I get it. Spring is finally here, and at least where I am it’s a warm sunny weekend. Some of us are vaccinated already, and vaccine production and distribution is ramping up daily. We’ve been stuck at home for just over a year now; surely the end of our ordeal is finally here. Time to declare the pandemic over and get back to normal, right?
Obviously this isn’t true (at least I hope it’s obvious). If roughly 20% of the American population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, then that leaves 80% still to go. There are new mutations and variations of the virus circulating among that 80%. Here in New York, while infection rates have plateaued, they haven’t gone down, and we’re still seeing over five thousand new cases of covid each week – which is where the numbers were back in those terrifiying days back in April. We’re thankfully better at treating the disease, so the fatality numbers aren’t what they were, but still – this is no time to insist that everything’s back to normal, right?
And yet I know a shocking number of people who are anxious – nay, giddy with anticipation – to return to life as it was in the Before Times, as if everything were magically fixed. Now, without delay. And I’m not talking about folks taking up a contrarian position about health policy out of some political ideology, conservative or otherwise – these are lefty artist types, who have presumably lived through exactly what I’ve lived through, who are nonetheless gung ho to throw caution to the winds.
And, since this is an arts professional blog, I feel like I need to point out that the arts profession itself might be helping fuel this urge to open things back up far before we’re ready. Not simply because so many of us are out of work, though that’s obviously a contiributing factor. No, I’m talking about the business models themselves. I’m talking about how it’s impossible to wait for the fall to resume normal life, because in the arts, the fall is already here.
Think about it – this is around the time when theaters would be announcing their 2021-22 seasons. That would presuppose that the details of those seasons – the scheduling, the contracts, the reservation of venues – had already been finalized. Planning for these seasons customarily takes place years in advance. So, with everything on hold due to the coronavirus, it’s not just the productions that were running as of March of last year which were affected – it’s everything in every possible stage of preparation after that. Under the system we have now, even if we wait for a good while into the future to have our cultural activity back, we have to open things up now to actually achieve that.
Which is ridiculous.
It’s ridiculous because there’s still too many variables at play to make that call seriously. It’s ridiculous because it hamstrings artists’ ability to respond to the world around them – you can’t react to current events when you have to wait three years or more for your reaction to be heard. And it’s ridiculous because it’s rooted in a sense of complacency – the notion that you can safely plan that far in advance, with no disruptions or intervention by fate – which the past year should have done away with. And if we ever do want things to get back to normal, we paradoxically have to get rid of that sense of what “normal” is.