Post Pandemic: Caution
The two pandemic ridden years were a roller-coaster for everyone. Within the arts world, one went from shock to despair to hope to new normals. With the world opening up in recent months and hopefully having put the worst of the pandemic behind us, let us take a moment to stand aside and take a good look at our New Normal. It is time to ask some important questions.
When the pandemic hit us in 2020, and the digital platforms took over our world, many were shouting caution so that the online world did not take on the evils of what existed in our offline world. To not let organisers take advantage of opportunity seeking artistes, to find ways of making performance financially viable for dancers, to establish democratic processes that would safeguard the artiste …were some of the bullets in a list that was long.
What has transpired over the past 2 years? Several performers took to performing from living rooms -either to entertain the world that was locked in or to use the time to gain some visibility on digital platforms. In equal measure we saw empathy and snootiness becoming apparent. For all the people who embraced the grit and expressed solidarity with those trying hard to bide by difficult times, there were those abusing their privilege and using their power to demean people and their homes. Power dynamics could not have been more apparent and on public display as during the times of the pandemic. Did these power structures change or did we turn a blind eye? For some, the time away from performance allowed for understanding and acknowledging how these power structures functioned – where it originated, how it evolved and why we find ourselves in lopsided power structures. The seeds were sown. Change is imminent. What we do require now is for more artistes to engage in these conversations about power in objective environments. Empowerment in its truest sense will come from every individual grasping the power that they have been made to believe wasn’t theirs. There are people in power who understand their responsibility and work to extend their power to those who may not have it. The need now is to enable a multiplication of the work that they do so more artistes can be uplifted. That kindergarten story of the birds caught in the hunter’s net holds true always. Together, we can disrupt to empower ourselves. The fact that the word ‘disrupt’ has gained fame in other arenas to establish a positive connotation must ring within the arts too.
When artistes lost lives, the immediate need was to find ways to provide for their families, and rightly so, a number of individuals and organisations helped route aid to those who needed it. But it is time now to look at why such desperate situations were created. The per capita income of artistes has not changed much. Many are still working hard to recover from the financial strain of the past 2 years. Where do artistes stand- as ‘non-essential’ workers of society? Performing and accompanying artistes who were initially wary of exploring other avenues apart from teaching and performing have found that it helps to acquire additional skills that may bring in additional income. Where do we then stand with respect to performance as a viable financial arena? Has the New Normal yielded any new possibilities for the performer to sustain? Ticketed shows and added digital broadcast may provide one answer. But there is a need to have a louder voice when it comes to establishing art as an integral part of society’s well-being. Billionaires who can reach space and those who commend them must think and act – the arts and the economics we amount to continues to be pitiable. How can we influence corporations and Governments to provide for the arts? Artistes who find themselves higher up in the ladder of power, petitions from individuals and communities of artistes, and most importantly artistes not undervaluing the art they create – will all need to come together for the New Normal to be better than our old.
Will the pandemic years only prove to be a pause with a return to status quo? We sure hope not. Will the squabble for prime slots at ‘prestigious’ sabhas return to haunt the performer? Visibility is key for a performer, but could the pandemic years have taught the performer that a slowing down of pursuit of performance can be the key to a more fulfilling journey? Perhaps, but performers in real life will now compete with the precedent that the reel world has set. Eyeball grabbing antics on 60 second reels and online popularity are now translating into real life popularity too. Will we tire of this or will this become the new norm? Without labelling or pitting one kind of art versus the other, is it possible for all forms of art to find live audiences in a world that is becoming lazy to step out of homes and away from screens?
The New Normal brings up questions of Caution. We must tread carefully, think deeply and act deliberately.