How the pandemic changed the way we engage with art

Museums find different ways to connect with their audience and artists explore new
creative outlets

By Shaquille Shaniqua Joy

The past year has been rough for all of us in one or another way and while some were hoping that 2021 might be the year in which we could go back to normal, we might have to realise and accept that this is the new normal. Art always will be something that can uplift people and for most museums and artists this pandemic has been challenging but maybe also shifted the perspective on how art can be created, exhibited and looked at.
There is hardly any industry that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic. One of the sectors that had

to rethink the way it operates is the cultural sector, from theatres to museums and everything in between that involves a physical audience. Museums in Amsterdam used to attract large numbers of people, of whom a lot have an annual subscription to a museum card that gives access to over 400 museums in the Netherlands. In 2019 there were around 1.4 million museum cardholders who enjoyed their museum visits to look for inspiration in their free time, do research or check out that one artist they have been dying to see. While thinking of these art craving visitors we can’t forget
about the artists themselves, who have been experiencing the same feeling of collective loneliness that we all have to deal with throughout this pandemic. With the realisation that art is an essential aspect of life for many people, especially in bigger cities like Amsterdam, there also comes the question: How did the pandemic change the way we engage with art?

Charmaine Wartes (26) is a producer for the Open Space Contemporary Art Museum (OSCAM) in Amsterdam South-East. The museum focuses on showcasing a balance of up and coming artists from the area, but also accomplished artists from the rest of the Netherlands and all over the world.

Charmaine explains that “with the museum being closed, you have to find another way to showcase the art and keep the show going”. She explains that producing online content has been a big aspect of making sure that the museum’s audience is still able to engage with the art. At the same time, the 26 year old producer also mentions that she thinks only showcasing art online isn’t enough because it doesn’t always evoke the same emotions a physical museum visit can. Charmaine helped developing the OSCAM AiR concept which stands for Artists in Residence and takes art to places outside of the traditional museum landscape. She explains the reason this concept came about like
this: “We believe that art is for everyone and should be showcased not only in museums but also outside of museums in spaces that you might not expect.” This is why for their first project the museum choose the University of Applied Sciences Amsterdam (HvA) as their partner. Together with several artists and brands one of the HvA buildings turned into a temporary art space and the students who went to school were able to engage with brands and artists. Even though the University wasn’t allowed to have the original 5000 but only 800 students at a time in this particular
building, they still had the chance to view art while museums were closed, which is the beauty of this concept that can be applied in many spaces.

Painter and visual artist Bob Sizoo (21) was lucky and found an art studio for himself right before the pandemic started. He says: “I can’t imagine spending the last year at home not being able to realise any of the creative ideas or inputs that I have.” He explains that for him “creativity is a way of life” and that if he wasn’t creative it would be a “dull life”. He realised that the instant feedback he always receives when posting his art on social media was something he had been used to as he kind of grew up on social media. Within the pandemic, Bob decided to create Instagram filters that make it possible for his audience to have one of his paintings floating around in whatever space they would point their camera to.

Even though we all hope that this pandemic is over at some point so we can enjoy our museum visits again, there might actually be certain ideas sparked by this time that can stick around. In the end, Charmaine voices her belief that “art is a reflection of society” but also reflects on the times we live in. She says: “People think art is something specific but I see it as an experience and if you see it like that then your perspective of what art is might shift.”