Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronavirus & Art #2: Thoughts and recommendations on the implications of a pandemic

Here's my updated thoughts about the implications of the CO-VID 19 (coronavirus) PANDEMIC for art, artists, art organisations (galleries / societies / schools etc), art exhibitions and private views, art fairs and art schools in the short and longer term.

It comes with a list of ACTIONS which I RECOMMEND artists or art organisations should either be doing or giving serious thought to. 
  • Please SHARE with any artist or art organisation that you think might find it worth a read.
  • You might want to bookmark this - I'll probably come back and update this as I think of more.
Image: CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS

This post is further to my post last week on Coronavirus & Art #1: Risk Management for Artists & Art Events.

I'm going to aim for an update and further thoughts/sharing of good practice about once a week. [UPDATE: I'll do a timeline re prevention measures in the UK tomorrow following announcements today. Bottom line: 
  • this is the worst health crisis for a generation and is going to go on on for several months and 
  • the peak is weeks/months away
  • we are 4 weeks behind Italy]
Just last week, people were talking about various things still going ahead.

Some were even 'joking' about how this was a really good time to visit Italy while it's quiet.

This week, it's changing - and will keep changing - and will become MUCH more serious.
Now we have:
  • restrictions on movement of anybody within Italy - which is in total lockdown with curfews - with most shops (except food stores and pharmacies) and museums/galleries closed. 
  • all travel to the USA from 26 European countries banned (excluding the UK)
  • the Federal Government in the USA has prohibited all travel for its employees - so nobody is going to international meetings or conferences
  • major football games are being played behind closed doors
  • Israel is requiring 2 weeks quarantine for all visitors
  • India has suspended all visas
  • activities which involve more contact - and the scope for transmission - are being cancelled for a lengthy period eg 
More decisive action is still to come e.g.
  • Spain considering putting Madrid into lockdown; 
  • Ireland is closing all its colleges and schools today and also banning mass gatherings (100 people max. internal and 500 max external)
Plus although the numbers of confirmed cases are climbing it's almost certain there are many, many more which have not yet been diagnosed due to the lack of testing kits and processing capacity. It is already a lot worse than indicated by the official numbers.

[UPDATE: UK has c.600 recorded cases re. testing BUT the Chief Scientific Officer says it is almost certan there are about 10,000 people with the viral infection already in the community]

The numbers of confirmed cases in the UK declared yesterday had doubled on those declared 4 days previously. This is how exponential viruses work - they double every few days and the angle of the curve gets steeper before things get better. The curve for Italy is virtually vertical.

All of the following (for UK artists) is based on the premise that the UK is now very much into the exponential curve of viral infection (and it's likely other countries are the same).

What's going to happen

Below are the things I think will happen soon or in the next few weeks. These include:
  • extended closure of schools and colleges and arrangements for home learning
  • promotion of home working
  • advice to avoid all crowds
  • advice to avoid crowded public transport eg walk or cycle or travel off peak
  • cancellation of all events due to get more than X people (who knows what X is?)
  • closure of some commercial retail outlets

The issue is more when rather than whether given what we've now seen what happens with an outbreak which went out of control in Italy.

When will it end. Who knows? Everything is speculation at the moment. There are theories by learned academics and  advice by leading health and legal people - and unfortunately they don't all agree!

If you are doing anything innovative which you'd like to share or encourage other artists to join please contact me my Facebook Page.

Artists and Art Teachers

On the one hand it's a blessing.
  • Social isolation means LOTS of uninterrupted time to get on with making art.
  • LOTS of people sitting around at home means lots of people flipping through art on a screen - and buying art (we hope). It's your job to make them buy!
On the other hand, it's a curse. There will be no income from:
  • art fairs - if cancelled by organisers and/or poor attendance for those which go ahead
  • art sales - because the chance of your art exhibitions being cancelled is more than likely UNLESS unless you are ALREADY sorted around selling art online. 
  • teaching - because classes and workshops will be cancelled (by you or those attending - it's inevitable)


  • Redo your budget for a worst case scenario for this year - in terms of projected income and expenses
  • Protect your assets. Get your artwork out of art galleries if you are not confident they can survive and /or they are very likely to shut down temporarily for a short or longer time. At the very least find out how you can contact the gallery owners if they shut up shop with your artwork inside. 
  • Check your business insurance and find out what you are covered for
  • Think about who is your audience for your artwork - and where might they may congregate online? Go looking for them!
  • Get your website up to date and organised 
  • Raise your profile online
    • Develop ecommerce opportunities for selling art online
    • Start making videos of making art for broadcast online
    • Start planning/making podcasts.
  • Check the scope to reschedule classes, courses and workshops for later in the year - and start rebooking if you can
  • Find out what determines whether or not an art fair / exhibition runs - and the scope to reschedule

Art Exhibitions

Art Galleries

This current situation is why, as a business, you're recommended to have
  • a risk management plan 
  • AND a cash buffer in terms of working capital for when things get difficult.  
This current situation (the "once in a longtime awful event" ) is why you NEED both - and if you haven't got either then read my recommendations below.

My prediction is that there are going to be a lot of art galleries which will go out of business.


  • your first priority is to work out how long you can survive without normal sales/cashflow. You need to develop a cashflow forecast which takes account of:
    • continuing expenses (allowing for the measures announced yesterday in the UK - and any other announced elsewhere)
    • major reductions in income for potentially a few months
  • ramp up your online activities - you can still market/sell artwork online. Get advice if you don't know how. Look at how other art galleries do it.
  • determine whether / when your gallery will close - and you switch to working from home.  It's almost certainly going to happen. You need to decide what are the criteria that will trigger the decision.
  • inform all artists who have artwork with you - and indicate what arrangements, if any, for artists to collect their artwork. 
    • Good communication means they'll come back to you - if you are still around. 
    • Poor communications means they'll badmouth you to all their friends. (I could tell you the name of one gallerist and gallery where that has already happened)


  • what happens if your art gallery closes as a result of this pandemic?
  • what do you need to keep selling art?

Art Exhibitions (Art Societies / Art Competitions)

Even if you hold an exhibition during the worst weeks/months, what's the chances of people attending as the situation gets worse?

If the exhibition is being held between now and the end of September, it would be wise to have:
  • a comprehensive back up plan in relation to cancellation and either postponement or abandonment
  • an alternative date - if postponed
  • a provisional booking for a later date if you can shift the exhibition to later in the year

The most important thing is to make the decision before artists start despatching their work - otherwise you will have all the extra costs of storing the art until the exhibition can be held.

If your exhibition involves international artists, think about the implications in relation to:
  • whether the artists can travel to attend the exhibition / PV
  • whether people will attend if international artists are around. 
(That's just on the basis of airplanes being one of the most unhealthy places you can ever be in - recirculated air etc. I came back from the USA in the Autumn and experienced all the symptoms of coronavirus within a couple of days - bad cough and fever / flu type symptoms - and stayed indoors for three weeks!)

Private Views

Normally crowded Private Views are something to celebrate
(this is the RSPP in 2017)

Private Views are for the most part crowded.  

While normally this is a good thing, in today's context one has to ask whether it's sensible - or even responsible - to create and promote crowded events. This is even more relevant to all those events which get a solid attendance by older people who are especially vulnerable to this virus.

I'm certainly aware of art societies which have already cancelled Private Views due to "the crowd factor" - although not the exhibition.

I'm not going to go to any Private Views because there will be:
  • too many people, 
  • too much risk, 
  • too much potential payback in terms of becoming infected
I'm 65. There are people much younger than me dying of this virus. I'm
  • being cautious 
  • generally avoiding crowded places; 
  • demonstrating a preference for 
    • self-isolation for the most part and 
    • limited trips out - at quiet times. 
It just seems like the wise thing to do.

My best guess if that there are or will be a lot of other older people who will be acting in a similar way - and rather a lot of younger people with family commitments.


  • Think long and hard before going ahead with a Private View
  • If you go ahead with the exhibition, make sure that your online presence can do your exhibition justice

Art Fairs

I'm very certain that a lot of art fairs will be cancelled as the actions associated with the Delay Phase - and later - begin to kick in.

I think we're currently in the "phony war" where we know it's happening but the bombs haven't yet started dropping near us.

Which is not to say that the virus is not going to throttle up and major changes may start happening very near us in days rather than weeks.

See my blog post last Friday Coronavirus & Art #1: Risk Management for Artists & Art Events for suggestions of what artists and art fair organisers can do.

I wrote this on the Art Fair Buddies Facebook Group last week.
If there's a lot of people sitting around at home not going to art fairs, maybe something could be done in terms of developing better ecommerce opportunities for those who are happy to buy online.
I like the proposals in the risk management thread I started about:
  • licking website into shape so as to promote more art via that channel
  • doing videos of a stand i.e. a virtual visit to an art fair.
It's time for some left field thinking about how to create a virtual art fair online!!


  • Get ready to promote your own art fair online.  I'm thinking that groups of compatible artists / crafts people can create their own online virtual art fair via a new website - with images, videos, talks online via podcasts etc. There's absolutely no reason not to pursue the online option because otherwise you might well be looking at decimated sales. 
  • Join Art Fair Buddies - for the camaraderie and some good suggestions

Art Schools

I think it's extremely likely that at some point there will be a directive for all schools, colleges and universities to close.


  • Plan NOW for alternative methods for teaching and learning. (I know a lot of teachers and/or schools have already been doing this for some weeks on the basis of an assessment of the worst case scenario)
  • Develop Home Learning Packs
  • Supplement by ramping up your online communication systems via private online groups/forums and face to face contact via a screen - between teachers and students.
  • Review your business plan in relation to the financial impact of cancellation of one-off classes and courses.


The most sensible set of number crunching and predictions that I've seen so far.


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