Social distancing and restrictions on public gatherings brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic make arts and entertainment performances practically impossible in the immediate future.
The restrictions caused Santa Barbara venues to cancel or postpone shows planned for the next two months, but UCSB Arts & Lectures is determined to give its audience a flavor of what it had planned for this spring with its new digital content series. Launching something of this sort was a long-standing topic of discussion among Arts & Lectures staff members, according to Executive Director Celesta Billeci, but making it happen was expedited once the program was suddenly rendered unable to hold events.
“We had been talking about providing digital content for a while now, but hadn’t fine-tuned the details,” she said. “When we had to cancel several months of events, we knew we had to put the plan into high gear so we can be there for everyone who is looking for entertainment, looking for educational opportunities, looking for inspiration.”
The new digital series will consist of both brand-new content and old clips of lectures by various speakers from the Arts & Lectures archive. The former will run the gamut from content that Arts & Lectures curates from a variety of artists as well as interactive material featuring Arts & Lectures staff, which Ms. Billeci hopes will foster an increased sense of connection between the program and those who consume its content.
Last week, the digital series had Arts & Lectures Associate Director Roman Baratiak give book recommendations and viewers answered the question of what books they are currently reading. Ms. Billeci hopes this sort of interactivity will create a sense of community at a time when people are hungry for it.
“As a community, we feel a strong need for connection right now, so this series is creating a conversation to help us feel engaged with one another,” she said.
The program hopes to reschedule as many of its 2019-20 season’s cancelled events as possible, but it is also collaborating with some artists who had their appearances cancelled in creating digital versions of their performances. Hadn’t COVID-19 shut down performances across the board, Wednesday would have marked the only West Coast appearance of France’s Lyon Opera Ballet, which would have showcased the work of choreographers Maguy Marin, Lucinda Childs, and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker interpreting Ludwig van Beethoven’s piece “Grosse Fuge.” Because this was specifically conceived for performance in 2020, the Lyon Opera Ballet is working with Arts & Lectures to adapt this piece into an at-home viewing experience that viewers can see this year.
“This would have been performed as part of the worldwide celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, so it was not only an important work for several reasons, but also an important time to show it,” Ms. Billeci said.
Releasing digital content was a long-standing ambition for Arts & Lectures, so Ms. Bicelli hopes the series will continue in some form even after the coronavirus crisis subsides and live shows resume. Arts & Lectures’ performances are first and foremost intended to be experienced in person with a crowd, but the executive director believes the digital series will bolster appearances by the program’s featured artists by providing a penetrating look into their world beyond the stage.
“There is so much more to an artist, an author or event than we can possibly show in one evening on stage,” Ms. Billeci stated. “This is a great way for our audience to take a deep dive and get to know a person or group, or to discover what goes on behind the scenes at A&L- the possibilities are endless.”
The contents of UCSB Arts & Lectures’ digital culture series can be seen by joining its mailing list online at www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu or signing up through the program’s social media channels, @artsandlectures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.