Cultural changes during a pandemic and their positive outcome

Artūrs Goldmanis

2020 started very positively, it seemed to be an adventurous year, and although I had imagined different adventures, my premonition came true. When the first news and discussions about the COVID-19 virus and its spread came out in February, I thought – the virus will never reach Latvia. In mid-March a state of emergency was declared and rapid changes in society and culture could begin to be felt.

Certainly what everyone noticed at the beginning of the pandemic was a change in communication culture. When entering any public place, you can see instructions that a distance of 2 meters must be observed, that hands and surfaces need to be disinfected, and that face masks must be worn. Festivals, events, parties with friends – everything was canceled to reduce the spread of the virus. Both school, friends and parents met remotely, physical contact was replaced by digital, and most areas of life faced similar changes. The labor market was also forced to adapt – employees were laid off, new vacancies arose, and companies offered more and more opportunities to work remotely.

The pandemic particularly affected cultural workers, such as the cancellation of all planned concerts and festivals for musicians. However, for many musicians this is a time of rest, while others have been working hard to create a new album or have concerts for fans online. There is a saying ‘art arises where there are borders‘ and, as the pandemic has limited much of cultural life, it is interesting to see how it develops and does not give up. For example, Latvian band “Brainstorm”, which recorded the song “Palm-sized spring” in a lock-down session format, or live Facebook broadcasts by musicians and bands of different genres. Examples can also be found in other cultural directions – public readings of the Riga New Theater on Facebook, virtual exhibitions and tours of museums, concert recordings of operas and ballets etc.

I and others close to me were saddened by the fact that the recreational areas of the city and the surrounding areas were closed. On weekend evenings, friends no longer had the opportunity to go to a bar or a concert. I assume that for regular customers, this stage definitely seems even more difficult, because there is no opportunity to go to your favorite place to relax or eat. Similarly, fans of the skaters’ subculture, who during this period were left without the opportunity to ride in the skate park. Only a few Latvian municipalities decided not to close the skate parks, elsewhere it is necessary to observe safety measures, and yet there are also very strict restrictions, for example, in Dobele the skate park was demolished completely. The skate park was also closed in Liepaja and thus I could not ride my BMX. However, here too the borders were overcome – the urban environment became a skate park accessible to all, where ramps and railings were replaced with available infrastructure. In turn, every time I went to Jelgava to visit my parents, I put my bike in the car, because during the quarantine, Jelgava skate park was not locked.

This time has also been very interesting for pupils and students. It was difficult for me to get used to learning at a distance, because it was harder to motivate myself to spend days at home. After the first month, when I was used to it, I learned to organize my time and learning remotely was no longer a problem.

It was unusual to see an empty city on Friday nights. There was no opportunity to go to the local cultural place “Kursas Putni” in the evenings, listen to a concert, or go to “Hot Potato” for lunch. But even though I often wanted to break the restrictions, I was an obedient citizen – every time when I went to the store, I disinfected my hands with the offered products (within a week my palms started to swell and after that the skin started to show damage. Remember that safer hands are washed with soap, and your skin will be more grateful), I kept the distance and followed the current events in Latvia and the world.

During the pandemic, many alternatives and innovations in various sectors were found and introduced. The caterers offered to deliver the food home and leave it at the door of the customer, avoiding physical contact. Food delivery has become very important and it has saved many businesses from bankruptcy. Concerts, events, conferences, lectures, even sports events took place in empty stands and online… It is at this point that I realize how dependent we really are on the Internet, without which chaos could begin.

Now, already in June, more and more quarantine restrictions are being lifted – bars and other recreation facilities can work until 2.00, we can hold small events and concerts, people start to appear on the streets at the beginning of summer, and there is a feeling that the pandemic never happened. All lounges and bars start the season to catch up. Although cultural life was hampered and many activities were postponed or canceled, it did not stop. Online concerts were organized, artists created video performances etc. In short, everyone tried to adapt to the new conditions. Now that restrictions have become much looser and cultural institutions have become more active, people are much more willing to take part in cultural events. Everyone is tired of restrictions and can no longer sit at home. After several months of limited social life, people are more appreciative of the existence of culture and activities in which to participate and feel part of the whole.

In my opinion, we only realize the real value of something when we have lost it. Constraints are easing, life is continuing and culture is slowly returning to normal.