Pandemic and Beyond

Pandemic and Beyond

Arts and humanities vital in national crises concludes COVID‐19 pandemic report

A comprehensive UK report assessing the contribution of arts and humanities research during the COVID‐19 pandemic has revealed a deep impact on social inclusion and national wellbeing.

The Pandemic and Beyond report, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), worked with 77 research teams across the UK during the peak of the COVID‐19 crisis. The research projects covered four broad areas:

  • Communication, Information and Experience
  • Arts, Health and Wellbeing
  • The Creative Industries and Heritage Sectors
  • Ethics, Law and Governance

The first research teams started in May 2020 at the height of the pandemic and most concluded by October 2022. The depth, breadth and focus of the research was unique and provides valuable evidence of the impact the COVID‐19 pandemic had on individuals and communities, many of whom were the most vulnerable in society or faced the biggest challenges. The research projects illuminate the experiences of people in care homes, people with disabilities or learning difficulties, migrant communities, nurses of colour, artists or performers and many more across society.

The final report published on 8 December 2022 provides an overview of the impact and future opportunities of arts and humanities research in a national crisis, and highlights seven case studies:

  1. Combatting COVID‐19 conspiracy theories
  2. Cultural translation and interpreting of COVID19 risks among London’s migrant communities 
  3. Provision of creative activities to people with dementia in care homes during the pandemic 
  4. Protecting mental health in the Liverpool City region ‐ Culture and the arts, from restriction to enhancement 
  5. Culture in crisis
  6. Open air performance as a pandemic response
  7. Models of equitable distribution of vaccines in international law.

All of the case studies and the other 70 projects demonstrate the value of arts and humanities in addressing national and community challenges during a crisis with lessons for future leaders ranging from communication to procurement to support for the creative industries.

As part of the Pandemic and Beyond work, a paper on 'How the UK COVID-19 Public Inquiry can learn from research in the arts and humanities' was also commissioned with the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator and published alongside the report. The paper reveals the extent, interconnectedness and urgency of the structural problems that resulted in the disproportionate harm the pandemic inflicted on individuals and communities who were socially, economically, culturally and racially disadvantaged before the outbreak of COVID-19. The paper will help set an ethical direction for the COVID-19 public inquiry.

Professor Pascale Aebischer, Pandemic and Beyond lead and a Professor in the Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, said:  

“It is clear from the Pandemic and Beyond research projects that arts and humanities had a significant and positive role to play during the COVID‐19 pandemic, and should be considered central to any government response to future crises alongside medical and economic policies. In fact, arts and humanities professionals can help improve the medical and economic response by informing and shaping the real world impact of policy decisions on people and communities.

“The Pandemic and Beyond research projects provide a rich tapestry of learning and evidence that national and local authorities must take heed of if we are to improve resilience and recovery in future crises. In many cases, creative and cultural projects provided a vital lifeline to vulnerable people and minority communities who would have otherwise suffered far worse outcomes medically, economically and mentally. I sincerely hope lessons will be learned from the Pandemic and Beyond research and that leaders in influential positions will take seriously the role arts and humanities professionals have on the wellbeing of the nation.”  

Dr Rachael Nicholas, who worked at the University of Exeter on the Digital Theatre Transformation project, said:

“Art is sometimes seen as a luxury, but our research suggested that it is actually a vital component of withstanding and navigating through a crisis.”

Professor Anna Feigenbaum, a Professor of Digital Storytelling at Bournemouth University who led the Comics in the Time of COVID-19 project, said:

“Studying what it means to be human during covid, how people were represented, how the arts kept people alive, these kinds of questions are at the core of not just human survival but cultural thriving. Without creativity and care, society cannot fully function.”

Lucy Hackett, AHRC Head of Health, Environmental and Urban Humanities, said:

“It is so exciting to see the publication of The Pandemic and Beyond report. It highlights the important contributions of the arts and humanities towards COVID-19 research and recovery, offering an important and valuable perspective that will provide long lasting benefits to communities and shape policymaking long into the future. Arts and humanities research has a critical role to play in national crises such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and indeed as is shown by this research, multidisciplinary approaches which include arts and humanities can have huge benefits for society. I want to thank the Pandemic and Beyond team and all of the research projects across the UK for their contributions and recommendations which will influence the way we work in future.”

The Pandemic and Beyond coordination team is based at the University of Exeter and began in February 2021 and will conclude at the end of February 2023. Full details about the Pandemic and Beyond and associated 77 research projects can be found at: https://pandemicandbeyond.exeter.ac.uk/.

Date: 8 December 2022

Read more University News