How COVID-19 changed face of creative industry
In this unprecedented time for everyone, people are shifting their businesses to adapt to new norms. No doubts, the widespread cancellation of in-person events have affected many businesses—independent artists included—who rely on events, workshops, gigs, and physical locations to pay their bills.
How COVID-19 Has Pummelled Artists
Kehinde Sanwo, a former Vice President, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) noted that while most businesses would surely be affected by the Covid-19 lockdown, different sectors of the economy have divergent stories to tell.
He was emphatic that the art industry is not immune to the adverse effects expected from the lockdown.
As regards productivity, Sanwo, a full-time studio professional argued, “artists, generally, have low or lack of risk of contracting the virus because naturally, we operate even better on ‘lockdown’ mode.” Most artists, he explained, “naturally stay indoor for days working.”
Few days ahead of the directive on a limited number of congregating given by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island was scheduled to open a group show, which was immediately postponed indefinitely.
Director at Alexis, Patry Chidiac Mastrogiannis, said the lockdown has done more damage beyond affecting the galleries’ business. “Affecting? It has killed our business,” she disclosed. “We are closed for the past two weeks?”
Gabriel Jideonwor, an artist and proprietor of Vivid Exclusive Art Gallery said his scheduled art trip to Europe has been put on hold. “As an artist, I am supposed to exhibit in an art fair in Europe, but it’s been postponed all because of covid-19.”
For his gallery business, he has two issues to contend with.”As an art gallery owner I can’t sell art at the moment in order to promote my artists,” he lamented, adding, “even promoting artists that the gallery represent has been slowed because of lockdown and restrictions on gathering in Lagos.”
Anthony Yusuf, a dance director, said the pandemic has really affected his practice as a choreographer. “We have had to call off all theatrical performances that we had rehearsed for. All efforts put into creating content was in vain, but we can’t blame the directives, it’s for our own good.”
According to Yusuf, “nobody is putting up any theatrical performances again due to the social distancing regulations. We had to cancel a performance we intended staging titled, COVID-19. This performance was aimed at educating and sensitising the public of the deadly virus and to take necessary precaution. But unfortunately, the effort of the director in creating such a didactic performance and the effort of the artistes to deliver the piece was in vain.”
Yusuf noted that the pandemic has really affected his earnings, as all booked events are now cancelled. “I had to refund back to the clients all money paid.”
Be that as it may, he believes that as an artist, “this period has given me the ability to prepare new works. It doesn’t keep me idle. I have been developing new works of art.”
For Williams Isioma, Coordinating Chairman, Guild of Theatre Arts Drummers – GOTHAD, “I had to cancel my ongoing workshop, which was sponsored by the Korean Cultural Centre Nigeria and other private shows that require an audience, and other rehearsals that could help us in the future.”
He added, “I like earning too, but I also have to stay safe in order for us to have a future, I’ll advise everyone to stay home too unless you need to get foodstuffs or drugs from the store.”
The GOTHAD chairman said artistes should learn from this pandemic. He said, “right now, art associations should have been coming to support members during the lockdown, but that is not the case because we care less about our existence as artists. Most practitioners don’t care about guilds. They skip meetings and are not bothered about what is happening in their associations. They contribute less to what addresses the wellbeing of the creative art industry. I hope we all learn from the situation on the ground.”
Ifeanyi Eziukwu, a theatre director, said he has not had any performance since the lockdown. “I had to postpone my shows twice and hoping the one for May 3 will hold.”
He said, “this period has forced me to have a critical look at my work as an artist and look for ways to improve and make them better after the pandemic. I have been reading a lot about theatre and performances in this period, as well as creating a relationship with my patrons.”
For Omololu Sodiya, an award-winning actor, “before now, it was as if we were begging people to see our shows. It is worse now because they have good reasons not to even step out.”
Sodiya said, “we’ll have to learn how to save and have side hustle because anything can happen at any time. It’s all happening like a flash.”
Prospect, Challenges Of Virtual Window For Art Market
Although artists have already begun to adapt to the changes and bring their practices online, there are many unknown that they will face in the coming days. Just because in-person gatherings are not happening doesn’t mean that you can’t view art and keep up on openings. In response to event closures, institutions and individuals are getting creative about how their work is shared with the world.
PEN America’s role in this crisis includes mobilising to assist writers hard hit by the cancellation of events, closure of bookstores, and economic contraction, recognising that many of their livelihoods were precarious, to begin with. Knowing that books are the ultimate vessels for human connection across distance, the organisation has launched a daily podcast, The PEN Pod, bringing you interviews with authors, journalists, activists, and experts each and every morning (available on Spotify, Apple, Stitcher, and many other platforms).
“We’re crafting reading lists curated by writers and poets, staff, and friends to keep folks occupied during this uncertain time. And we’re working to unveil new digital platforms to host events and readings online so that we can move our innovative public programming directly to you, our friends and supporters.”
In Hong Kong the art world is coming together to live stream gallery visits and artist talks online.
Hong Kong art dealers have been experimenting with digital marketing since the coronavirus crisis began, and their new strategies are starting to bear fruit. But beyond the purely commercial aspect, several players in Hong Kong’s cultural ecosystem have joined forces in March to launch the non-profit organisation Art Power HK, an online platform publicising events and exhibitions with the objective of boosting their resilience and disseminating the cultural news of one of the world’s most dynamic artistic capitals.
While European countries are imposing partial or complete lockdown with all cultural events, exhibitions, fairs, auctions etc. either cancelled or postponed, Phillips announced on March 18 that its Hong Kong spring sales will be held as planned from May 29 to June 2 at the JW Marriott Hotel.
Likewise, in Shanghai, the MadeIn Gallery has announced it is reopening as the Chinese authorities have managed to stabilise the Covid-19 epidemic in the city.
Art Basel Hong Kong was the first major art event to announce its cancellation due to COVID-19 (in January 2020). The fair’s organizers reacted quickly by setting up a digital fair, so that exhibitors could present, free of charge, the works they intended to show at Art Basel. The fair will, therefore, host virtual stands for 231 galleries on the dates initially planned. Some galleries are already communicating on this new tool.
The idea has spread to France where the Parisian gallery owner Georges-Philippe Vallois has called for a pooling of galleries to create “a common sales platform”.
While it’s no secret that social media makes art accessible to a wider audience, in the days of social distancing ahead it could not ring more true. Instagram and Facebook allow you to show your work, your process, connect with fans and express your identity as an artist from the comfort of your studio. It’s never too late to get started!
Selling art via the Internet is not a new thing. However, the strong interest generated in virtual dispensing of art, in the past one month, suggests the possibility of new dawn ahead in the global art market.
Within a spate of one month, Art Basel, Hong Kong edition; Art Dubai, UAE; 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, New York edition; Art Brussels, Belgium; Art Cologne, Germany; Frieze, New York, among others either postponed to few months into the year or shifted till next year.
For some of the events such as Art Basel, Hong Kong and Art Dubai postponement also came with the virtual options. For examples, Art Basel streamed over 200 galleries, just as Art Dubai showed over 500 art pieces online.
On the earlier scheduled day opening of March 25, Art Dubai launched its online. A statement from the organisers said the Art Dubai 2020 Online “showcases more than 500 artworks by participating galleries across all fair sections, with some presenting works specifically from their 2020 booth, while others have works from extended artist roster.” Participants included Rele Gallery and Arthouse-The Space, both based in Lagos.
Also, within the same period, auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christy’s, Bonhams as well as quite a number of art galleries got the virtual and select viewership participation windows to avoid a large congregation of people.
After Sotheby’s Lagos viewing on Thursday, March 12, the auction sales, which was scheduled for its London base could not hold physically, except virtually.
While the level of audience responses for the art fairs are not yet known, results in commercial values for the auction houses have been released.
Some of them seemed to suggest that the virtual options have prospects. Yes, traditionally, online bidding for auction was common, but getting the entire sales on virtual platform brought new challenges.
At the end of Sotheby’s March auction of Modern and Contemporary African art in London, a total £2,359,375 was declared. Apart from viewing by appointments, ahead of the auction, the actual sales were held virtually and via phone bidding.
Some art galleries, which were scheduled to show at few of the cancelled fairs in March also chose the virtual options, independently. TAFETA Gallery, based in London, but represents many African artists was to show at quite a number of cancelled or postponed art fairs across the world.
Ayo Adeyinka, director at TAFETA Gallery, during a chat last week said cancellation and postponement of quite a number of art fairs were disappointing, he, however, added, “We completely understand the position of the fairs.”
And should the covid-19 crisis continues, how sustainable is the virtual window being applied as an option? “It is way too early to even begin to discuss the sustainability of a more virtual business environment,” Adeyinka whose gallery represents quite a number of Nigerian artists said, “TAFETA for example only launched an online viewing room this week (early April), and it’ll take a few shows to review any meaningful data.”
In nearly two decades of art fairs resurgence across the world, artists of African descents, home and diaspora have enjoyed impressive global exposures by non-African patrons and gallery owners. Among such non-African owned galleries representing artists from the continent is London-based Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery.
At the peak of the covid-19 crisis last month, KH Gallery had virtual opening for some of the artists scheduled for the cancelled art fairs. The experience of the founder and director is more practical in virtual art exhibition.
“We filmed it on Instagram, and took lots of photographs to present them to clients,” stated Kristin Hjellegjerde. “We have a full digital walk-through option as well.”
How exactly was collectors’ response to virtual viewing and marketing? “They enjoyed it, but can never replace a real viewing,” said Hjellegjerde whose gallery was scheduled to show works of Lagos-based artist, Gerald Chukwuma, at the cancelled 1:54 art fair, New York.
Looking ahead and getting prepared for a possible continue lockdown of cities should covid-19 escalates, Hjellegjerde said: “We will work on a more personal approach! I think the space to show is essential to the career of the artists to make a full series of work, among others. Art appreciation, she argued, “is about feeling it,” physically.
Shortly before the lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, quite a number of art exhibitions in the country’s commercial city hub were postponed.
Ovie Omatsola, curator at Thought Pyramid Art Centre seemed to have prepared for an opening of limited audience congregating for Next of Kin 2020 exhibition, to be assisted by the virtual window.
Shortly after postponing Next of Kin 2020, Omatsola said “audience visits to the gallery via appointments and assisted by virtual” might be the option should the Lagos State directive on limited congregating continues into May and beyond.
Bonhams auction in London, held on March 18 actually put the viewing by appointments assisted with virtual options to test. The results of the auction showed that more than 150 buyers registered for online bidding/phone for the Bonhams sale. Sotheby’s, also, from March 27 to 31 recorded 46 per cent increase in number of virtual bidding during its sales.
In the months ahead — leading into the last quarter of the year — galleries, auction houses and art fair events in Lagos may take the virtual options and limited congregating windows too.