In the parallel universe where coronavirus didn’t happen, thousands of us are taking our seats at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival right now. Thousands more are immersing ourselves in epic installations at the Biennale of Sydney or experiencing a sensory overload at QAGOMA’s Water exhibition in Brisbane.
Instead, these venues and festivals — alongside hundreds more, nationwide — have shut up shop, many for the first time in their operational history. As for us, we’re cooped up like barnyard hens, socially distanced and self-isolated from one another.
Still, the arts haven’t gone anywhere. In fact, we rely on them perhaps more than ever. Streaming TV and movies, video games, books and music all keep us sane and entertained, providing reprieve from the rolling horror of the news.
The only thing missing is the ability to experience all this together, alongside each other. However, Australian arts companies and organisations are stepping up, offering alternatives that make them accessible from home — or at least offering suggestions on how to help ensure their survival on the other side of COVID-19.
Here are some of them.
Can’t visit an art gallery, exhibition or biennale?
This year’s Biennale of Sydney — titled Nirin (meaning ‘edge’ in Wiradjuri) — is migrating online as of this week. In coming weeks, they say they’ll be offering virtual walk-throughs and 360-degree tours via the Google Arts & Culture platform. In the meantime: head to their Instagram to catch up on curator-led tours through the different Biennale venues; and keep an eye on their YouTube for new content (which currently includes a look at Tony Albert‘s outdoor ‘greenhouse’ on Cockatoo Island).
Tony Albert's Healing Land, Remembering Country at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney
The National Gallery of Victoria has launched immersive virtual tours of its exhibitions: you can currently ‘walk’ through the their blockbuster (and normally ticketed) exhibitions Keith Haring | Jean Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines (and listen to the audio guide at the same time) and Kaws: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness.
Bendigo Art Gallery have created an online version of their exhibition Bessie Davidson and Sally Smart: Two artists and the Parisian avant-garde. The exhibition, which was open for just one day before the gallery had to close, features more than 50 paintings by lesser-known Australian Impressionist Bessie Davidson, who found success in 19th-century Paris, alongside works by her great-niece: renowned Australian artist Sally Smart.
Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) are using their YouTube channel to showcase conversations with artists, in-depth looks into collections and hypnotic time-lapses of large-scale installations being built.
Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) might be closed, but Tim — a former tattoo-parlour manager turned living sculpture — is live-streaming his endurance performance in the empty gallery from 10:00am-4.30pm daily.
Many art gallery stores are also still open online. Support your favourite gallery by buying gifts for others and yourself. For what it’s worth, MONA is doing its bit by continuing to sell its infamous yet beloved vulva-shaped soap online — finally bring together art and hygiene.
Can’t go to the cinema?
Most cinemas are offering customers full refunds on any unused tickets. In the meantime, purchasing gift cards and cinema memberships for future use will help ensure they can be operational in a post-coronavirus world.
While we’re temporarily deprived of new releases on the big screen, Australia is lucky to have more streaming services available than ever. Netflix, Stan, Foxtel, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Disney Plus — as well as specialist services like DocPlay (documentaries), Hayu (reality TV) and Kayo (sports) — all require subscriptions.
On the other hand, ABC iView, SBS On Demand and commercial TV catch-up services cost nothing. And anyone with an Australian library account has access to Beamafilm and Kanopy, which offer a range of top-quality recent release movies and TV shows. Recent releases on Kanopy right now include Carol, Room, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and I Am Not Your Negro.
(Though public libraries are closed, here are ways to get the most out of your membership.)
Can’t see live music?
For Australian musicians working in an industry already gutted by illegal pirating and paltry shares offered by streaming services, playing live shows was often the last reliable source of income. For performers, tour managers, venue operators and crew alike, the closure of venues has now obliterated that revenue stream too.
The industry’s response? Isol-Aid music festival, which sees Australian musicians play music from home studios and bedrooms each weekend on Instagram. The sets raise money and awareness for Support Act — a charity supporting music workers impacted by Covid-19 (and was already supporting music workers affected by bushfires).
Find out which artists are scheduled via their Instagram account, hop onto the artist’s Instagram at the scheduled time, and tune into the likes of Sarah Blasko, Courtney Barnett, Campcope and Montaigne playing intimate sets. And then, of course, donate to Support Act.
A special “lunchtime” edition of the festival — Isol-Aid: Lunch Without Borders — will be streaming from their Instagram this Wednesday from 11:30am to 1:30pm — featuring 15-minute sets from five artists, including Gordi, Asgeir, Julien Baker and Of Monsters And Men’s Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir.
(Also consider paying for downloads of songs and albums instead of relying on Spotify and Apple Music. Direct downloads from Bandcamp allows artists to retain money. One recent fundraiser on the platform saw over $7 million AUD worth of music and merch sold, with profits retained by musicians. Better yet: order vinyl if available and support local record stores in the process.)
Can’t see stand-up comedy?
With 640 shows scheduled, MICF 2020 was set to break records over its scheduled three-and-a-half week festival. Instead, it’s making history for more sombre reasons. MICF’s cancellation has also meant hundreds of other comedy shows across Australia have also been cancelled.
This Sunday (April 12), the ABC brings the festival into homes with a special Comedy Care Package at 8:20pm. Hosted by Denise Scott, the special will showcase the best of past MICF Galas, featuring festival favourites Aaron Chen, Anne Edmonds, Becky Lucas, Cal Wilson, Dave Hughes, Frank Woodley, Kitty Flanagan, Nazeem Hussain, Steph Tisdell, Tom Gleeson and Urzila Carlson.
If you’re not following your favourite comedians on social media already, now’s a great time to discover what podcasts or video content they’re producing. Judith Lucy’s Overwhelmed and Dying (aren’t we all?) podcast couldn’t be more relevant or timely.
ABC Comedy has a dedicated TV station (Channel 22) and iView channel. Stan, Netflix and Amazon Prime have their own existing or upcoming Australian comedy specials to mine, including Zoë Coombs Marr‘s acclaimed stand-up show Bossy Bottom (available on Amazon Prime from April 10).
Punters can also make tax deductible donations to MICF to ensure the festival’s survival. Ticket holders can also donate the value of their purchased tickets to the artist they were going to see, or email box office to arrange for a percentage of the sale to be retained. Follow MICF’s Twitter and Facebook accounts to see daily mini-sets from previous festivals.
Can’t see your favourite drag shows?
Melbourne drag queen Victoria Bitter wrote this compilation of ways Australia’s drag community has activated remotely and online during Covid-19 venue closures.
Renowned drag performance artist Betty Grumble offers free daily 10:00am workouts via Instagram Live.
Queer Space — who’ve had to cancel events that focus on regional cities — are seeking immediate financial aid for their artists through their #BuyATicket campaign. They are also hosting Queer Space Virtual Trivia live on their Facebook page on Tuesdays at 8:00pm.
Can’t see theatre, dance, opera or classical music?
As Eamon Flack and Sue Donnelly of Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre put it, now is “a time diabolically unsuited to theatre”. Many Australian theatre companies are asking audiences to consider donating unused tickets as a tax-deductible refund.
Australian National Theatre Live — which specialises in filming Australian theatre productions for cinema release — will host the Virus Free Theatre Festival. This week it’s showing The Dapto Chaser by Australian playwright Mary Rachel Brown — filmed at Sydney’s SBW Stables Theatre in July 2015 — on Friday April 10 and Saturday April 11 at 8:00pm, via its Facebook page.
While Sydney Dance Company is unable to perform for audiences, it earns substantial revenue through its dance classes. Unlimited dance classes are available for $28 a week through their virtual studio. Smaller dance companies and studios also offer similar classes.
Meanwhile The Australian Ballet has newly launched Ballet TV, broadcasting some of its most beloved ballets free of charge with cinema-quality recordings of full-length performances, starting with David McAllister’s completely OTT production of The Sleeping Beauty.
Missed out on seeing Opera Australia‘s Attila? Two performances were staged before social distancing was introduced and ABC Classic recorded the second performance, which is available to stream for free.
Sydney Chamber Opera was able to film their new production of Breaking Glass (in front of an audience-free theatre): four new one-act mini-operas composed by emerging female composers Peggy Polias, Josephine Macken, Georgia Scott and Bree van Reyk — all of which will be streamed soon.
Having had to stop its popular live-stream concerts, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is now offering a new performance from its archives every Thursday night at 7:30pm via YouTube. Thursday April 9 you can catch Sir Andrew Davis’ Grammy-nominated arrangement of Handel’s Messiah (the ultimate Easter banger).
The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) has launched ACO HomeCasts, an extensive and innovative digital content season that will bring the music and musicians of the ACO directly into Australian homes.
Can’t buy books in your favourite bookshop or attend your favourite author event?
Like musicians, authors tour the country with every book release, relying on a network of bookshop events and writers’ festivals to ensure their work is properly promoted. The absence of festivals and bookshop storefronts now threaten the livelihoods of writers across the country.
While major writers festivals like the Sydney Writers Festival have had to cancel completely, the Newcastle Writers Festival went ahead — completely online — this past weekend, and the 2020 sessions are available on their YouTube channel.
Many local bookshops are still forging ahead with author events via video on Zoom or Facebook, where you can be even more intimate with authors and ask them questions via webcam or in the comments.
Many local independent bookshops — such as Avid Reader in Brisbane, Better Read Than Dead in Sydney and Readings in Melbourne — now also offer free delivery within certain postcodes, with staff delivering purchases to your door via bike and foot. Head to the Australian Independent Bookseller website, pop in your postcode and you’ll see shops nearest to you.
Can’t visit the Sydney Opera House?
Australia’s most recognisable built structure, and premier home of the arts, has been forced to shut up shop. In response, the Sydney Opera House has launched From Our House to Yours. Every Wednesday to Sunday night at 6:00pm, the Opera House will release archival footage, live broadcasts and even premieres.
This coming week features an author talk with bestselling children’s book author (and actor/comedian) David Walliams (Wednesday April 8, 10:00am); a conversation between Clementine Ford and Flex Mami recorded at All About Women 2020 (Thursday April 9, 8:00pm); a live set from Panda Bear — aka Animal Collective co-founder Noah Lennox (Friday April 10, 8:00pm); author and philosopher Alain de Botton discussing On Love (Saturday April 11, 8:00pm) and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs‘ performance of Handel’s Messiah — performed in Auslan (Sunday April 12, 10:00am).
Can’t sing in your choir?
As featured on Australian Story, Astrid Jorgensen’s Pub Choir has connected Australians in large live spaces across the country, redefining what choirs can be.
Now they can no longer meet up in person, Pub Choir has gone online, reinvented itself as a Couch Choir, and asked participants to submit their individual parts from self-isolation. A video editor then stitches the parts together to glorious results.
In less than a week, their version of Close to You was viewed over 300,000 times, with over 1,000 people from 18 countries participating. We defy you not to cry while watching and thinking of loved ones you miss.