It is no exaggeration to say that the past year has been difficult for the arts. From the closure of theatres, galleries, and other cultural spaces to mass furlough and redundancy, it has not been easy to truly bask in the creations of others. On the other hand, many have also persevered. We all saw the balcony orchestras of Italy and online performances around the world, showing that even when all seems lost, the arts can be open and available to all.
However, did the arts become more accessible in the pandemic or did it just continue to serve a primary middle to upper-class audience with an ever-growing class gap? There is compelling evidence to think so. Research from the University of Cambridge explores how access to the internet- a 'digital divide'- has hindered children from accessing the resources that we have relied so much on in this past year. It says:
"As an aspect of deprivation in the UK, digital exclusion cannot be overlooked. The likelihood of having access to the internet from home increases along with income, such that only 51% of households earning between £6000-10,000 had home internet access compared with 99% of households with an income of over £40,001. The link between poverty and digital exclusion is clear: if you are poor, you have less chance of being online."
Now that many disadvantaged children are tasked with picking up all of their learning from home as part of coronavirus social distancing measures, and are unable to access the same online learning resources as children whose parents have access to IT, this gap is surely only set to grow further."
This divide obviously extends to access to online performances, exhibits, and platforms such as Google Arts and Culture (more on that one next week). Children who are already struggling with digital exclusion will be affected in other areas too- there are health implications that are inherent to class and arts exposure. An article in The Psychologist tells us that it goes much deeper:
"Artistic and cultural engagement can reduce medication use and GP visits; moderate symptoms in chronic health conditions, including diabetes, dementia, stroke and respiratory disease; decrease mortality rates; reduce pain and fatigue; and increase healthy behaviours. Arts and culture can improve our sense of self-worth, self-confidence, self-esteem and positive emotional expression/regulation, and reduce incidences/severity of depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness and suicidal ideation, enhancing wellbeing across a range of dimensions. The arts can thus be considered to be a social determinant of health."
If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is that mental health is just as important as physical health. As ethical leaders and scholars, we should be aiming to bring education (and, by consequence, arts) to disadvantaged groups to help and bridge the quality of life differences brought along by the class divide.
Next week I will be exploring Google Arts and Culture, in order to see how we can lessen the class divide through open and accessible platforms. See you then!
Banner photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash.