Light at the end of the tunnel for the creative sector in 2021

Please continue delivering my entertainment on Zoom in 2021 alongside traditional platforms of arts access

By Edward Tsumele

Sometime last year during Level 3 lockdown, that had just been announced, allowing businesses to operate, I took a walk on the busy Fox Street in Maboneng. This is the busiest street cutting through this busy part of Johannesburg East, and is lined up by restaurants, bars, street merchants and basking artists on a normal weekend. But on that day, the street was dead quiet, with only a few people standing about, seeming to be doing nothing and going nowhere. But as I continued walking along the street westward, a noticed a clothing shop that is normally open, but was closed on this day, even when such shops were  allowed to operate under Level 3Codid-19 risk adjusted lockdown. In bold letters however, there were words written on its shutter doors:  “2020 cancelled . See you in 2021.”

Actors Hamilton Dhlamini and Mncedisi Shabangu a scene a scene of Woza Albert. Courtesy of Market Theatre. ©Ruphin Coudyzer FPPSA

 That in a nutshell summarised the experiences of many businesses in the different sectors of the South African economy, which were forced to write off 2020, even as government allowed some of them to operate at different levels of lockdown.  On Sunday this week I passed through that same shop, checking to see If it was now open as we are back on Level 3 lockdown, following the resurgence of the coronavirus infections in a number of provinces  during the festive season, with some parts of the country in fact declared coronavirus hot spots, including some parts of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni in Gauteng.  The country is currently experiencing what is known as the second wave of infection.

Well, I found this shop again closed on Sunday, under normally circumstances, the busiest day of the week in Maboneng. The truth is during these difficult  times, some businesses will close for good, while others will be innovative and resilient enough to wade through the Covid -19  storm, including those in the creative sector. That is If they play their cards well though.

I know it is not a good thing to tell people in a brand new year that the news is not good, and therefore I will stay away from talking about the difficulties the creative sector may face in the new year, and rather focus on the light at the end of the tunnel narrative because there is, and there always is.

One way of making sure that the arts continue to play a part in our lives, is to consider going digital, and not just as a temporary measure while the virus goes away, but as an integrated part of how creatives will deliver services, entertainment and value to audiences going forward. The creative sector must now embrace the new technologies and there is no going back.  Even when the situation becomes normal again, and it better be, sooner than later, this new normal will have to continue alongside the traditional normal of producing creative products and services for both traditional platforms and the digoital platforms..

To claim that this new normal is not sustainable as watching shows live is different from and more interesting than through a device, is not being honest enough How do people watch movies for example? . This sane argument was advanced many years ago, when HIV was first reported, as in response to the pandemic,  the science community developed the condom to protect people from infection during sex. But guess what, today having sex while wearing a condom is as common as eating food with a spoon. People have accepted the condom and in fact it has eliminated  complications when having sex with someone one does not know that much.  Anxieties that follow having unprotected sex, such as sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, are no longer part of the sex equation, thanks to the invention of the condom.

Actors Hamilton Dhlamini and Mncedisi Shabangu a scene a scene of Woza Albert. Courtesy of Market Theatre. ©Ruphin Coudyzer FPPSA

Arts audiences sooner than later will accept consuming cultural products via Zoom in the same way they have accepted having sex with a condom as part of their everyday sexual encounters and activities. It is as simple as that.

To start with, even If the virus tomorrow disappears for good to wherever it came from, audiences are not just going to flock back to theatres, festivals and cinema en masse. Some will wait, while others used to watching shows delivered virtually in their homes, will prefer to continue enjoying shows that way. And so the trend for consuming cultural and creative products in 2021 is a hybrid combination of the virtual world and the traditional on site in person attendance, especially once the lingering danger of the coronavirus has been eliminated.

What this means is that we will have to get used to the idea that life will not be the same again, even when the vaccine is here, in April, as suggested by authorities. Producers of creative products and services will have to think outside the box to still connect with old audiences, and encouragingly connect with new global audiences  taking advantage of the wider reach of the use of these technologies in the creative sector to access entertainment while at home with family.. And that is something positive, to look forward to in 2021.

CITYLIFE/ARTS welcomes you back as we look forward to a better year, 2021, than the one we have just given a boot.

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