from MasonARC’s Interview Blog Series: The Impact of Covid-19 on Arts Programming, Practice, and Research
Megan Stutesman: Tell me a little bit about your background in the arts and arts research, and what you’re currently working on, and what you’ve worked on in the past.
Bettina Bläsing (Lecturer and Researcher, University of Dortmund): My background is in neurobiology. I do not come from the arts, but I’ve always been dancing, so I’ve always had a deep interest in the arts. As a biologist, I worked on animal and insect movement. Then, I moved towards cognition and the cognitive science of movement, Then, I thought that based on my enthusiasm for dance that dance must have a lot of things to offer to this kind of research. So, after some different steps in between, I started to work with dancers and have been working with cognition and dancers for 12 to 13 years. I’ve always been interested in working with dancers and with dance practitioners on questions that are interesting to scientists and artists. I think there’s a lot of interesting content out there for teachers and educators. There’s a lot too in therapy that can be gained from what we can learn from the cognitive neuroscience of dance. In recent years I’ve moved to the inclusivity of dance for non-normative bodies.
Megan: How do you see your work connecting to larger ecosystem arts research, arts policy, and arts practice in the world?
Bettina: I think the problem is very similar everywhere now because the arts have been very impacted from the pandemic. A lot of dancers and artists are now facing situations that are hard to bear in some ways, and at the same time, a lot of creative ideas have come up and we’ve seen a lot of new directions in the arts. When I talked to one of my practitioner [dance educator] collaborators at the beginning of the lockdown, she was really positive about it and was like “this will help us to gain new ideas and come up with creative solutions and to move on and to make something new.” That’s why we have artists. That’s why this challenge can be good for us. It’s a challenge; it’s not a problem. But a lot of things have really changed. So we ended up meeting online. And it changed the whole objective. It became a different education program altogether. For many other colleagues of mine, researchers, collaborators, and scientists, we met online and talked a lot and tried to write together—like proposals and articles. And what I realized is that many of them, both scientists and artists, were very badly impacted. Some of them because of their health problems and families. Many of them, because of the economic situation changing in many different ways (and it’s an international community of course, and there were many different countries included), and they all had problems of many different kinds. In the UK, for example, I had a couple colleagues who had Brexit before the pandemic and the government kept a lot of money away from the arts. And many people specifically who moved there for the arts and the universities were not British and didn’t even know what would happen with Brexit.
Megan: How do you see arts practice and research moving forward after the pandemic?
Bettina: I think there is definitely an increase in awareness in the topic and it [research] really can do something to help in understanding and spreading ideas. I’m convinced that the arts and sciences are partners and it’s a fruitful collaboration because we’re all asking questions that are not so far from each other. A lot of what we do is moving to the digital side, because our interactions become more digitized, we often have to think what these interfaces look like for different types of people, like blind people or deaf people. When you are finding new ways of creating [dance, research, and art] you might create digital solutions that can be useful for people in many different ways, like people with differently abled bodies.
Megan: How do you see the sociopolitical climate affecting the funding for arts research?
Bettina: Well, in general, it’s pathetic. I could say a lot of things about other countries, but what I can say about Germany is everything went incredibly slow, but there were a lot of funds for artists and workers who had small businesses. The artists were the last group who were cared for, and performing artists were treated badly. The administration is always an issue, too. People who wanted to get financial aid had to go through all kinds of bureaucratic processes. As I said, performing artists were the last ones to be covered, and artists with disabilities were not really thought about. It was a failure, but it’s getting better now.
Megan: What about the funding for arts research?
Bettina: Well in Germany. I can say it was not good. If we look at the institutions that fund research, there is not really much. There are only a few parties funding this interdisciplinary research between art and the cognitive sciences and other fields. It was a little better a couple of years ago but in recent years there hasn’t been much at all. In recent years, it’s moved towards disciplinary topics and that’s something that will become more pronounced due to the pandemic since funding will be even less for the performing arts.
Megan: Do you see a shift in the cultural values of arts and arts research?
Bettina: I’m not sure. I hope. I recently reviewed an article that found that singing and dancing are the two activities that really have the potential to make us happy – that dancing and singing have a potential on a large scale to increase our well-being and they were the arts that ceased to the greatest extent during the pandemic. So you might say why we felt so bad during the pandemic was because we ceased singing and dancing opportunities together. When I read that, I thought, that’s really the kind of research we need now; to show how they can contribute to not just ourselves but the well-being of society. It’s something we should do research in, not only because it’s interesting, but also there’s benefits in it. That is something that the arts can have a say in, I hope.
Megan: What are your goals in the use of arts research and practice and what are your expectations for your arts research?
Bettina: I think it’s important it’s a complementary thing. When I look at the arts and the sciences, we look at the same questions about our being humans. We look at questions that can be tackled or addressed from different perspectives like from the arts is one method. Neuropsychology and neuroscience can offer complementary perspectives with different methods. Anthropology can offer another different view. I think that if we are interested in what we are and what humans are about, then it makes sense to take all of these perspectives and put them together and try to define how they complement each other; putting methods together to find answers together.