What will art exhibitions and concerts look like in a world that is forever changed? Tatler asks the experts to weigh in.

As institutions around the world grapple with the still-unfolding consequences of a year of darkened theatres, dwindling resources and the mental scars of all that has been lost during the pandemic, it is always worth noting that arts and culture will find a way to endure, adapting to adversity—as painful, or uplifting, as that process may be.

Even in dark times, artists have reacted with stirring creations, performances of operas and ballet have shifted from live to online, the big screen has been transferred to the small screen, and music has become a form of therapy, sometimes filling the streets as a means of human connectivity during the worst days of social isolation. There may be many challenges ahead, but inspiring examples of creativity and endurance still happen every day, as the editors of Tatler acknowledged while compiling this year’s Culture List, a selection of the 100 artists, collectors, creative directors and entertainers who have had the most visible impact on the arts this year, both locally and globally.

The list, part of Asia’s Most Influential series that appears online at tatlerhongkong.com, includes figures like Ann Hui, the Hong Kong director whose achievements in filmmaking were honoured at the Venice International Film Festival in 2020 and the subject of a documentary, Keep Rolling, released last year; Cheng Tsung-lung, whose first full work since he took over as artistic director of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre was inspired by the sounds he heard while his company was isolated upon returning to Taipei at the beginning of 2020; and Joe Sidek, the organiser of multiple culture festivals in Malaysia who introduced an online platform for Penang artisans last summer.

Their industries have been profoundly altered by the pandemic in ways that will undoubtedly have ripple effects for years to come. Here, Tatler invites many of the Culture List honourees to discuss the changes they see happening now, and where they think culture is headed in 2021.

“In the current situation, I don’t think art should respond so directly, because it is not a political concept or a propaganda slogan. It may take some time to incubate. Art is art after all. If it is given a purpose and function other than itself, it will then deviate. For me, art has always been healing. In the most critical moments or the most helpless times in your life, in fact, art always shows up and offers help. For me, it truly constantly stands with us.”

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“All these months of closures and the banning of live music mean we are in a much more desperate situation, and unfortunately the end is not yet in sight. But I am an optimist as I think in many ways people have realised even more that they need great songs to cope with life. And that there are, in fact, more people looking for music, songs and bands to connect with online. Some of the songs I’ve listened to and music videos I’ve seen in the last few months by Hong Kong musicians and bands are testament to how many passionately creative individuals there are in this city.”

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“The pandemic was an alert, reminding us to reflect on whether we are on the right path. With the cancellation of our performances, our busy daily schedules were replaced with back-up plans. My dancers and I had more time to truly slow down and create. We took second thoughts on things we were accustomed to: does this need to be changed? How can we change it? We prepared, trained our bodies more delicately and quietly, and thus explored the true nature of the art form of dance. The world is evolving towards a more digital era, which is very good. However, we should also recognise our bodies and emotions more deeply and thoroughly in order to remain true to ourselves.”

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“Hybrid. Digitisation. Phygital. These are words we are going to hear over and over, like it or not. The arts have to innovate in order to survive. Different forms of delivery are going to be here to stay. One upside to that is that audiences reached can now be global, not just local. On a macro level, we have to make a case for the economic importance of the arts. Can you imagine having survived lockdown without books, music or Netflix and the like? All those shows were created by artists. Going forward, I believe artists around the world are galvanised to make the case that investing in the arts is as important as investing in education, manufacturing or defence.”

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