Why are shops open in Tier 3 but museums are closed? The Arndale during the run-up to Christmas is almost impossible to regulate and will be more full than your average packet of crisps. We all get it – the economy. And though retail workers would surely prefer sufficient financial support to guarantee their safety, being able to earn their full wage in the run-up to Christmas is an unfortunate second best. I don’t even disagree with shops opening back up. But winter is hard even in years when there isn’t a global pandemic. Cultural spaces take on special importance, offering respite from the cold and rain which doesn’t force people to buy anything. We’re all trying to stay home as much as possible, but after 9 months which many of us have spent living and working in cramped spaces, the occasional escape to a place which transports you through histories and spaces can make all the difference.
Manchester Art Gallery put it best when they said: “”From 2 December we can hit the shops and the treadmill but we cannot find solace and wander freely in a spacious 3000 sq metre art gallery with carefully timed and limited entry.” Cultural institutions have worked hard to make their spaces safe to welcome people back. When I visited Joy Yamusangie’s exhibition at HOME, no-one came anywhere near me and we all properly wore our masks. Thanks to timed entry and spacious gallery spaces, I was able to escape the lonely and downright miserable two months I’d spent living and working in one room. For once, I was tearful from inspiration rather than despair.
It is imperative that we continue to be as safe as possible but I have believed from the beginning that Covid-19 isn’t the only thing destroying lives during this pandemic. Surely by adhering to the utmost safety measures we can experience some joy in the outside world and help the art sector to survive whilst we’re at it.
Neil Mendoza of the House of Lords said that arts organisations should demonstrate the value they provide to the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. Unfortunately, underfunded arts institutions cannot show incredible economic figures or administer vaccines. However, the pandemic has forced many to confront hopelessness, alienation and fear on a new scale. Arts institutions can manufacture far safer environments than shopping centres where people can begin to hope again, remembering that there is more to life than numbly moving from desk to bed and holding back tears on Facetime.
Image credit: Manchester Art Gallery