Looking back: a year less ordinary
Culture Whisper's Editor in Chief reflects on the year we leave behind
Sitting in my living room-turned-office, with a homemade cappuccino in hand and a cat sitting on my lap, I am reflecting on how much our lives have changed in the past nine months.
We have adapted, leading increasingly private and intense relationships with our screens. We’ve rediscovered yoga, adopted pets, swapped dinners and weekends away for endless walks, reconnecting with nature… In the battle, though, we have perhaps lost a certaine joie de vivre. But who could blame us? We are going through previously unimaginable times.
At each year's end, the team and I publish a ‘looking back at the cultural highlights of the year’ newsletter. This year, the exercise seems almost cruel. It’s not that culture hasn’t been present in our lives. We have read lots of books, watched series galore, enjoyed plays and concerts online and listened to countless podcasts.
Yet, Covid-19’s impact on the arts has been cataclysmic. Theatres, museums, cinemas, galleries, concert halls and more have had to close three times this year. With 70% of its employees currently on furlough, the arts sector is the worst hit by the pandemic.
Some may question whether live culture is really a priority in our lives. After all, we can survive without going to the theatre, the museum or to the local cinema. Live culture is ultimately an urban privilege. A lot of people do without it.
And yet, contemplating Lynette Yiadom Boakye’s paintings at the Tate Britain earlier this month, I found myself overwhelmed with a flow of emotions I had been unconsciously repressing for a while. I had almost forgotten how live art has the power to heal, to create meanings. Looking around me, I realised that all critics alike were quietly in the same state of shock.
I felt part of that same collective experience watching the great Lesley Manville performing with Monica Dolan at the Bridge Theatre – the first live performance I'd seen since lockdown. Seated within a depleted and masked audience, when the actresses bowed out, humbly thanking us for coming, I was in tears. Similar feelings resurfaced on a recent rainy evening walk, when I came across a choir of four singing a cappella carols on a deserted London street, with people listening from their windows.
We have yet to understand and acknowledge the emotional impact 2020 has had on us all. We don’t always have the tools to explore our feelings. It is hard to put them into words and it is hard to do it alone. Artists’ contributions and our collective contact with their work are more crucial than ever and, if nurtured, could prove among the best cures in helping us process the dark times we’ve lived through this year. There is nothing like experiencing live culture.
Let’s hope that 2021 allows us to be part of an audience again, to celebrate life together and relinquish our joie de vivre.
In the meantime, whatever holidays you are having, the Culture Whisper team and I wish you a restful break, even if this Christmas may feel very different from normal.