Spark

How artists are turning to the internet in creative ways amid COVID-19 isolation

Artists and cultural institutions have been upended by the isolation measures of COVID-19, but they are also using their creative juices to find novel ways to make and show their work in a digital space — from online concerts to collaborative virtual museums. 

‘A lot of artists are actually producing really fantastic new work,' says OCAD University president

The Isolation Museum is a virtual gallery asking contributors to document their self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. From left to right: The Menagerie by Maddie, Family Set of Masks by Michele, and Citizen Barbie’s Instagram by CJ. (isolationmuseum.com)
Listen to the full episode53:51

Artists and cultural institutions have been upended by the isolation measures of COVID-19, but they are also using their creative juices to find novel ways to make and show their work in a digital space.

From online concerts to collaborative virtual museums, artists are using technology and social media to connect with audiences stuck at home during the pandemic — and are even finding ways to get paid for it. 

"I've been so impressed by how nimble artists are and the kind of outpouring of creativity on the part of artists across every discipline to move to virtual platforms," said Sara Diamond, president of the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto.

Diamond said museums and performance artists share a challenge of "liveness," with audiences wanting direct interaction with their work.

"If you're a museum … your fiscal health is in part based on bringing audience members to your door," she told Spark.

Sara Diamond is president of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University in Toronto. (OCAD University)

Besides losing revenues during COVID-19, artists have had to find ways to maintain their practice, which is easier for some than others, Diamond added.

"For dancers, there's huge challenges around the discipline, their training — for theater artists as well. And visual artists are highly collaborative," she said.

"It's that removal of the face-to-face and the physical interaction which is the kind of grand challenge."

Rising to the occasion 

But Diamond contends that artists and cultural institutions have really risen to the challenges of quarantine.

"People are using essentially video conferencing technologies to have simultaneous life experiences that people can witness and interact with and even improvise," she said.

Performance artists have been setting up ways to have patrons pay for online concerts, and studio artists are taking this opportunity while shut in their studios to really crunch down.

"People are creating these schedules for themselves and lots of self-reflection," Diamond said. "This is the time I think when a lot of artists are actually producing really fantastic new work."

One example is The Isolation Museum, a brand new virtual museum that asks people to submit artifacts that represent their isolation experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artist and Carleton University student Kit Chokly came up with the idea after they lost their job and their classes were moved online.

After getting laid off, artist and Carleton University student Kit Chokly started The Isolation Museum, seen above. It's a virtual space for people to reflect on the spaces they're in, and to make a record of this significant moment in time. (The Isolation Museum)

"I was at home and reflecting a lot on the space around me, since that's all I had to stare at," Chokly told Spark. "So I was thinking about, you know, what's around me and how a lot of these things actually in my home represent the relationships that I was missing out on."  

Chokly said they wanted to give people a place to reflect on the spaces they're in, and make a record of this significant moment in time. So far, people have shared tales of having tea for one, of window visits with family, and of planting succulents as a "sign of hope." 

Anyone can submit items to the project — from photographs to audio recordings, to images of hand-drawn pictures.

"[The pandemic] reinforces the idea that the online space, the social media space — my goodness, Instagram — has been a platform for visual artists," says Diamond.

A rejuvenation of the digital 

Diamond says the pandemic could mark a shift in the art world toward digital platforms. However, the idea isn't totally new.

"In the museum and gallery sector, there's a big history of what was called 'museums on the web,'" Diamond says. 

"They provided educational and what we would describe as didactic resources in an online environment. And a lot of investment in social media developed."

"So this is not new. It's new to a lot of people who are … now moving into this space," she said. 

Diamond added that there has likewise been a rich history of artists working in the digital space who have all the more resonance now. 

"Now we've got this great refresh of those technologies and the creativity that's possible within them."


Written by Sarah Claydon and Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Olsy Sorokina and Adam Killick.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.