To better understand the day-to-day impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Manchester’s creatives, we’ve launched a new series inviting spokespeople to share their thoughts on what the future of their sector might look like when things return to normal. This week, we hear from the University of Salford’s Associate Dean, School of Arts and Media and Chair of Manchester Jazz Festival, Dr Kirsty Fairclough…

Culture is the soul of Greater Manchester and as an academic working in an arts based School and Chair of a cultural organisation, I have seen the seismic impact of the crisis upon both higher education and the cultural sector. The importance of arts and culture for our well-being has never been more obvious and the ways in which the arts and cultural communities have come together during this crisis reminds us of our connectedness. This will be key to the longer term survival of the arts more widely in the UK.

Taking cultural organisations as the focus, beyond the obvious financial implications which so many artists, performers and organisations are desperately struggling with, the still unfolding and highly complex mid to long term implications require tenacity, speed and above all, community. The challenges that the pandemic has forced upon us have been many. Aside from the financial crisis that many organisations, artists and creatives now find themselves in, there are many other issues that have required agile thinking and an adaptive mindset in the face of the worst crisis in living memory.

The adaptation of content has been key. Seeking virtual venues and audiences willing and able to consume content that has either been altered dramatically or created specifically for lockdown has been a primary focus, and a great challenge. Manchester Jazz Festival, Manchester’s longest running music festival of which I am Chair of the Board, should have been celebrating its 25th anniversary at the end of May with outdoor stages in the city centre and a range of gigs in some of the city’s most well-known venues. Instead, the team have pivoted the entire festival online to deliver Manchester Jazz Festival 2020: Jazz Unlocked to its audiences. Virtually all of the planned gigs will go ahead in a socially distanced way and we hope to reach as many audience members as possible in this new virtual space working with United We Stream and Jazz North as festival producers.

The rapid adapting of working practices to provide similar events has required a huge effort from anyone working in the sector. The repercussions will be felt for a long time to come and we must find ways to support everyone from freelance artists, those in arts administration to leaders of cultural organisations. The impact on the mental health of those in the cultural sector will be a crisis that will linger much longer than the pandemic. Creativity has always thrived in crisis and nowhere have we seen it more brilliantly executed than in the United We Stream initiative which brings the best of the regions music and culture streamed directly into our homes. Created by Night-Time Economy Adviser Sacha Lord and Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s (GMCA) Culture team, and local and national partners, United we Stream is a free platform but with donations welcome, with all proceeds going to the city-region’s night-time economy, cultural organisations and charities.

All of the technical production for United We Stream is managed by the University Of Salford Digital Media Production team, led by director Colin McKevitt. The team have worked incredibly hard to bring a range of performances from musicians, DJ’s and artists to the region, UK and internationally. The huge audiences that the channel has garnered already have proved that there is an appetite for its output. At the time of writing, over £260,000 has been raised in one month with over four million viewers tuning in to see more than a hundred globally renowned artists and Greater Manchester breakthrough talent. The response to United We Stream proves that at times of national crisis, the power of culture in bringing people together cannot be overstated.

Now that we are emerging from the initial shock of the pandemic, it remains far too early to say when normality will resume to the sector. For many, it feels like new challenges are being thrown at us daily and the fight or flight response is still very much the mode of operation. What we are learning is that we have the potential to reach new audiences that might previously not engaged in certain cultural output which can only be positive. As for how the crisis will affect the sector long term, this remains unknown. For now, Greater Manchester’s cultural community will continue to find ways to present work that entertains and provokes and maintains its vibrant place in the world’s cultural scene.

Guest Post
Published on:
Wed 13 May 2020