“People always want to see art, theater and performances.”

The theaters are dark and the auditoriums are broken down. COVID-19 may have dealt a devastating blow to the arts sector, but the world is witnessing an extraordinary renaissance of the arts from socially isolated households.

Italians sing from balconies and Manchesterites social distanced Zumba on the streets. Children paint rainbows for their windows, dogs get a voice, and families collaborate by singing and dancing.

According to the director of the School of Arts and Media at UNSW Sydney, Professor Michael Balfour, the world is witnessing the desire of people to make social connections through the arts.

“People want to participate and people want to engage in things. People need to feel that they belong and are part of a social community… this is the very essence of art, ”he explains.

The drama and performance professor says what’s happening online is similar to research that emerged from a five-year study, In Place of War, which examined the role of theater and the arts during conflict. The research has led to the development of a global network of artists who use creativity as a tool for positive change.

“We were really interested in how the role of the artist has changed between times of peace and extreme violence, war and conflict. “

The study covered 12 different conflict zones, ranging from Congo, Sri Lanka and Northern Ireland, and involved interviews with 80 artists.

“We asked the question ‘why create art in this kind of extreme situation?’ We have seen that the arts tripled in times of crisis, and we found that absolutely fascinating. These were extreme situations where civil society had been destroyed. (There were) closures, curfews, violence and death all around. But artists and audiences still wanted to see art, theater, and performance.

Professor Balfour draws an analogy with the current COVID-19 crisis and physical distancing.

“Much of the rhetoric from the leadership and the media has been that we are on a war footing,” he says. “We haven’t seen this kind of circumstance since World War II. French President Emmanuel Macron speaks for example of the invisible enemy. These are incredibly difficult situations. “

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He says that, as his study has shown, art helps connect people who are isolated in these extreme circumstances.

“I think when we looked at the case studies of wars it looks like what’s going on online right now. The quality of a fully produced show ceases to be so important and what becomes important is the sharing and communication that takes place between an artist and a member of the audience.

People need to feel that they belong and that they are part of a social community, and the essence of art is that everyone is a storyteller, says Professor Balfour.

“When you take it off, it comes back to a slightly cliché image of us sitting around a fire, sharing stories. Each person takes turns telling a different story. And there is no privilege of status or of someone calling themselves an artist, it’s just that everyone is a storyteller and it doesn’t matter whether they’re a good or a bad storyteller, or that the story either long or short. It is similar to what we are seeing now.

He says that the social bond “is a very important principle of who we are as human beings”.

“(Art) helps us to fellowship, that is, to come together … (it helps us) to laugh, and laughter is a brilliant thing in times of crisis.”

Art also helps us to think and to console, he explains. “A lot of music right now is being used as a way to calm the body, to calm the thought process, to find a point where your psyche can settle.”

Professor Balfour says what is privileged in times of crisis is the value of authenticity and vulnerability, so that people “stream or download from their spare bedroom and rock artists improvise and share. new, half-written songs.

“The makeup has come off, the showbiz polish of production is no longer there, and you have sort of returned to the essentials of what art is, that is to say this ability to get people to connect, communicate and share ideas, messages and feelings. and emotions, the affective elements of communication, which become really critical moments of survival in these times. This is what keeps us human.

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