The post-pandemic world will be different, probably in significant ways. We have no idea what those ways will be.
There may not be a political reckoning as the result of any heightened awareness of inequality and injustice that this crisis has highlighted. I don’t expect violent social unrest. (See What Comes Next? I, II, and III.) But I am not the only one imagining the possibility of big changes. Michelle Goldberg, a New York Times columnist recently said that “After the coronavirus, political transformation may be inevitable [The New Great Depression Is Coming. Will There be a New New Deal?];” and her colleague Frank Bruni [She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She See Next?] interviewed Laurie Garrett, a journalist whose career has focused on the global spread of diseases. One of her observations was “Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25 percent unemployment looks like,” she said, “we may also see what collective rage looks like.”
I don’t see myself as a crystal ball kind of guy, able to envision what exactly the future will be like. Others, notably Doug McLennan (founder and editor of ArtsJournal where you are reading this blog), are highlighting specific possibilities. [Parlez Vous Screen? and Arts: Rebuild What? And Why?] What does seem clear to me, as I said at the beginning, is that things will be different, perhaps profoundly so. It is also possible that the arts will suffer fallout from association with a wealthy class that will be distinctly out of favor.
It behooves us to spend some time considering how we might prepare not just for a new financial reality but for a new social one. It will be important to be and be seen as partners in making a better and more livable world–not just by being presenters of arts events but by being valuable community citizens. Of course the arts are our mission, but especially in times of crisis all individuals are more than their professions. We are human beings in the world. So too our organizations.
Community engagement is the practice of learning the concerns and interests of our communities and partnering with them in finding ways of addressing them. Most of the time that will be in the presentation of artistic experiences; but sometimes our communities need more from us. As but one example, Milwaukee Repertory Theater is yet another arts organization that has pitched in to make masks. Mask making is clearly not their mission, yet a community need was seen and MRT had resources it could bring to bear to address it. Given the Rep’s deep and long commitment to community engagement, this is no surprise. And Milwaukeeans, even those who are not theatergoers, will remember this work long after the pandemic eases.
Our industry has long needed to significantly expand its reach, the percentage of the population that view us and our work with sufficient favor to consider attending our events. The pandemic has not lessened that need. Stepping up now and then continuing to focus on addressing community concerns is a means of accomplishing that. It’s in our long-term interest to do so.
This blog post is part of a series. If you’d like to see the whole series in one place, click here.