The Power of Virtual Arts Programming during a Time of Unrest

The Power of Virtual Arts Programming during a Time of Unrest

The arts world has been rocked by the pandemic. Physical distancing requirements and necessary health precautions have forced museums, theaters, artists and performers to reimagine how they interact with the public. Now, many are offering virtual programming to compensate for the inability to hold in-person viewings and performances. While the pandemic poses a substantial threat to artists and cultural institutions, the introduction of virtual programming has provided an alternative vehicle through which to engage, heal, and experience community.

A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that interacting with art reduces the risk of developing cognitive decline, feelings of loneliness, and a wide array of mental and physical illnesses. From the pandemic to nation-wide demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality, many individuals are experiencing deeply rooted trauma and sadness. Exhibits, film showings, and performances held online are allowing viewers to engage with local and international art from home, creating a more equitable space through which to interact with art and benefit from its positive influences.

Entry fees, travel, and inaccessible venues often prevent or discourage low-income people and individuals with physical disabilities from enjoying these experiences in-person. However, now individuals with access to technology can interact with art created and curated from across the globe, allowing them to participate in opportunities that they otherwise may not have been able to financially or physically.

At IBA, we combined the power of technology with the desire to socially connect our communities, and shifted our annual Festival Betances to a virtual event in 2020. By pivoting to a remote event, we were able to continue building community, while also transcending the limits of borders and physical spaces. In the spirit of this year’s theme of “Reconnecting to Our Mainland: Puerto Rico,” we broadcasted Festival Betances live from Puerto Rico over IBA’s Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channels. Drawing audiences from across the Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida, New York, California, the island, Chile, Guatemala and beyond, the Festival racked up over 55,000 views in the week following the event. This format allowed viewers to share the performances with loved ones and communicate with other audience members in real time. As evidenced by the comments made during the Festival, the audience immediately felt a sense of connectedness and cultural pride. Many also observed how the Festival provided them with a much needed respite from the global pandemic crisis. Most importantly, the joy and gratitude expressed in the comments underscore the power of the arts and, in this case, the virtual arts.

In a similar fashion, this summer, we launched the Tito Puente Latin Music Series, our long-standing summer concerts, as virtual events. Livestreamed via IBA’s social media channels, the series showcased and exalted the beauty, intensity, and relevance of Afro-Puerto Rican music, celebrating our African heritage and ancestry. We believe that the arts are a unique and powerful way to elevate the broader, collective conversation about racial equity. The series’ expression and celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican rhythms help our community connect with and participate in the struggle and calls for justice for our Black sisters and brothers.

Although the ways in which people are consuming art have changed, the value it brings to our lives has not. Art heals by transforming and making tangible our lived, shared experiences as humans. It promotes unity and tolerance through diversity and heritage, and creates community through celebration. As New England’s Latino arts hub, we remain committed to providing virtual programming until we can be together again. To stay up to date on our arts program, please follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to participate in upcoming events.

We are proud to support self-expression and cultural enrichment, while also working to develop housing opportunities for low-income households and minority residents in the city. For more information on how you can support IBA, please visit our page: