Lecturer in Anthropology
Every crisis, an opportunity. Isn’t that what they tell us? And you don’t have to look too hard these days. While some of us – admittedly the most privileged – are in ‘lockdown’, our online world has been enriched with free opportunities. For learning. For entertainment. For ‘culture’. For exercise. For mental health. For religiosity. For social connectivity.
(Only for those who can afford the time, of course, and not all of us can. I had to wait a week to find a chance to write these lines, and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll finish them within the short window of my son’s naptime.)
But if all this content is ‘free’, who is producing it and why? At what cost? How do we thank and compensate them? Should we do some rounds of balcony/front-door applause for the anonymous musicians, writers, painters, animators, meme-creators, actors, directors, screen-writers – the list is endless – who are keeping us sane and entertained?
What has now been termed ‘The Great Lockdown’, is going to have unprecedented effects on the global economy, the IMF tells us. But not everyone will be affected equally, at least in the short term. I have spent the past 15 years doing research among Greek professional musicians, focusing on their strategies of economic survival and how divisions between work and play define their social lives and self-understanding. In those years, I interviewed and played music with them, during ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times. We saw the full clubs and peak record sales of the last years of ‘prosperity’ (2005-2009), and talked about the impact of recession and austerity since 2010. But, now they tell us, nothing will compare to what’s ahead of us.
Performing artists – as all precarious workers – will need support in the years to come, as we need theirs to get through every single day of this lockdown. This can only be achieved through Universal Basic Income (at least in the short term) and a radical redefinition of working and funding conditions for art and culture in the long term.
For a detailed review of these issues, and some proposals, see our co-written piece with Dr Ali FitzGibbon: http://qpol.qub.ac.uk/performing-artists-in-the-age-of-covid-19/