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Culture in the time of COVID

Arts and culture are vital at this uncertain time. They are able to inspire, challenge or educate us, as well as providing a much needed distraction. With this in mind, Arts in Libraries Officer Thomas Dukes has provided some suggestions of online culture, including some of his own favourites, that you can explore at home.


Culture in the time of COVID

Written by Thomas Dukes, Arts in Libraries Officer

There was a moment a couple of days ago when, whilst staying responsibly alone in the flat, my internet wasn’t working. I couldn't connect to the router, and therefore I was socially distant from the world of online content. Panic flashed in me, the thought of socially isolating without the internet is daunting - do you agree? Not because of social media, but because right now people are reimagining how the internet is used to host, create and share incredible cultural works. We are offered the golden ticket to Gene Wilder’s world of Pure Imagination.

Yes, I have my queue of books, I have a paint set and a certain amount of offline music - but without the internet, I was going to be isolated from the generation's greatest event of digital largesse. Despite COVID shutting organisations, institutions are finding ingenious ways to share the creative endeavour they’ve worked so hard towards. Artists have always created on the walls of their caves, and there’s a wonderful audience of us all, ready to enjoy and splash about in it!

So here’s a fling of Highbrow, Lowbrow, No-Brow picks and treats to divert you from the beautiful spring outside and the daffodils nodding to no-one but each other. I’ll be putting out pieces with recommendations and reviews of culture through your phoneline over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for them.




Let’s start with NOWNESS, which I herald as the most underappreciated video site in the UK. They are part of the media company which own DAZED magazine, and aimed at a similar audience of teen-and-up people with an interest in design, lifestyle and culture.

They feature extravagant original commissions as well as host excellent video works, all with a real sense of style.  You can get lost in short video, long video, interviews and creative pieces.

My current favourite is the work by Jenn Nkiru, Rebirth Is Necessary, which is an incredibly powerful, moving example of the short video artwork about black peoples experience and the black diaspora. She says of the work: “This film is jazz; black magic in motion. I hope it can be a source of inspiration, affirmation and healing to others as it has been to me, especially the black diaspora."



Digital Books, Audio Books - Comics!


It was when Haruki Murakami released 1Q84 and I saw the size of the book that I invested in an eReader. I had no intention of carrying something the size of a brick around with me – and this was what opened me up to the infinite library of digital books, audiobooks, comics! All available online through the Library Service. 

If you have a tablet type device, let little ones get into some comics, I used to devour them and they’re still part of my imaginary landscape. Avengers is way mainstream, why not try some Back To The Future re-imagined, or some more Left-Field titles like Beanworld or Squirrel Girl. Finally, there’s some wicked manga in there – try out the Blood, The Last Vampire series. The comics are found through rbDigital.

Audiobooks are their own thing – and it depends whether you prefer to listen carefully to each word with no other distraction, or you listen whilst doing chores or in the kitchen. I like the sound and rhythm of a storybook, matched with a fantastic set of characters – Stephen Fry’s Mythos is the one, found through BorrowBox.



Arts Projects, Project Toolboxes

the space by The Arts Council


So the space is a development agency born to support other arts and culture groups reach a broad audience through digital working. Stay with me, because whilst that sounds about as thrilling and passionate as a tech’ starter lesson, there are some personal, experimental stories on the site which could get you to stick around long enough to wonder if you do actually want to learn how to make a podcast. 

I’ve gone for a fairly biased selection of the Granby Winter Garden video. The Winter Garden is about five minutes’ walk down the road from me, and I’d only just got around to starting to visit it before the lockdown clamped us in place. So my recommendation is by way of hype, getting me all ready to discover the world outdoors again.



Google Arts & Culture


Yup, there’s a whole darn website, made by Google, devoted to experiencing some of the world's finest culture from right at home in front of your computer screen. Not content with indexing the total planet’s information, they want our Earth’s soul, and you can bask in its reflection as the glow from your laptop screen! 

Recent additions include the Uffizi Gallery of Florence, so start there - then without moving you could leap over to Kyoto for a temple tour. This is the perfect companion to wandering Wikipedia; you can lose hours.


The Way I See It

BBC Radio 3 - episodes available through BBC Sounds


You don’t need a licence to receive or make use of the BBC radio stations, which I think is absolutely great. Because the Sounds app, however clunky it may be, is a map to untold treasures. You can find quizzes, comedy, tragedy, documentary - it’s really all you need to accompany you. In The Way I See It, Alastair Sooke asks 30 incredible people to choose and discuss one piece from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It starts with an astronomer discussing Van Gogh’s Starry Night, to give you a sense of angle.


Make Something.  It’s good for your brain.


I’m terrible at making things, but I do quite enjoy crafting. I also can’t stand clutter, so I’m in the habit of enjoying the process of creation, enjoying the made object, but then saying goodbye to it. Good habits in some instances.

Folding origami, I’ve found perfect for this cycle. You can usually find some paper, and create a beautiful little creature from it before recycling.

Here’s a well-illustrated WikiHow page to show you how it’s done. Hopefully it’ll give you an idea for other things to make - and WikiHow has plenty of suggestions.



Paris Opera & Ballet for FREE


My flatmate doesn’t like opera. And now, the Paris Opera & Ballet have generously made a very easy way to find out if you do, or anyone in your house does, by putting their season of performances online. Right now you can jump into a performance of Don Giovanni straight away and be mesmerised for almost three hours of incredible theatre. The uploads will continue throughout the Paris Opera season, changing around weekly.



Experiment with Technology


Sorry it’s another Google thing, but the experiments page is a lovely platform of some very interesting experiments with technology as a facilitator. I headed over to the arts and culture page quite quickly, but lots of the other suggestions are COVID-19 specific at the moment, so worth checking out.


And you could always just do some offline creativity, too. Which is what I’m off to do now, back to working on my isolation-fan-fiction piece, ‘Culture in the time of COVID’ about one person surfing the web and discovering new spaces of imagination and resistance...  Stay safe, stay creative, enjoy the explosion of online activity.