this was a real shame and a bit of a downer. As well as that, we are now unable to write any more reviews as the galleries across the city are all closed. We also can’t do our weekly meet up with the team, so I am back to working by myself at home again. We were also going to start running workshops and explore that side of the business, but that has come to a halt – unless we do online ones maybe? I’ll come back to that later.

We have seen a humongous shift in how people are working and how they are interacting with each other. There’s been some really encouraging and positive movements happening online, and one that has really stood out and gone viral, is the Artist Support Pledge. Artist Matthew Burrows came up with the idea which is simple – share your art online that is for sale, max price £200. Once you make enough sales and you reach £1000, you then spend £200 on another artist’s work. This movement has swept across the Instagram art scene with the hashtag #artistsupportpledge reaching over 5000+ at the time of this article going live.

We spoke to Matthew, who is represented by Vigo Gallery London and is a mentor for ABC Projects Atelier, about why he thinks people have really grasped this concept:

‘The breakdown of our normal structures of security left an opening and vacuum. You can choose to let fear fill that space or do something that generates opportunity and unity. In the last few days I’ve had thousands of messages of thanks, from people who lost incomes and a sense of purpose. This has given them a window into a global culture of hope and an immediate economy.’

So many amazing artists out there are taking part in this pledge, including some of our Manchester based ones, including Sam Own Hull, Jason Simpson, Linda Hemmersbach and Jen Orpin to name a few. We spoke to Jen (who on publishing this article has since reached the £1000 target) to see what their thoughts were on this campaign.

Jen says; ‘We’re in such uncertain times; galleries with shows that were scheduled have had to cancel. This is understandable but so disappointing. It’s often hard enough getting exposure as it is. It’s the not knowing what will still be going ahead or not, uncertainty is so un-stabling.’

When asked about why she joined the Artist Support Pledge on Instagram, Jen said; ‘ I thought what a brilliant idea, I have small pieces and often sell my back catalogue at reduced prices anyway. With this, if I reach the goal I get to buy a piece of art, which I’m very excited about and I’m really keen to support my fellow artists too.’

We also spoke to Keith Ashcroft, who is another Manchester artist taking part in the pledge. It was one of his piece that sold to Jen Orpin after she reached £1000. He says ‘I believe initiatives like the Artist Support Pledge should be encouraged. They play an important role in the art machine, and in many ways they allow us to bypass the more unsavoury aspects of the art world under the mutually agreed banner of a pledge. It’s a demonstration of artists coming together at various stages of their career to support and take part in something they believe in. I, for one, would certainly be interested in continuing to support and take part in this initiative. It’s a culture that already exists on some level between artists and collectors alike – often selling, swapping and exchanging work is a based on trust, honesty and generosity.’

There’s tons going on online now, with people setting up online forums and group sessions for feedback and loads of live streams of workshops too. This is great, a great way to keep you engaged and creative whilst staying at home. But I ask you, are you taking part in these online group sessions? I believe most of them are free which is great, but on the flip side, all those artists that ran workshops that were priced, they use that money as income, so what do they do now?

Also, we are being inundated with posts and programs and tips on staying creative and productive. Perhaps it is becoming too much, and making people feel bad for wanting to just chill with a brew and watch films. One photographer/director named Aleksandra Kingo recently added a story on her Instagram which said, ‘Looking through my feed I am feeling this huge pressure to ‘make the most’ of quarantine. To be as productive as I can and remain this awesome positive artist. To everyone feeling the same: it’s okay not be your best and most creative. It’s okay to feel down when self isolating and it’s okay not to take part in every creative challenge that pops up.’

What do we think the next thing is going to be? The government have talked about us being in quarantine for up to 6 months or more. Are the galleries going to stay closed for all that time? No new exhibitions, or events? Or will they all be virtual ones that you watch via your laptop? Do I need to start thinking of ways to host the Art All-Dayer online? There must be a way we can run an art fair, come exhibition, come art workshops online right? Is technology going to keep up with all these new things we need to do online to keep small businesses like this going?

So, is coronavirus going to change the creative industry forever? I’m guessing so, yeah. I think artists creativity will struggle somewhat, if we can’t travel, if we can’t even go outside, if all our inspiration has to come from inside our house and what we see online, then surely that is going to drive some artists stir crazy! Yet, I think in these initial stages it may do some artists good. People really seem to be embracing this online shift, and with people being forced to stay in, it may lead to more purchases of artwork and art supplies as people start taking up more hobbies perhaps.

For galleries, I have no idea. They are going to need to to start creating virtual gallery tours and quickly! It’s so annoying as we’ve talked loads about adding more video content to Cotton On MCR, which would have really helped in this situation!

For us here at Cotton On MCR, I have no idea how it is going to affect us. I need to start learning new ways to get Manchester’s art scene promoted to you guys, new ways to interact with exhibitions and online events. Any suggestions? They are more than welcome!

Literally no one really knows what is going to happen from now on, we are in a whole new situation that we couldn’t have even possibly imagined! Just make sure you all stay safe, follow the rules, and keep chatting with people so you don’t become a recluse!

Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Read Jen Orpin’s Manc of the Month article.

Read ‘Coronavirus – what should you do as an artist‘ by Escape Art.

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