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MB News | Update on MB Projects and the cultural sector in China during the coronavirus crisis

Posted on Feb 20, 2020 in MB News

Before anything, our whole team at MB Projects would like to express its compassion and solidarity with all the patients and health professionals fighting against the coronavirus in Wuhan and in Hubei province, as well as in other parts of the country touched by the epidemics. Like pretty much everyone in China, our team has kept itself confined at home since Chinese New Year and we have therefore been working from home for the last few weeks, which, in our field of activity and with the help of efficient online tools, turns out to be working quite well. Our team is currently based in China, France and Spain and can deliver its services as usual.

Sooner or later, this episode will be over. We sincerely hope that the drastic measures taken in China will lead to a speedy recovery, and we are confident that everything is being done for this battle to be won! So, in the meantime we are simply moving on, working hard on our ongoing projects, preparing others which might be on hold temporarily, and developing new ideas to get ready for the rebound. These times of unexpected hardship are also an opportunity to take a step back and think about the way we do things. And observe what is going on in our field, which we would like to share with you.

In the short term, the cultural sector in China is particularly affected by the epidemic and the draconian measures taken to contain its spread. Throughout the country, cinemas, concert halls, theaters, museums, galleries, and all entertainment venues have been closed indefinitely, and thousands of performances and exhibitions have been cancelled or postponed. The consequences go beyond China, with many international projects being cancelled or put on hold for the time being. The art market is severely hit as well: major events in Asia have been called off, such as Art Basel Hong Kong originally scheduled in March, and some auctions taking place abroad are being postponed, until Chinese buyers can travel again.
New York Times: As Virus Tightens Grip on China, the Art World Feels the Squeeze
Artnet: Art Basel Cancels Its Hong Kong Edition, Citing ‘Sudden and Widespread Outbreak’ of Coronavirus

The many small companies which constitute our industry are particularly struggling and will be at risk if the situation lasts for too long. Initiated by a group of various cultural operators in China, a survey was published on February 14, 2020 with 514 participants, including representatives of art institutions, independent art professionals, gallerists, auction houses, cultural production or art services companies throughout the country. When asked how long their company could survive with the existing cash reserves in the current situation, 33.3% replied less than a month, the next 40.5% from 1 to 3 months. Only 9.1% can survive more than 6 months.
99 Art: 新型肺炎疫情对中国艺术行业的影响调查报告

On a more positive note, these times of hardship and strict constraints also spur innovation and creativity when they push us to invent new ways of doing things. And we can see the art scene responding proactively to the situation. Most remarkably, we are currently witnessing a very strong trend in developing new and original digital projects. The National Cultural Heritage Administration itself is encouraging museums to engage digitally with the public, which they see as a way to offer escape and comfort to the homebound audience.
CNN: With travelers unable to visit due to the coronavirus outreak, China’s museums put exhibitions online

Museums are offering virtual tours of their collections, online exhibitions and lectures, series of in-depth articles, or are releasing educational games and interactive digital artworks as playful means of bringing their collections to the public. Independent contemporary art centers and private art galleries are also curating virtual exhibitions. The music industry is not short of ideas as well, offering online performances to keep engaging with their fans, but also possibly invent alternative ways to create revenue, or only to keep going.
Jing Travel: Virtual Tours and Gamification, China’s Museums Pivot Content for Coronavirus
M Woods Museum: Art Is Still Here: A Hypothetical Show for a Closed Museum
SupChina: During Coronavirus, China’s Music Industry Finds Creative Ways To Keep Going

Foreign cultural destinations are not outdone, and the ones that already have a strong presence on Chinese social networks, such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris Musées or Fondation Cartier (which we manage at MB Projects), are adapting their communication strategy: rather than focusing on exhibition information and announcements at a time when the audience is not able to travel, they propose more in-depth content and art history, bringing their collections to the public, as an opportunity for readers to learn, discover and be entertained while temporarily confined at home.

These initiatives and new means of engagement offer new opportunities and could well outlive the current crisis and lead path for the future. We will keep observing what new ideas the creativity rising from the trying period we are going through will bring, and share them with you here.

As a friend puts it: « In this time of crisis, let’s stand firm, stay calm and carry on! »


MB Projects is a leading agency in cultural strategy and management in China. It was founded by Marion Bertagna, a trilingual China specialist, with 20 years of experience in China and in the culture field. MB Projects assists International and Chinese cultural institutions, creative industry companies, and brands wishing to explore opportunities, develop activities, implement cultural projects, build partnerships, or extend their visibility in China.