The Emergence of Online Art Galleries
The lack of tourism feeding into the economy through the arts is a global issue in current times... Accessing art galleries got challenging with Covid-19 restrictions. To overcome this, social media has been a source for galleries and other creatives to maintain an online presence and allow some degree of access to arts. Virtual platforms have managed to incorporate an intimate view into the physical sites people can no longer visit, selecting gifts you can purchase online. Whilst for private galleries this has enabled purchases of works online to continue largely as before.
However, public galleries have had a major interruption in their revenue stream. One of their only remaining revenue streams, along with those of donations and memberships is that of merchandise which was previously predominantly sold on-site. With the shift to internet servers, the private galleries have faced the potential of losing income to direct sales through this medium. Galleries contacted have failed to reply regarding this issue.
In response, artists have also initiated going online directly as a source of promoting their work on different platforms, with the intent of attracting more people to their work as well as looking for potential clients.
Prior to Covid much of the online activities had been confined to cataloging work mainly for research purposes and as a means of publicising upcoming events. In contrast, public galleries have been constrained to extending their online presence with virtual exhibitions which are interactive in nature and giving greater insight into the context of how work was produced through 'walk throughs'.
There is a perception of concern amongst the public about how galleries will operate after all this time and if there will be any new measures put in place as you enter and travel around the physical spaces.
Focusing on the United Kingdom, one of the world's finest cultural hubs, the UK government guidelines for England are likely to be altered to 'open- up' the economy and businesses. For galleries and other sectors of the arts such as cinemas and theatres, this change will ensure that there is no social distancing or face masks as of July 19th as more people begin to venture out and rediscover what is out there. This coincides roughly with the beginning of the school holidays.
In a wider context, Scotland has recorded the highest rates of infection currently in Europe and as such the devolved governments will make their decisions accordingly. As the UK's rate of second vaccinations is 50.5% the government feel as though they have achieved a certain benchmark in which opening-up is a viable option.
There are other issues to bear in mind. Firstly we need to look at the required footfall to keep a gallery operational.
Galleries will have different footfalls, some higher than others and certain days will be visited more often by the public. It will be interesting to observe the similarities in the data and why some galleries are more prepared than others for reopening.
Subsequently, there is a cause to look into galleries from various areas in London to see if there is a direct correlation in results and whether it's due to where the gallery is located and the amount of commercialisation available.
The Tate Modern Gallery (in Central London on the south bank of the Thames) is a huge institution compared to the Dulwich Picture Gallery (in the Borough of Southwark, South
London) and so, although many people travel using various forms of transportation, the public is more inclined to gravitate towards The Tate Modern in its more accessible position. It is through forethought and planning how the individual would be more likely to visit one over the other, whether it be through location, accessibility via public transport, the experience or the exhibitions themselves. The Tate is immense and is on a huge scale, the Dulwich Picture Gallery offering a genteel faded grandeur.
Galleries pre-covid-19 have had virtual collections of various artworks to showcase the artists' work they weren't able to display on their physical site. Now galleries are better able to provide a virtual tour of their rooms, giving the viewer the experience of being in a gallery from the comfort of their own home. It has been estimated that 95% of galleries have been shut globally as of the pandemic's outbreak and new waves that have followed, delaying galleries to return to normality.
For small galleries, this has been a test as it has limited their resources and many small galleries have had to be closed during this crisis. A further dramatic 77% drop in visits from popular galleries and museums was envisaged as the pandemic continues.
The effect Covid has had on galleries such as the Tate has also left them struggling to maintain their usual footfall in terms of numbers and the amount earned. As a repercussion, some of the job roles and allowances have changed under the circumstances to adjust and attempt to make up the losses from lack of tourism and shop sales, some even expecting to take until 2024/25. There isn't a solid sense of job safety within the industry across the nation as the economy has been drastically affected. However, galleries will endeavour to save both their livelihood for many to share and continue to explore new ways to reach their audience.
Some of the galleries that have partially reopened, haven't yet directly disclosed information about Covid-19 on their websites or responded to inquiries made. Reopening of art galleries will be a gradual process, and only time will tell how things develop.
Footfall for both galleries small and large remains vital, but relying on a home-grown tourist surge is likely to be insufficient to make up for the continued absence of the international trade which makes up the livelihood of most institutions. In addition, predictions from 2020-2021 have been unreliable as the initial anticipated length of the pandemic was grossly misrepresented, this continues to have an impact today.
We are safe only when everyone is safe. However, we have to wait on the rest of the world playing catch-up, only then will we see a return to some form of normality as we all knew it. So the next few months of 2021 may well prove to be as much of a challenge as 2020 for our galleries. How they continue to adapt and innovate, or not, may well have a greater effect on their survival than current forecasts are predicting.