By Fiona Keeley
This isn’t an article I ever thought I would write. Due to the severity of the Covid-19 situation humanity has been asked to enforce strict measures in the name of keeping people safe from the virus. This not a situation we have encountered in living memory and it impacts every part of our lives, including how we interact with arts and literature. Despite this, many people have used their initiative and creativity to provide outlets where we can associate with arts and literature in what can only be described as these unprecedented times.
When An Taoiseach delivered his speech in Washington D.C he dealt with how Covid-19 will affect our lives in the weeks and perhaps months to come. The line that caught my attention was “cultural institutions will close”. While that move was not entirely unexpected considering the other measures that were being announced alongside it, it did leave that hanging question; how people would get in touch with arts and literature during these uncertain times? Public health is a top concern right now, but it is important to remember that arts and literature can bring enjoyment to life. Something that may become a crucial part of living as we engage with social distancing measures. As news of the announcement started to trickle through to the multiple cultural institutions in Cork, notices appeared across social media and other platforms to tell the public that these artistic outlets would be closed for a matter of weeks.
Make no mistake, these are unprecedented times. However, people have used their innovation and creativity to become involved in the arts and literature sphere in a space that does not require being among other members of society. The Internet has really come to the fore and provided an outlet for artistic expression so people can gather inside a virtual space. It is a phenomenon of our time, something that was only available during one previous pandemic. Artistic groups have been springing up on several online platforms to engage artists of all ages while they are following social distancing guidelines. The #wewilldraw Challenge was started on Twitter by artist Will Sliney, who is an illustrator for Marvel comics. Each day Will Sliney tweets a picture of a different character and young artists draw the character and then tweet their response. The personalities have ranged from Spiderman; to Star Wars; to favourite Disney character. Will Sliney also hosts a live stream on YouTube to get people more involved in drawing. Initiative is a powerful thing and while we are facing a huge problem on a global scale, it offers the opportunity to innovate and find new ways to make life as ordinary as possible for people who might be confined to their houses for the moment.
So, what about literature? Social media has a role to play in keeping literature alive and well while we go through this uncertain period. Graphic novelist Dave Hendrick started an initiative on Twitter called #1tweetstory. It promotes stretching your imagination and asks you to devise a story within the parameters of one tweet. Since social media is so prevalent in life today it is a fantastic way to call for active participation in the world of literature, while also engaging with people on a platform that they are comfortable with. Each day Dave Hendrick tweets one word as the inspiration word for #1tweetstory and participants can tackle different genres of writing while challenging themselves to create a new story in the process. Dave Hendrick spoke to University Express to tell us about his inspiration for starting #1tweetstory; “My writing background is in comics and artists regularly run drawing challenges over social [media], so I thought given we’re all going to have a little more time on our hands with the current situation I’d like to replicate that but from a writing perspective. It’s not by any means aimed at professional writers, it’s for anyone to get involved with and so far, I’ve had doctors, authors, full time parents, salespeople, artists all jump on board. Ultimately, it’s a distraction from the day to day of things right now and if it helps achieve that I’m happy, it’s certainly done that for me.”
We can push and develop our technology to facilitate artistic expression in both an amateur and professional capacity. Apps that many of us use such as Instagram could be used in creative ways to display shows for professional artists, but this can only be a substitute to what is now a dwindling arts industry. The Arts Council is encouraging consumers to buy products from artists as we begin to consume more of the arts as we spend more time indoors. The arts sector is facing a precarious future; however, many institutions have since opened their doors online so people can explore their exhibits from their homes.
Through innovation, artists are making their work accessible to the public eye but to do this they need support from their audience. It has given us a glimpse of what the arts sector could be like if it were confined to the online sphere; a completely alternative way of interacting with arts.