Art Beat: Assessing Covid's impact on arts organisations

Notes and musings from the arts scene as it emerges from lockdown by Jane Hardy

The Isle of Enniskillen Samuel Beckett Chess Set is a new permanent public artwork by artist Alan Milligan. Picture by Brian Morrison/PA Wire
Jane Hardy

THIS may get me off arts organisations Christmas card lists, but I think the pandemic nobody wanted has brought one or two unintended cultural benefits.

Not financially, obviously, but one example is the way the art gallery has been transformed.

We've now got time to stand and stare as Covid-19 regs mean admissions are spaced.

So visitors to shows like the Anne Tallentire at The MAC and Portrait of Northern Ireland at Golden Thread can actually see the works. In the past, numbers and institutional greed in the big London (and European) art galleries, meant you didn't get a gander.

Our great Northern Ireland galleries are free, but I recall attending a van Gogh show, about his art and correspondence, 12 years ago at the Royal Academy. I went with my nephew, a fellow fan, and it was like Oxford Circus tube at rush hour.

The virus has gifted us time as well as space and the chance to diversify. Theatre companies like The Lyric, Big Telly, Tinderbox (about to perform Sylvan in the woods) and Derry's Stage Beyond have innovated impressively.

Composer/singer-songwriter Duke Special told me he had been trying new things, including web gigs, and collaborated with fellow musicians unable to earn money via live performance.

That's another thing about this era, it's underlined who are the good guys, in the creative industries and elsewhere.

After visiting the new Wilde and Beckett attractions in Enniskillen, I am pondering literary tourism.

Getting on the trail of great authors leads you to the good, the bad and the frankly depressing.

Visiting Haworth Parsonage, aged about 11 with a parent, I remember tiny, claustrophobic rooms where two of the glorious Bronte sisters - Emily and Anne - died early of consumption. Although I liked the idea of their pet geese called Victoria and Adelaide...

By contrast, Seamus Heaney's Home Place is an uplifting starting point to investigate the Nobel prize winner who made his and our place universal.

I was lucky enough to see a rehearsed reading of Jane Coyle's After Melissa here, with Ruairi Conaghan and Caitriona Hinds in the super-dramatic piece inspired by Lawrence Durrell's work.

Returning to Fermanagh, you can channel the author of Waiting for Godot by getting the cool Sam Beckett haircut in the local barbers.

Behind nearly every great writer there's a great English teacher. Declan Lawn, responsible with Adam Patterson for The Salisbury Poisonings and Freegard starring James Norton out next year, has praised Brendan Kennelly who taught him the subject.

The poet, who died this week, was a teacher, academic and keeper of emotional truth, one of Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators". His poem Begin contains the lines:

"Begin to the pageant of queuing girls

the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal

bridges linking the past and future

old friends passing though with us still."

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