The Role of the Arts during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Author(s):*Listed Alphabetically
Bradbury A, Fancourt D, Mak H W, Warran K

Year of Publication:

University College London

Publication Type:


This report examines the complex role of the arts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Repeated lockdowns, social distancing, disease control restrictions and other guidance since March 2020 introduced a series of paradoxes and challenges in the arts and cultural sector. On the one hand, venue closures and job losses significantly disrupted the cultural industries. However, the pandemic also provided new opportunities for home-based arts engagement including digital arts activities, online arts and cultural groups, and streamed performances. As the pandemic lengthened across late 2020 into 2021, hybrid models of engagement and socially-distanced engagement emerged, and since July 2021, the reopening of society has provided more freedom for the cultural industries. However, this reopening has also highlighted that the arts and cultural sector needs to evolve and adapt if it is to be sustainable in a post-COVID world.

The paradoxes and challenges extend to audiences too. Although many were unable to go to community events or cultural venues for much of the first 16 months of the pandemic, home-based arts activities became increasingly popular, with evidence suggesting that the demographic profile of people engaging with the arts evolved. However, the initial changes in audience demographics seen during the first UK lockdown have continued to change since: while the pandemic has shown that new audiences can be reached, sustaining them could be a greater challenge. A final paradox relates to health and wellbeing.

Although the pandemic has caused significant economic and psychological hardship, particularly for those working in the arts and cultural sector, many people turned to the arts as a vital means of coping with the challenges of the pandemic. towards the virus, have changed since COVID-19 first emerged, new longer-term stressors around healthcare, employment and supporting children and young people are growing. The role of the arts in supporting these challenges is, consequently, also changing. This report therefore uses the best available evidence to examine these issues across the first 16 months of the pandemic in the UK.

The report reviewed a range of literature to explore these paradoxes, reflecting on the following three themes:
(i) how audiences and arts behaviours changed and whether such changes are showing signs of becoming persistent within our society,
(ii) how and why the arts helped people to cope during the pandemic,
(iii) how those working within the arts and cultural sector have been affected.

Evidence Type: Qualitative Research

Main Focus: Community Development

Research Purpose: Discussion / Debate

Context: Community

Art Forms: Multi-Arts

Access Type: Free Download

APA Citation:

Bradbury A, Warran K, Mak H W & Fancourt D.(2021). The Role of the Arts during the COVID-19 Pandemic. London: University College London.