It’s an unnerving time for the arts sector right now. The vitality and vigour of our favourite cultural landmarks may have ground to a halt, as have many of our lives. But since the 4th of July, many of us have felt able to breathe a tentative sigh of relief. Galleries are now permitted to open and very soon we’ll all be setting our eyes upon paintings in the flesh. On Sunday, the government also announced a £1.57 billion pound funding package to help protect the UK’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions – a welcome step in the right direction.
The expansive Tate Modern is one of the first galleries to open its doors to us on the 27th July and its employees have been working their socks off to get it ready for our return. With this in mind, we caught up with Anna Cutler, Director of Learning and Research at the Tate Modern, on what’s been going on behind the scenes, the role of the arts in hard times, and her projections for how art may evolve as a result. Have a read:
What role do you think galleries like the Tate play in the modern age?
There are a range of roles that galleries like Tate can and should play today in addition to presenting extraordinary art and events. They are public spaces and are therefore available as civic points of contact and debate. They can offer opportunity for challenge and change in that they hold a conversation from the past to the present. This needs more urgently to include crucial debates around power, race equality and climate change.
We miss you! What has it been like behind the scenes?
We miss you too! The truth is that is has been very mixed. Very busy for some and very quiet for others. There has been a lot of scheduling and rescheduling in an unprecedented logistical and bureaucratic gymnastics! Many of those in Learning and Research have continued work on planning programmes whilst looking at how we can work differently with the public, from taking a visit to schools who can’t come to us, to working out how research can serve a wider audience.
The arts industry is facing many challenges due to the pandemic – what impact have you noticed?
Apart from the obvious and significant financial and staffing implications, I have noticed extraordinary resilience and inventiveness from my team, some exhaustion, but relative genius at juggling life at home, work, and for some home-schooling! Overall, I have noticed a genuine sense of care and a need to do things slowly and thoughtfully as we begin to resurface.
Has it been important for you to be able to offer virtual content during this time?
Yes, our virtual content has been vital, and we have tried to make available as much as possible in which the public can engage and enjoy learning online. Tate Exchange recently shared an article on making art in isolation and we have offered creative activities for children. Our Tate Shots films also cover the work of a wide range of art and artists giving insight into their thinking as well as being really enjoyable windows in to who they are and how they work.
Your online displays and exhibition guides are particularly impressive. As they are free, they democratise art to some extent. Was this important to you?
Yes, making art as available and accessible as possible is a core and ongoing endeavour to which I am committed. We aim to open up art for as many people as we can reach, in as many different and relevant ways that we can. Unlike most of my schoolmates, I did get a chance to be involved in the arts and it changed my life. I know that they had access to different forms of culture that are also important, but any access to art and culture in whatever form, cannot continue to be the luck of the draw. The Steve McQueen Year 3 project and exhibition at Tate Britain brought this into sharp focus.
Image: Steve McQueen Year 3 Exhibition at Tate
Is access to art, music and creativity more important now than ever?
One aspect of art is that it expresses what it means to be human and all the messy, wonderful and complex things that this brings with it. I think people need care, meaning and a sense of connection right now. The arts and creativity are great for this and enable us to communicate our thoughts and our feelings in really intimate as well as public ways together. Seeing the work of artists invites us to imagine things differently – nothing has to be as it is, and we can all help to see and create in new ways.
As the arts industry recovers, do you think there will be any lasting changes as a result of the pandemic – especially in terms of the way art is created and disseminated?
I’m not sure. I think the urge to make is very visceral, in whatever form it takes. I don’t think that the pandemic will have changed the drive to work with different materials (including digital), but it’s clear that the digital possibilities and capability for connection and dissemination has been highlighted as much as it has shown some of its limitations. The question now might be more about how we harness what has worked and how we invent new ways that enable deep and profound engagement.
Thank you, Anna.
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