The arts in lockdown: five digital responses

Ed gives his take on a handful of brilliant cultural responses to the lockdown.


Since the global pandemic forced us all to close our doors on the outside world, arts organisations have been doing what they do best – creating brilliant and innovative ways to engage with their audiences.

At Cog we’ve been working hard to support them, helping to bring ideas to life as they have risen to this new challenge, producing educational resources, daily Twitter challenges, and online streaming content to keep their audiences engaged and entertained.

I’ve picked out a handful of my favourite projects from across the sector. I could have chosen dozens more.

Perhaps not coincidentally, my choices are all from our clients or close friends in the arts. Maybe I’ll extend my choices in a second article, sometime soon. Let me know if you have favourites I should look at.

1. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

OAE are an incredible player-led orchestra. When the coronavirus put a stop to their live concert performances, they were keen to keep the connection with audiences and emphasise their active online presence.

we’re so grateful for the speed of response with Cog and the user-friendly set up of the website that they created for us that we’ve been able to maintain our creative branding, quickly adapt features and create new pages for the new demands of a (temporarily!) entirely-digital orchestra

Elle Docx - Director of Communications

They very quickly set up The Show Must Go On(line), a well curated page of eclectic online content.

As well as drawing attention to new projects for lockdown, such as the ‘Schrodinger’s Pandemic’ series and the Quarantine Sessions, The Show Must Go On(line) features highlights of the OAE’s pre-lockdown output on YouTube.

They even somehow found time to add an April Fool’s Day hoax into the mix.

An embedded YouTube subscribe button makes it even easier to connect with the OAE’s videos. And at the end of the page there’s a link to a support page.

It’s a clever, authentic and entirely appropriate response for the orchestra and their dedicated audience – the perfect mix of marketing messages, fundraising and genuinely engaging content.

And of course we were chuffed that the relatively new website we’d created was able to accommodate these adaptations so smoothly.

2. English National Ballet

We’ve been working with ENB for a long time. In recent years we were thrilled by the global coverage they had achieved, with their work being screened in cinemas around the world. But this crisis would need a response that engaged audiences one-to-one.

As is so often the case, artistic director Tamara Rojo led from the front. Her regular online ballet classes have been a revelation. An opportunity that few audience member ever thought would be possible.

And the company has taken full advantage of live streaming content on YouTube. Full performances of old favourites from the ENB archive have been streamed for free as part of weekly #WednesdayWatchParties.

They’ve umbrellaed the content under the very popular ENB at Home heading. The page has been receiving some impressive visitor numbers.

ENB at Home focuses on displaying a clear schedule for forthcoming streams, and lists selected highlights from the programme so far. And they’ve made it as easy as possible for their audience to support them via their website, PayPal, and text.

3. Contact

Contact’s appeal is more local and homespun in a very good way.

With their project, A Week’s Notice, they have been encouraging their online audience to creatively take notice of the world around them.

A Week’s Notice harnesses the positive effects of making art and being creative, to enhance participants’ welfare. By hosting a different freelance artist for each of the seven weeks the project ran, Contact established itself as a digital ‘venue’ for community creativity.

To mark the end of the project, Contact joined forces with arts participation social enterprise 64 Million Artists, who have been running their own scheme during lockdown called Create to Connect.

It’s great to see these participatory projects, showing that art isn’t just for consuming – getting involved, at any level, will enhance your mental wellbeing.

4. Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art


O Sole Mio is an online exhibition of visual and written responses to the classic Neapolitan song ‘O Sole Mio’. It is the brainchild of Parasol unit’s director and curator Ziba Ardalan, who was inspired by the solace she found in the song’s certainty of a happier world.

Inspired by the universal warmth and positive message of the song, Ziba has invited artists to contribute to this virtual exhibition by making or writing a work in response to the concept, meaning and associations to the song.

The virtual exhibition takes the form of a series of digital magazines, shared via weekly newsletters. Each edition thoughtfully curates text and image supplied by contemporary artists from around the world, many of whom have also been exhibited at Parasol unit’s Old Street gallery space in previous years.

It’s a fascinating collection of content, including poetry, essays and narrative, a real mix of personal reflection and artistic expression. Do check it out.

5. Institute of Contemporary Art

The ICA were on the case very quickly.

From the 23rd March, the first official day of lockdown in the UK, they’ve been sending daily bulletins, of interesting and uplifting content, put together by their team of curators.

The ICA Daily emails are a triumph of arts esoterica. They curate a wide range of videos, articles, and essays, expertly tailored for their particular audience. And each email ends with a recommendation for track of the day.

By creating a daily email that is radically different from day to day, but always interesting, the ICA has been able to fulfil its role as an institute for independent ideas, and maintain a dialogue of sorts with its followers and supporters.

I’ve chosen these five particular examples, but there are many more projects and initiatives that have been set up since the start of lockdown. Michael has put together a list of his favourite platforms for staying in and watching live arts and Anna sends out our Cultural Calendar on a monthly basis which I’d encourage you to sign up to, if you’re not already on the list.

If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you make the most of your website whilst we’re all stuck at home, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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