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The arts recoiling from Coronavirus

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Olanrewaju Tejuoso (Nigeria), Oldies and Goodies, 2016-2018. Installation view, Dak’Art Biennale 2018 “The Red Hour/A New Humanity” curated by Simon Njami. Photo credit: The Sole Adventurer.

The Dakar Biennale, popularly known as the Dak’Art, will be held from May 28 to June 28, 2020 in Dakar. This 14th edition, which marks the biennial’s 30th anniversary, is themed Ĩ’Ndaffa / Out of the fire. Ĩ’Ndaffa, in Serer language, means to forge.

Since 1990, the Dak’Art has been a platform for contemporary art with cultural roots in Africa.

The Dakar Biennale was conceived in 1989 as a biennale alternating between literature and art. The biennale has been created thanks to the will of both the Senegalese state, which assumes the supervision and the local artists, who since the 70s, have been organising regular yearly art shows, which bring to light the different shapes of the evolution of contemporary art creation. The aim was to make of it a show-window of Art and literature in Africa.

The first edition, in 1990, was focused on literature and in 1992 on visual art. After two editions, the decision was made to focus the event exclusively on visual arts and on design with a small-scale exhibition in textiles and tapestry.

However, there is a major doubt if this art showcase will hold. Though, MASA (Abidjan Performing Arts Market) ended yesterday without cancellation or postponement, as governments world over take increased precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus in their country. The University of Lagos postponed its convocation earlier in the month. A similar fate ALSO befell the yearly Obafemi Awolowo lecture organized by Obafemi Awolowo Foundation.

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From museums and galleries to theatres and concert venues, fairs and festivals are facing closures and delays. It’s an unavoidable fact that some of the most moving experiences of art often involve being in crowded spaces.

The coronavirus is posed a special challenge to art institutions around the world.
The new coronavirus has already become the biggest story in our world — reaching more than 100 countries, killing 4,262, and infecting more than 118,101, according to the latest numbers from the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine COVID-19 map.

This global public health emergency — one of the six declared in recent years by the World Health Organization (WHO), beginning with the 2009 Swine flu — has already wiped out billions of dollars from the global economy, and according to Bloomberg could eventually cost the economy a total of $2.7 trillion.

The latest art fair to fall foul of the coronavirus is Art Dubai, which hasannounced it is postponing its 14th edition in a bid to curtail the spread of the disease known as Covid-2019.

Fair organisers say they will instead hold a programme of exhibitions, events and talks tailored to Dubai-based galleries, museums and artists from March 25 to 28, when the fair was due to hold.

Parts of the original show including the Global Art Forum, the Residents section of work created by African artists on residencies in the UAE and Campus Art Dubai are still expected to go ahead.

A day after Art Dubai announced that it would reschedule its 2020 edition (from its original March 25 to 28 dates) due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Venice Architecture Biennale revealed that it, too, would be forced to postpone its upcoming edition.

The biennale, originally set to open May 23, will now open on August 29; the fair will keep its original closing date, November 29, shortening its planned run.

After coronavirus-related deaths in the country rose to 79, the Italian government said that all schools and universities would close till today. Museums and cultural sites in Venice, Milan, Turin, and other northern Italian cities have already been shuttered for several weeks.

The 17th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale, titled “How will we live together?” and curated by architect Hashim Sarkis, plans to bring together 114 participants from 46 countries.

Some major events, exhibitions, and sales around the world have, however, already been interrupted in recent months by the coronavirus outbreak. Art Basel Hong Kong called off its 2020 edition, art institutions across Japan are experiencing closures, Sotheby’s moved a modern and contemporary sale from Hong Kong to New York, and the Louvre temporarily closed this weekend as museum staff met to discuss preparations for the outbreak in France. According to the New York Times, the London Book Fair has been canceled.

Austrian museum directors have decided to close all federal public museums until at least the end of March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the news agency APA reported, citing Johanna Rachinger, the director of the Austrian National Library.

The decision is a response to sweeping new precautionary measures announced by the government, including a ban on entry to the country from Italy, a halt to classes at universities, and a ban on large events. Austria has so far reported more than 200 cases of the disease.

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Vienna’s Albertina has delayed the planned opening of its new Albertina Modern, located in the Künstlerhaus on Karlsplatz, which has undergone a three-year renovation. It was scheduled to open on March 13; the Albertina said in a press statement that both the new museum and the main building will remain closed for the foreseeable future and cancelled a press conference that was scheduled for today. The Kunsthistorisches Museum’s website says it will remain closed until at least April 3.

According to a recent online survey carried out by a group of 20 art organisations and art media in China from February 5 to 11, 90.9 per cent of the 514 respondents in the visual arts industry report that if the current situation continues, their organisations or their careers as freelancers of various kinds will not last for six months.

Additionally, 73.8 per cent report that they are only able to support themselves in the current circumstances for less than three months. The support that they say they need the most is “tax reduction” (70 per cent) and “payment, water and electricity and rent subsidies” (67.5 per cent).

The Seattle Art Museum has shut down touchscreens and children’s play areas, and canceled or postponed all museum events throughout its three locations for the remainder of the month.

An empty concert hall

In France, the annual book fair Salon du Livre decided to cancel its 2020 edition, but the Salon du Dessin, the drawing fair to be held at the Palais Brongniart in Paris at the end of the month, plans to go on with its show. (On Sunday, March 8, the French government forbid all indoor gatherings of more than 1,000 people; while the Salon du Livre can reach around 160,000 visitors, Salon du Dessin’s president said it usually does not welcome more than 1,000 visitors at once, but it will offer two distinct opening hours in order to keep numbers under the government cap.)

In Iran, which trails closely after Italy in number of cases (8,042 diagnoses and 291 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak), the Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts has ordered the cancellation of all Nowruz (Persian New Year) celebrations.

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, the hours of museums, palaces, and cultural sites across Iran will be reduced.
One of Asia’s most visited sites and the world’s largest religious monuments, the Angkor Wat Buddhist temple complex in Cambodia, is virtually deserted. The landmark is one of numerous popular tourist sites across Asia that are being hardest hit by fears of the coronavirus’s spread.

According to Khmer Times, Angkor Wat has seen record low tourist numbers this season; tour guides and other cultural workers are increasingly feeling the economic impact of the virus.

The MFA in Studio Art department at Hunter College in New York City has canceled its Open Studios, a highly anticipated event that brings thousands to its 205 Hudson building in Tribeca. Meanwhile, many universities across the country are putting in-person classes on pause. Higher education institutions including Columbia, Fordham, Hofstra, Princeton, Stanford, Seattle, Yeshiva, and the University of Washington will either cancel classes altogether or migrate them to online platforms.

As the disease continues to spread, live event organisers have been canceling or postponing large gatherings from technology conferences to major concerts.

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More than 20,000 music events between January and March have been canceled or postponed in China and Hong Kong, costing 2 billion yuan ($286 million) in ticketing and box-office losses, according to the China Association of Performing Arts.

One f such high profiled events cancelled is the Boston Symphony Orchestra Asia tour. The orchestra had been scheduled to go on a four-city tour that included Seoul in South Korea, Taipei in Taiwan and Shanghai and Hong Kong in China from February 6 to 16. The Philharmonic Society of Orange County in Southern California also canceled its February 5 Chinese New Year Celebration concert.

In a major blow to the Austin, Texas music community, the 2020 SXSW festival was cancelled. The loss of the interactive, film and music events with an estimated $356 million economic impact on the city comes after Austin’s Mayor, Steve Adler, declared a local disaster due to COVID-19 fears. It marks the first cancelation of the entire event in its 34-year history.

One of the world’s largest international book festivals, The London Book Fair, was forced to cancel amid coronavirus worries. About 25,000 publishers, agents, and authors were meant to attend the fair March 10 to 12, even as many backed out. There have been over 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.K. as of March 6.

Like the London Book Fair, the Livre Paris Book Fair has also been cancelled. This yearly literary event, which attracts 160,000 visitors a year, announced that the 2020 edition, initially planned for March 20 to 23, will be canceled following France’s precautions banning large indoor gatherings.

According to France 24, 70,000 tickets were bought in advance. “Visitors who purchased tickets will be contacted,” says the website for the Scuderie del Quirinale. “[The institution] will remain closed until new government advice is issued.”

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