Online fashion shows, art exhibits: the future of events or Covid-19 stopgap?
Mary Corrigall asks the masterminds behind SA Fashion Week, Latitudes Art Fair and the National Arts Festival
As quickly as our inboxes filled with cancelled exhibition openings and events, came the invitations to virtual tours and digitised versions of events. The next South African Fashion Week (SAFW) - in April - will be virtual, as will the National Arts Festival in June/July in Makhanda.
Is it possible that Covid-19 could kick-start major shifts in our culture scene that could benefit audiences, culture and art? Or will virtual events be remembered as a stop-gap response to sustain the arts industry?
It's cheaper to stage a virtual SAFW, says Lucilla Booyzen, its founder and director. Covid-19 has accelerated a virtual-turn already in the making. "The writing has been on the wall for years," says Booyzen.
Fashion TV channels, apps and websites have offered virtual fashion shows for some time and many people who attend the shows view them through the screens on their phones anyway so that they don't miss collecting content for Insta. It's likely the transition from real to virtual SAFW will be smooth. And of course, a virtual show cuts out the posers and insiders in the front row.
"The power that sits collectively in the social media of the designers is vast," says Booyzen, drawing attention to the fact that it's the online viewers and the digital manifestations of a live event that make a difference to a brand.
People watch their screens, if they can afford the data costs, but will they buy art online? Viewing art at fairs and galleries is a tactile and social experience. Virtual browsing of art exhibitions and art fairs (like the online viewing rooms that replaced the live Art Basel Hong Kong last weekend) may finally encourage people to buy art online - perhaps eventually resulting in people favouring filmic or digital art suited to these platforms.
"Our hope is that eventually online buying behaviour - from affordable to blue chip - will be positively impacted," says Lucy MacGarry, co-founder of Latitudes Art Fair.
"By promoting this work alongside traditional painting and sculpture, we want to change perceptions around the value of experimental, filmic, video and digital work."
Staging a virtual arts festival is a more complex undertaking. The Makhanda-based organisers will not only have to consider its transmission but how to connect artists in isolation.
"We'll be working in partnership with venues and institutions across the country to record and produce the live performance elements of the programme," says Monika Newton, CEO of the National Arts Festival.
Because of the difficulties this presents, the programme will be altered before it unfolds on multiple platforms. There'll be on-demand content that's free to view as well as pay-to-view dynamic "live" online experiences, she says.
The organisers of the festival hope that the shift to digital platforms will generate new opportunities for artists and grow audiences, but ultimately "nothing can ever replace the live experience at a festival", says Newton. As such, they are planning a bumper 2021 festival to compensate.