Our end-of-year series as the Lowy Institute staff offer their favourite books, articles, films or TV programs for 2021. Watch for more recommendations and reflections in the days ahead. –Eds.
Another year of lockdowns. If 2020, was the year of the sourdough – which by the way, we continue to make in our household thanks to lockdown last year – then 2021 was the year of the yarn. But my knitting languished in the back of the cupboard since May 2020. The blanket that I was so hopeful of completing before the baby was born remained incomplete.
What did we do differently in the lockdowns of 2021? I for one, picked up no new skills. I cancelled my Netflix subscription. Life continued at an unforgiving pace. But working from home this year gave me time to reconnect with music and art. With so many concert halls and museums closed for much of the past 18 months, cultural institutions had to pivot to remain engaged with the public to ensure its relevance in a post-lockdown world.
A nation’s cultural institutions and their programming and exhibitions is an insight into its cosmopolitanism, which stands in contrast to nationalism.
This year, I watched and listened to the very best orchestras in the world, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from my computer screen. And I was taken on a tour of the brilliant Pre-Raphaelites Drawing and Watercolours exhibition at the Ashmolean by the curators. Lockdown gave me time to slowdown and reconnect with my interest in art and classical music.
Listening to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra reminded me the joys of immersing myself in a piece of music – listening, humming and anticipating the next crescendo. Life’s highs and lows were echoed in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor). The dialogue between piano and orchestra felt like the dialogue I was having with the world – moments of calm tempered by a bombardment of too much information relating to Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates.
The virtual tour of the Ashmolean’s Pre-Raphaelites Drawing and Watercolours exhibition brought back a sense of calm one feels when in the hushed surroundings of a museum. The beauty and fragility of some of the subject matter demonstrated how fleeting life can be.
As cultural institutions open-up again, it is perhaps an appropriate moment for these institutions to reimagine and reposition themselves where they are accessible to the widest possible audience. To do so will mean their relevance and importance remain at the forefront of public and government consciousness. A nation’s cultural institutions and their programming and exhibitions is an insight into its cosmopolitanism, which stands in contrast to nationalism. Covid-19 has reinforced Australia’s fortress mentality but Australia is a multicultural society, may our cultural institutions reflect that diversity and therefore our cosmopolitanism.