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2021 will be a year for near-home culture

22 February 2020 I stood in a packed hall in Manchester watching a live act that was going to make it all the way. Now Manchester is unreachable, that room bankrupt for half a year now, and can't get that live act to do the multi-million dollar production value of a Billie Eilish to muster up all the streaming make a dent in a packet of butter. It is getting chilly on the club circuit, but local talent can try their hand at the living rooms of fans. 

2020 was weird, 2021 will be even weirder. Whether it is the events sector, now discovered by the VVD, which to the surprise of liberal Holland turns out to be culture as well, or amateur art: we are going to keep it close to home in 2021. Travel is going to be a thing. Not even as an act in itself, but as a production risk. Not just internationally, also domestically.

Borders closed

Anyone who wants to plan an international tour now will have to factor in the fact that sometimes you will run into a closed border, or because of quarantine requirements, you will actually not be allowed to leave the host country. A theatre tour has to reckon with all the possible and impossible cancellation rules and such huge costs that it is really not worth it now. Tours often cost more than they bring in anyway, so with forced half-full theatres, nobody is going to make it. Although from now on, we will only play solos. If there are any venues left, because certainly in the unsubsidised part of our arts landscape there will be casualties this year. Whether we build in a guarantee system or not: you can't fix everything with money. It is also about the stamina of the people who have to execute and organise it.

Planning in 2021 can only be done in the very short term, or with so many fits and starts that it is actually impossible to deal with. Therefore, at Lowlands - if it goes ahead at all - we will have a lot of offerings from our own country and the very close neighbouring countries. Possibly an occasional surprise visit from a world act that had nothing better to do for a while anyway, but nothing major that demands months of preparation, and cooperation with other parts of the world, with other vaccination rates, and other infection hotspots.

Safe home

Even for domestic offerings, the safest place to be will be the pitch. Until significant immunity is built up, travelling with a choir, orchestra or major theatrical spectacle is impossible. Moreover, we will move towards a permanent form of one-half-meter culture anyway, where adapting your own venue to your offering is a lot easier than travelling with which you constantly have to deal with different rules. 

So we can also forget blockbusters in museums. A informative article on Artnet News Cites Lakenhal director Meta Knol, who still works for Covid in the newspaper shouted that blockbuster art, with mega-exhibitions created in collaboration with dozens of museums that are supposed to attract a million visitors in a few months, is out of date. And also bad for the museums, which see their ordinary audiences alienated. Now comes Covid-19 on top. Nothing travelling, given the risk of quarantine for the companions of that one Leonardo, who is therefore stuck in Upper Lichtenstein. Better do something good with your own collection then. 

Office buildings

In this way, we are inching our way towards a new kind of close-to-home culture, in which sweaty clubs will lose out to tolerated raves on solar meadows or in the suddenly vacant office buildings everywhere, and the commercial infrastructure of the arts changes dramatically. At the moment, subsidies and emergency regulations are still keeping things afloat, but certainly for individual professionals, a year of paid inactivity is not an option. Those will take their talents elsewhere. 

So a thinning is coming, and that is not necessarily a good thing, because in Marianne Zwagerman's universe, where the barren wood has burned away, there is no shelter for the young scum either. We need old and so-called weak to give young and so-called vital a chance.

2022

So is there nothing at all to look forward to in 2021? I would say, yes, 2022. Then we will be vaccinated enough, and a time will dawn full of new energy and unprecedented possibilities. Until then, we are going to manage to invent those new possibilities, new opportunities and creativity that we have to drag away from the gates of hell. 

2021 will not be a dull year. That much is certain. 

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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