Arts and Culture in the Age of Corona

Four days before Reshape Zagreb Intensive was supposed to start, we made a decision to cancel it due to the spreading of coronavirus all over Europe. 80 arts and culture professionals who were supposed to come to Zagreb committed to work online instead of traveling, in order not to jeopardize their own and other people's health.

The decision was not easy, although rationally it might seem as an easy one. Cancelling this activity in the Reshape project might seriously disturb the delicate process that we composed, all flights (as well as many train and bus tickets) were already and the hotel were booked and paid... All lecturers were already prepared to give their talks. All local cultural practitioners who were to share their innovative organisational practices were ready to host the Reshape crew. And to cancel an event in such a high stage of preparation just feels like yuck! Personally, it came as a huge disappointment. I felt like I was 5 again, my parents promised to take me to the lunapark and suddenly they changed their mind. Damn!

I’m sharing this feeling because many of the people I talked to felt the same, although they all knew (same as me, after all) that this is a good decision. That travelling in such condition is a huge risk for both travellers and hosts, that we should, after all, be responsible and contribute to the prevention of spreading of the virus. All the people that were involved in the organisation of the Intensive received the information with disappointment, but also offered enormous understanding, support and empathy which I really needed in such a moment. (Thank you comrades for that!)

Collectively, we made a decision to cancel the physical meeting, but also concluded that the week we booked for Reshape matters should be used to meet and work online. Since Reshape is in itself an experimental process, we decided to try it out and to see how we can work together remotely. For a week! But switching from physical to online meeting is not a banal task, obviously. What works while we’re all in the same room, doesn’t usually work while we’re sharing just a screen.

But that also opened a lot of opportunities to fundamentally reshape the way we’re working together. To explore tools and methods of working together remotely. To ask ourselves is “getting physical” the only way to make things done. To reconsider our extensive travels and maybe to take this circumstances as a chance to explore the possibilities of taking it a bit slower, but with a greater focus.

Now, after four days of working online I have to say that it is fundamentally different. Sharing the same space means sharing non-verbal communication, a lot of non-formal conversations, eating and drinking together which, of course, is not a priority in such projects, but leads to many unexpected connections, ideas, unpredictable situations. On the other hand, I noticed we are all much more punctual, focused on the topic, and with a great respect for each other’s time. We are also understanding how remote work requires huge, delicate and sometimes expensive infrastructure in order to be functional. We also see that the most amazing and cutting-edge technologies are not the solutions per se if we don’t fill it with the appropriate content.

The last sentence of the announcement of the Reshape Intensive Zagreb was: “The future is ours to imagine!” This might not be the way we imagined the future, but it struck us as a reality that might bring to our attention a lot of things to discuss for the future that is coming. How can we stay together while being forced to physical isolation? Is working remotely sufficient for the practices that are based on physical presence? How to bring arts and culture to those that are physically isolated anyway for a long time already? How do we tackle with risky situation, especially when the risk is on someone else? How do we keep standing in solidarity in the state of emergency? Throughout history, the human race went through many crises, but arts and culture remained one of the very strong human needs even in the hardest days of such crisis. We for sure won’t lose the need to socialize, to work both as artists and cultural workers, as well as to be members of the audience. In that sense, whether we want it or not, we will be reshaping the way we get together. And as a huge optimist by nature, I really am excited (beside being scared and worried for the health and wellbeing of many people that will be directly affected with a virus) to see how the future will look like.

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