The impact of Covid-19 on Culture and the Creative Arts

Tea and Talk with the RSE
Tea and Talk with the RSE
The impact of Covid-19 on Culture and the Creative Arts

In the first episode of series two, Dame Seona Reid on the impact of Covid-19 on culture and the creative arts.

Dame Seona is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts from Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen in 1995, became an honorary professor of the University of Glasgow in 1999, received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University in 2001, received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Glasgow Caledonian University in 2005 and from the University of Strathclyde in 2009, all for services to the arts in Scotland.

Seona was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 New Year Honours and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours, both for services to the creative industries. Other awards include Institute of Directors, Scottish Public Sector Director of the Year 2013, People Make Glasgow Inspiring City Awards 2013 for Education, Arts and Business Leadership Award 2013 and Institute of Directors Chairman’s Award 2015.

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Episode transcript

Please note transcripts have been automatically generated so may feature mistakes.

[00:00:00] Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:00:00] This week, I’m speaking with Dame Seona Reid about the impact of COVID-19 on culture in the creative arts, former Director of the Glasgow School of Arts, Chair of The National Theatre of Scotland and a board member for a number of organisations, including the Tate. Who better to hear from on this important topic.

So we’re not in a coffee house, we’re both in our own homes, which explains the occasional dips in sound quality. But I’d encourage you to grab yourself a drink of something, sit back and listen to one of Scotland’s leading experts talk about things that matter. 

Culture in its many forms has been a lifeline for many during lockdown. And with these restricted times, keeping us – to use your words, “engaged, rooted, and sane” has COVID shone, a spotlight on the importance of the arts. 

Seona Reid: [00:00:43] Thank you, Rebekah. first of all, can I just do a wee health warning about this podcast? The cultural sector is amazingly diverse. It’s large, it’s diverse and it’s impossible really for any single person to represent it.

So, I’m going to [00:01:00] obviously use examples and be talking about the areas I know best. So apologies for that, if I miss areas that people who hold dear to themselves, but yes, without a doubt, I think COVID has, has shone a spotlight and I think it’s done it in, in three distinct ways. First of all, it’s made us realise those of us already engaged in the arts.

It’s made us realise just how dreadfully we miss them. So, I’ll give a personal example – after we could travel beyond the, the boundaries of our city and visit galleries again; my partner and I went over to the Queen’s gallery to see the Indian manuscripts and it was like, kind of water in a desert.

It was, it was absolutely fantastic. And I think, you know, not to have that has been difficult for me, but it must have been so much more difficult for people. For example, we’d been doing a dance class [00:02:00] or community drama project, who had to stop just at the point that they most needed that kind of activity in our lives.

So I think the lack of it has made us feel. Made us realise how important culture is to our lives. Those of us who engage with it. Secondly, I think the ingenuity of many creative organisations and finding new forms to make work online, which means that at least some people found solace in maintaining those sorts of relationships has been incredibly important.

So for example, the Scottish ballet have, for some years been doing dance classes for people living with dementia and with multiple sclerosis and with their carers. And they managed very quickly to take those, face-to-face classes, and put them online and theatres have managed to create new work in lockdown.

Which is reaching not only existing audiences, but we way beyond. And I use that example of national theatre of [00:03:00] Scotland, which did a fantastic series called Things for Survival, that had some 60 million views worldwide. now that was 55 pieces of eight to fifteen minute, theatre pieces commissioned from writers and performed by actors in their homes.

And we’d expected a sort of mass audience for, for example, the Janey Godley ‘Alone’ parts one and two, or for Alan Cumming or for Brian Cox. But actually we got those kinds of figures for works by far lesser known writers, and unknown actresses. One of which was, I think a wonderful piece called The Domestic, a young writer called Uma Nada-Rajah.

She herself was at that point working as a staff nurse, in hospital during the COVID crisis. Now, these, these works kind of, they were so relevant that they really touched people in terms of what they were saying. And the kind of responses that we got, not just the [00:04:00] sheer quantity of views, but the kind of responses that we got were, were incredibly moving.

And, they, I think were connecting to people who were suffering greatly from the narrowing of their lives. And in many cases, the awful isolation that COVID has dropped. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:04:17] So it seems to come back then to some of the things that you were sort of saying, your bit of caveats at the start about the breadth of culture.

Cause you’ve just, you’ve talked there, you know, about actually alongside, you know, people like you and me going to galleries, the other things like dance classes and other things that people do. So that’s an incredibly broad, description of culture, but also the way in which culture resonates with people in different aspects of their life.

I mean, do you feel that COVID has brought culture in its different forms to more people within Scotland and to a wider range of people?

Seona Reid: [00:04:53] I think, I think it’s definitely brought it to more people, through the online versions of it. [00:05:00] We just don’t know whether it’s a wider range of people to be quite honest, because we don’t have the stats or haven’t yet analysed the stats to demonstrate whether that’s true or not. But I think there are other ways in which, culturally there was a third way that I really wanted to talk about because I think we tend to think of cultural organisations as being organisations that simply provide culture.

And if they have a much wider role within many of their communities, and I take an example of an organisation called Whale in Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, they are a community arts organisation and, not only have they been continuing their online classes, but they’ve also been providing free meal services; they’ve been providing friendship calls. They’ve been acting very much as a kind of social community, for the people who have interacted with them as an arts agency. 

And I think that’s very important and that was true, for example, with Eden Court theatre, when lockdown for us happened, they [00:06:00] also provided that kind of service locally.

So sorry, go back to that question again. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:06:05] Well, just actually that your, I guess it was your first point, that culture isn’t a sort of this narrowly defined thing that is for the elites; that actually culture is for everyone. And it’s manifesting people’s lives in very different ways. So there might be the sort of more formal aspects of going to a gallery or going to a theatre, but there’s other forms of culture that maybe are more, more grounded if you want to put it in those ways.

And I think what you’re picking up there when you were talking about some of the, the national theatre of Scotland work that the types of cultures that resonate with what’s happening in our day-to-day lives. That makes something more day to day, perhaps more attractive than, than a name like Janey Godley or Alan Cummings.

So maybe reaching people who might have thought, well, culture, however it’s defined is, is not for me or going to the theatre is not for me. I can actually now do this in the comfort of my own home. 

Seona Reid: [00:06:59] Yes. [00:07:00] Well, I think that’s true. And I think the digital reach, if you like, has been incredibly important and certainly, you know, being able to, work with people like Janey Godley with Alan Cummings, with Brian Cox, and people who are very welcome known names and faces, has meant that we have, gone beyond if you like, what has been a traditional arts audience with work that has been very meaningful, to a lot of people and the continuation of practically all arts organisations. 

I think this is a… I think there is a sort of misconception that most arts organisations say they’re theatres; we’ll just put on plays. I don’t know any theatre that doesn’t also have some sort of community theatre presence that doesn’t actually reach into its community in some way. Now that’s not to say that all of us cannot do more, but I think the desire to be beyond the [00:08:00] walls, if you like, of a theatre is already there, it needs to be developed and I’m sure it will be developed.

And I think COVID and the experience of COVID will actually help it develop as long as the resources there and the support is there. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:08:13] So it sounds like what you’re saying is, is in a way COVID has been a continuation of a journey that has been happening – but for many years now – of culture reaching out more and you do talk powerfully about the ability of cultural activity to, to transform lives.

And we’ve seen that great strides have been made in recent years to reach out and engage a wider audience in different ways. And to, to use your phrase beyond walls. Do you think there’s a greater understanding of that a lot of cultural organisations are doing this, not as an add on, it’s absolutely mainstreamed into what they do?

Is there an understanding of, of what impact culture really does make and how it does transform lives?

Seona Reid: [00:08:53] I would love to say yes. I mean, interestingly, when I was preparing for our talk, I went back [00:09:00] to look at some of the research and one of the most powerful things I found was, the world health organisation in November of 2019, had done the biggest survey of all the research available on the rule of arts and health and well-being, they said they published it in November, 2019, and it’s just, indisputable, that the arts can affect the social determinants of health. They can support child development, they can encourage courage, health, promoting behaviours. They prevent ill health. They can enhance wellbeing.

They can help people experiencing. mental illness at all stages of the life. And they can help people experiencing end of life issues. So, and that’s the World Health Organisation, you know, you can’t dispute an organisation like that with the resource that is put in to doing this survey and review of evidence.

And then I think [00:10:00] closer to home. You know, the wonderful centre for population health in Glasgow, they did an evaluation of the work of Sistema that they wonderful music organisation, Sistema Scotland, that runs the Big Noise program. And four places now started in Stirling, now in Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Dundee, and in some of the poorest areas in those cities, and essentially that’s an organisation that works three musicians and through music, to teach kids from nursery upwards, to play an instrument and then to play in orchestras. So the kinds of learning that they get, listening, concentration, rhythm, teamwork, are the immediate things that these young people are learning. In that context, but actually the outcomes are absolutely amazing; increased confidence, development of academic and other skills, better discipline, [00:11:00] happiness, a sense of belonging, fulfilment.

And again, that’s evidence now. I don’t think you could really argue with that sort of body of national and international evidence. But, last as yet, we don’t see in Scotland, any coherent approach to the way in which culture is seen as being embedded and in other policy areas, and then the cultural strategy, the Scottish government cultural strategy did assert. That that is where it replaced culture. The cultural policy interacts with all areas of, of government endeavour. And, I think, you know, I’m hoping perhaps, the experience that we’ve had, this awful experience that we’ve had and is still having might shine a light on the role continued role that, culture has in people’s lives.

And it might persuade and put more pressure on the government to really realise that ambition because it needs to be realised. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:11:57] I mean, it, it strikes me that what [00:12:00] you’re saying there also resonates with some of the more recent debates about a well-being economy and actually defining an economy as more than just the economic returns, but actually understanding, well, there’s more than just increasing GDP.

It doesn’t mean that the economy is not important, but that broader understanding. So are you quite hopeful? That’s the sort of direction of travel with the cultural strategy that albeit it’s not happening yet, but that there is that broader understanding beginning to develop about where culture fits in into wider society and not just as a nice add on, but absolutely fundamental to the quality of life.

Seona Reid: [00:12:34] Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, if you read the cultural strategy without a doubt, that is its assertion. and that’s the place where it wishes culture to manifest itself and to play its role. I think we haven’t seen it yet. I’m hoping that Scottish government will redouble efforts, and will support the cultural sector [00:13:00] too.

Redouble its efforts to engage with other sectors. I think we’ll come to it later, but I think, you know, all cultural organisations and governments and local authorities are going to be really up against it financially. And we will all be looking at priorities. And I hope that the government will see culture as a priority.

I think it has, and we make them onto that. I think it has in terms of emergency funding. But I think, unless it continues to think of culture as being core in the future in terms of ongoing funding then any progress that we’ve made may stall and that worries me greatly. 

But could I just say there’s one other area where, I think the role of arts, the role of the cultural sector is absolutely key and it’s really kind of come to light recently with the black lives matter movement, and that’s around, helping to see all social [00:14:00] division. I don’t know if you saw it, but I, on Sunday night I watched the first of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films. it was called Mangrove and it was about the absolutely relentless police aggression towards a black community in London and 1970s. And after it, I read a really interesting article by women called Samantha Reynolds, a psychologist, which really struck home. And she knew what she was talking about was that the reasoning why discrimination happens is because of a lack of what she called, ethno-cultural empathy.

And that was our ability to hold in mind, not just an individual’s concerns or interests, but to hold in mind the context and circumstances of all groups of people, and that lack of empathy results in the kind of prejudice and negative stereotyping and discrimination actions that the film identify.

And she argued really forcibly and very eloquently that [00:15:00] the creators of films of art works of theatre and music can really promote that ethno-cultural empathy in a way that little else can, because it brings us these multisensory stories of journeys and histories, and it can also retell these stories in ways that humanised black people and that expand the narrative beyond sort of crass and damaging stereotype.

And, you know, if you watch Steve McQueen’s well, all his films, but Steve McQueen’s most recent film Mangrove, and that was exactly what it was doing. So I think the arts in that respect also have both, you know, enormous power and enormous responsibility. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:15:41] And, and that power of storytelling that, you know, cuts across a number of different forms and the empathy that then stems from that, by being able to almost, I guess, why I like reading, being able to transport yourself into another life or to another world and actually have your eyes open to what that light might feel and seem like. [00:16:00]

Seona Reid:[00:16:02] Absolutely and I can’t think of, well, I can’t think of any other things that do that to be quite honest. And when you’re in another world, you, you also, have to, in a way to be in that world, you have to embrace the context that you’re in, and I think there are very few other ways, I suppose, and just the RSE would be very sympathetic to this, I suppose really reasoned debate.

Reasoned debate that’s based on listening and, responsible reaction and so on and so on and so on. I think that can do it as well, but it’s in the here and now debate, whereas, the kind of containment and, framework and. Sort of safe structures. If you like that, often culture can provide, they’re not [00:17:00] necessarily comfortable structures, but they’re kind of safe and known structures.

They really allow you, I think, to feel things that in other circumstances are quite difficult to feel, and. Particularly to feel things, but to think things that are perhaps quite difficult to think. So I think they are, they are, the method beyond all methods for giving people insights and, getting them to think differently about things you might have thought the same about it for a very long time.

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:17:29] Am I going to think I’m, it’s, it’s almost, I think it’s like irony of COVID and you know, it sort of narrowed our physical boundaries, but know, in many instances that has maybe sort of broadened our horizons in an enabling us to act. Some things we might not be able to access previously physically because they’re further away.

I mean, you’ve taught that, you know, given them quite a few examples of the huge benefits of culture to health and wellbeing and that’s your, all the underpinning evidence that supports that now makes that [00:18:00] case at the same time, we do also realise and appreciate that culture is a huge financial contribution to the economy. I think you’ve talked about five and a half billion pounds a year. So this is not an insignificant, economic sector either. And you’re just beginning to talk about actually how that sector has been supported by the state over COVID. 

And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about your sort of feelings about that, about the nature of the support, the timing of the sport, and what might need to happen next.

Seona Reid: [00:18:28] Yeah, well, you know, it’s been, it’s been the important rule of many representative cultural networks to make the case, since the beginning of the pandemic. And I think they’ve made it really powerfully. And I think actually that the UK and Scottish governments have recognised the importance of the cultural sector in the emergency funding that they’ve made available. 

So arguably, it came too late and it’s certainly arguably it might not last as long. I think we’re [00:19:00] all seeing aspects of the cultural sector being probably the last to come back, because of the nature of the congregation. People and spaces. so I think, you know, arguably it could have been sooner and it should be longer, but nonetheless, I think the furlough scheme, the self-employment scheme and the, the 1.75 or 5-7 billion rescue package that the UK government gave.

And then. the Scottish government gave 97 million from that plus the money they put in to be distributed by a range of partners within Scotland. I think they have tried very hard to reach, the main, artistic cultural organisations and freelancers and youth arts. I think they’ve tried their best to reach as far as they could.

There are people who have fallen through the net there, particularly for example, early career freelancers, who haven’t got their three years of tax to show. And [00:20:00] there are also people, many people working in the cultural sector who, earned very little from their cultural activities, but then enhance their income through, for example, another job.

And if that other job has PAYE involved, of course, then that also undermined some of their access to government funding. There’s also a concern that some of the charitable funding, which has been available, hitherto, is also being pushed towards, if you like, the social and welfare side, and away from the cultural side.

But I think in a way I think the worry lies less now. There are worries now, but I think it lies less now than in the future. And I think the future potentially could be quite grim. You know, it’s a well-known fact that already the level of state funding for the cultural sector in the [00:21:00] UK and Scotland is substantially lower than in some other European nations. And it’s also true that that many arts organisations have been entrepreneurial, in trying to enhance their income through retail, through commercial contracts, through generating ticket income, sponsorship, et cetera, et cetera. And all of those sources, even if the government funding or the creative Scotland funding or that the state funding remains as it is.

And I think that’s. Dubious at the moment. even, so I think that those, those sources of income will be, will struggle to be, maintained. and you know, the, the requirement, for example, for all arts venues or performance venues to distance will all arts venues to distance, will mean the incomes will be much, much lower.

than they have been hitherto. and this will have a huge impact on the, on the [00:22:00] work that can be produced. And also the staff can, that can be retained, which is that Tate reopened its galleries in August, along with the other nationals in London and another parts of England. And, the budgeting was estimated on, 30%.

income from ticket sales, but now the, the impact of that, was pretty fundamental because 30% in terms of. footfall, meant that retail, catering, events, all the things that generate income, which represents some 50, 60% of, of, of Tates income, because their government funding is actually quite low, meant that they were just unsustainable.

So there were some, some very highly high-profile redundancies that had to be put in place for, Tate enterprises. the areas of, of, of enterprise retail and catering. and I think that’s obviously that’s a big national institution, but I think we’ll [00:23:00] see that, happening in smaller organisations who have found ways to generate income, to, to feed and support their ambitions.

when those, if those, are at risk, then. Program will diminish. And I think there will be redundancies I fear. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:23:20] And I guess in that context where state funding is limited and under pressures from lots of, lots of demands on state funding, where some of those traditional sources or more recent sources of income are being sort of withdrawn.

I guess there’s an, a question about what responsibility we have as, as individuals in supporting the sector. I was just booking some tickets to theatre online the other day, and it was. Quite interesting. They had a sort of standard price and then they had a price which enabled you to subsidise, either somebody who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre or seats that were going to have to be empty because of, because of COVID.

And then we were seeing some, you know, I think some really good initiatives, I guess, a bit more bottom up. And the [00:24:00] one that’s, you know, I’m pretty excited about the moment is, which is, you know, enabling the support of independent. Booksellers. And so I guess it’s, how can we as individuals and communities, how can we best support a flourishing cultural sector?

Seona Reid: [00:24:15] I think the only, the only way we can do this is by going back to it. of course we can, we can, we can, for those that could afford it, can support it by donations and by gifting and, and by, by doing such things. but I think in the. And the final analysis it has to be us returning. To cultural events, to, to festivals, to theatres, to whatever, and bringing our, our money, our income and our support in that way.

I can’t really see any other ways, that we as individuals can couldn’t do anything, but I think there are other ways that, There are other ways that in the, in certainly the short and medium term things [00:25:00] can be done. and, I think you and I talked about this group that had been set up two years ago called the cultural cities inquiry that reconvened for a couple of meetings to look at the impact of.

COVID on towns and cities. they came up with, a number of really interesting suggestions as to how towns and cities, could try and bring people back to culture and bring culture back to people, faster, than simply waiting for everything to, to, to calm down. And, and some of the suggestions were that they, you know, you could have a.

And equivalent of the eat out to help out scheme, that could apply to tickets for cultural organisations and that that would incentivise people to, to, to, to come back. they were talking about. some sort of business incentive scheme that can businesses who are dependent on footfall in city centers could [00:26:00] contribute to cultural organisations, and invest in them so that the cultural organisations could be an attraction to people coming back into city and on town centers.

they suggested a small grant scheme that could repurpose spaces. That would be spaces, by arts organisations to make people feel safer to come back to them. but also new spaces and open spaces. I mean, one of the things, one of the changes that I think has happened and, and. Probably will sustain for the, certainly for the short to medium term, is that people feel more secure outside.

and, so the possibility of transferring, work that has been traditionally indoors, not just on to digital. But outdoors, is something that I think a number of arts organisations are, are already beginning to, to, to think about. And so the idea of repurposing spaces, outdoor spaces that would allow, cultural events and [00:27:00] performances take place, outside seems also to be a really important way of doing.

And of course, one of the impacts on, on, Town center as in city centers, as we’re already sadly seeing is that retail is going, and you have empty retail spaces. Now we could animate those retail spaces. meanwhile spaces, meanwhile uses, But there needs to be a resource. There needs to be a relaxation business rates, all of those kinds of things in order to make that happen.

So I think there are ways that, that, we, as well as if you like direct funding, there are ways that we can encourage, ask people, to go, to go back to cultural organisations and to help them sustain themselves in the future. 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:27:42] What you seem to be talking about a lot about, there is lots of new ideas and different ways of doing things.

And I mean, without, in any way, wishing to downplay the challenges and impacts of COVID. What we have also seen though, is there’s an immense creativity and inventiveness that’s being stimulated. As people have responded to [00:28:00] needing to do things in different ways or in different places and spaces. I mean the recent news about the vaccine or vaccines, you know, just at least holder a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

But I wonder what you think the future looks like. I mean, will there be a reversion to business as usual, or has a model of how arts and cultures is created and delivered as that changed for good. Do you think? 

Seona Reid: [00:28:23] I think it probably has, I think, right. I think there are two answers to this. I didn’t think first of all was there’s something, There’s something about wanting to return to what was, because it makes us feel that the past, the period that we’re living through, is a kind of aberration.

And that actually the period that existed before was where we really ought to be. And I think, just talking about like live events, people are desperate, desperate to get back to creating and enjoying life performance. and I think without that, there is, there is an [00:29:00] absolutely niche human need for that kind of shared visceral personal connection that live performance, and face-to-face gatherings can, can, can bring.

And so I think there’s no question that, they will come back and, we will all applaud and cheer when they, when they do. but I think, there is, there is an issue about whether, nothing changes or whether. Things do change and, they change, because of the experience of the last nine months.

and I think, partly there’ll be changed because people have seen the benefits of what’s happened over the last nine months. in terms of the innovative approaches some have, have, I’ve managed to put in place and partly they’ll change because they have to change. So for example, I think that, the idea that that hundreds of thousands of people are going international, tourists are [00:30:00] going to return anytime soon to, to Scotland’s major cities, is probably not going to happen.

It may happen in the longer term, but in the, in the, in the short to medium term, I think that’s going to be a real issue. So. For example, and this is for Fergus and his colleagues and people at the Fring of the Book Festival to, to determine. But I think festivals will have to reconfigure themselves. I think they will have to festivals like the Edinburgh festival will have to rethink itself about what it’s, what it’s going to do and how it’s going to do it and who is going to do it four.

and I I’m, I’m absolutely sure that they, that, that they will, I think, more generally, for example, if you look at much performing arts, classical music and and theatre in the main, they do tend to perform towards an older audience. And I think an older audience may be less secure about coming back.

And so the main [00:31:00] need to be, An issue of pivoting work, that live work towards, the younger audience, I think, as I said before, I think we’ll also see a big move to performances outside. And, and that’s partly because of the insecurity of being inside, but it’s all also partly because of our experience of the last few months, particularly in the summer, not so much now, where those of us lucky to be near or able to access green space have kind of re-engaged with, with nature and the landscape.

and I noticed just on Facebook, The national trust of just advertise for a creative producer for a creative project, around illicit whiskey in Scotland, which is going to be a, a kind of open air, extravaganza from what I read of it. and also, Fèis Rois, which is the Gaelic arts organisation has just launched a competition for young.

Gaelic composers and songwriters, to write music that is [00:32:00] there to celebrate the landscape. but even in cities, you know, I think the outdoors has been and will be a major. a major venue for performance. So we’ve already seen opera in a car park. and I, I know, I can’t say anything more about it just now, but I know that there are, certainly a couple of initiatives that are looking at sort of major events in urban spaces within cities.

So, I think that’ll change. I think, most organisations I’ve talked to are talking about retaining elements of the digital, even if they moved back to the. To the, to the live, because of its reach, because, because at its best, it’s kind of created interesting new forms. And again, I can only really speak about, about the organisations I’m involved in, but, when Edinburgh festival went online, for the in August, it commisioned, The Scottish national performing arts companies too, to make work for online presentation and [00:33:00] national theatre, Scotland, commissioned a young film director called, Hope Dickson Leach to film a kind of excerpts, from, the Canon that national theatre in Scotland had, had created over over the years.

And she produced a work called Ghostlight. That really was. A new form. It wasn’t filmed theatre, it wasn’t theatre, it wasn’t film. It was somehow an amalgam and an integration of the two things. Now that was really exciting. and there may well be other ways in which, we can see an integration of, of, of new forms that, that mix performance, music and digital.

But I also think that just in terms of the program that, You know, companies will want to be pushing out digital work and will want to be, be, pushing out a live performance. So I don’t think that’ll, that’ll change at all. think international touring will probably go, not go. [00:34:00] I, I think, Well, maybe I’ll come back to that later.

International touring if we could, because I think it’s 

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:34:04] I was just going to come up to that actually. Cause you’ve talked, you’ve talked about international festivals and you know, an expectation that certainly in the short-term we won’t be seeing the hundreds of thousands coming into Scotland, but what about, I mean, international tours are being.

I guess it’s such a lifeblood almost of, of, of various performing arts companies and, and also a great way of promoting Scotland on, on an international stage. So do you think that will cease entirely or, or will it be done in different ways? I mean, obviously there’s not just the COVID element there as well.

There’s actually, I think a greater. Attentiveness to climate change and, and other sort of more longer term emergencies and crises and like put it in that sense. 

Seona Reid: [00:34:41] Yeah. totally, absolutely. Totally agree. So that’s what I was going to go to say. I think it’s an area of huge uncertainty and, I came across a word the other day, which is anthropos.

I’d never heard it before. but it refers to a global reduction in modern human activity, [00:35:00] especially travel, and it was coined by a team of researchers just back in June about the impact of COVID on wildlife. now I really don’t think that arts organisations are going to revert back to the kinds of international touring or the movement of blockbuster exhibitions that, that we would.

We were doing across the world. And it’s not to say that that the arts has gotten won’t have a place on the global stage. but I think it will be different. so I’ve spoken to a couple of people about this and the ones that I’ve spoken to have said that they consider it ethically questionable, to even consider sending a theatre company or an orchestra across Europe to North America or to, to Southeast Asia for a few performances.

one model, suggested by somebody was that you would have, orkestralr esidences, where there would be a minimum stay and an orchestra would travel once to a place, stay there for an expense, extend expended expanded period of time and do social engagement, work [00:36:00] performances, et cetera, et cetera.

So it would just be a different kind of model. And one director of the national gallery was talking about resetting the gallery mission, doing fewer blockbuster exhibitions. doing those that can really be influential high quality and influential in terms of global thinking on for longer. but continuing a program which blends digital, and, face-to-face offering, This was a national gallery with a collection.

So talking about using the collection much, much more, in terms of interpretation, but in terms of presentation, and looking at significant reductions in carbon emissions. So I think the thinking is, is, is absolutely, there about international touring and in terms of, so I think. That’s what I was saying that the Edinburgh festivals or Celtic connections, or some of the major for the, the up and up from the isle of Lewis, the music festivals up there.

I [00:37:00] think the, the pattern of touring, which was, you know, individuals, groups traveling usually by plane. for two or three performances and then traveling back or traveling or doing whatever. I, I, I just think that becomes a really questionable, ethically questionable way of operating. And I think a lot of people are beginning to think that way.

So those who depended on it, and those who depended on receiving it. I think we’ll have to look at different different models. I don’t know what the models are. as I leave it up to those who are far better able than, than, than I am to, to identify and shape them. But I think that there will need to be different models.

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:37:45] Well, I mean, what I’ve taken from this conversation shared, which I think has been absolutely fascinating is, you know, there are definitely also real challenges for the cultural sector broadly defined at the moment in terms of income, in terms of knock-on impacts on unemployment, there is a need for support, [00:38:00] but I think what you’ve also given me is actually a great sense of optimism that about the imaginative work that’s.

Going on about the different ways of doing things about the new forms of, of collaboration, which I think sort of suggests a brighter future as well. So, I’m going to be kind and end on it on the positive page and say, you know, we are, we are approaching, approaching Christmas, not too far away. So, maybe as a final question, I could ask you, what’s your Christmas wish for the, for the cultural sector in 2021?

Seona Reid: [00:38:26] some, some great pantos, no, actually  some great pantoss, but also, I mean, its got to be a vaccine, hasn’t it? I mean, its got to be a vaccine which allows us to slowly return to the things that we, we love. To do, with other people. So, yeah, a vaccine and, and returning to working with artists to inspire and energise and transform lives.

Rebekah Widdowfield: [00:38:55] Well, I suspect a vaccine will be on many of our Christmas lists to send to this year, [00:39:00] but they’ve been shown to be thank you so much for spending the time today to talk to us about the impact of COVID on, on culture and the arts. and we look forward to talking more in the future. Thank you. 

Seona Reid: [00:39:10] Pleasure. Thank you.

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