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In all the mayhem and confusion that is the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is certain: the world’s art and cultural institutions, together with the wonders of modern technology, are providing us with some amazing viewing opportunities.

We may not be able to travel at the moment and performances and events have been cancelled everywhere, but there is still a world of cultural opportunity at our fingertips. As institutions close their doors temporarily, thousands of them have opened their collections for free online viewing and exploration to help people cope with the housebound and stressful situations many of us are in and introduce some culture, colour and interest.

It’s a devastating time for millions of people and organisations who have lost jobs and income so while these services are being offered for free, it is possible to donate to them to help alleviate the financial hardship and better position them to bounce back when we’ve got through this.

In the meantime, if we want to escape into a world of magic and beauty, all we need is a computer and some wifi, and plenty of time.

(To go to the sites to view the offerings, click on the headings or the highlighted hyperlinks.)

Art and culture at your fingertips

Google Arts and Culture hub is bringing the collections of art galleries and museums from all over the world to your living room. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Possibly thousands. So many you’ll never get through them all. You can explore alphabetically, by category, collections, or even colour and time. They have incredibly close up views of art works, 360 degree tours and street views where you can explore landmarks and famous sites. It’s almost exhausting how much is there.

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This article by Travel & Leisure pulls together a number of free virtual tours being offered by some of the major museums, including the British Museum, the Guggenheim and the Paul J Getty Museum in LA. Who doesn’t love a tour? You pick up soooo much more information and tidbits than just wandering through by yourself in a daze.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera 

If opera is your jam, The Metropolitan Opera has you covered. A day after cancelling their upcoming performances, the Met announced they would be offer free streamings from their Live in HD series of cinema transmissions for the duration of the closure. Each night (at 7.30 NY time) they will screen a new opera from their collection from the last 14 years which will be available for 20 hours on their website. The screenings will also be available on the Met Opera’s on-demand apps. Almost like being there! The presentations are free but there is a donate button on the site should you wish to donate to their ongoing costs during the cancellations.

Opera scene from The Metropolitan Opera

Photo: Metropolitan Opera

If you want to spread your virtual wings a little further than New York, check out The Guardian’s listing of screenings of operas and musical performances.

Seriously – so much! If it is in fact too much to take in, they kindly do a Critic’s Pick each week to help you along in your selection.

Shakespeare for the masses

The Globe Theatre in London is enabling their filmed Shakespearean plays to be viewed at home through through their GlobePlayer online platform, including an online catalogue of performances spanning 10 years, although there is a cost. I mean, not everything can be free just because there’s a virus circulating the world and we can’t get out. Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice, Romeo and his mate and lots more. Still much cheaper than buying a ticket to be there in the flesh. You can rent or buy, which means you can download it to watch it once or pay more so you can watch as many times as you want. Just like other streaming services.

For cash-strapped Shakespeare nutters, there is a limited amount of free material available online including some behind the scenes stuff. They also have a blog and a podcast.

* Breaking news: The Globe Theatre has just announced that six of its previous productions will be available to stream from their on-demand Globe Player streaming service over the next few weeks, starting from 6 April. They will rotate and be available for two weeks each. They’ll also make available a series of 10 minute films – 37 of them – about Shakespeare and his play, each shot on location in the real setting of the plot. Such new news it’s not even up on their website yet. Watch that space. In the meantime, you can get more detail about what’s coming here.

Photo: The Globe London

The circus is in town – that’s all towns

Cirque du Soleil is spreading the circus joy. In their words ‘Now more than ever we want to do our little part to spread joy directly to your safe places.’ You can view show footage, exercise like they do in the circus (be careful there), learn new makeup techniques and even immerse yourself in virtual reality with their VR app. There’s also a 60 minute video of highlights from some of their famous shows like KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities, O and LUZIA. Warning: don’t try any of the tricks at home yourself, especially on your own.

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Photo: Cirque du Soleil

Music to make your heart sing

Music lovers aren’t forgotten either. The ABC has thoughtfully put together a list of amazing performances from all over the world you can listen to at home, including some being live streamed. There’s even some ballet from the Bollshoi.

Museums, music, mental health and more all in one post

If you want to delve a little more broadly, this post from ChatterPack has a huuuuuge list of sites to visit which will keep you amused, centred, engaged and busy in all sorts of ways: learning, nature, music, culture, languages, mental health, even religion. If you can’t find something here to interest you, you’re really not trying hard enough.

Right, where are you going to start?