Sunday 29 March 2020 3:00 pm

Culture in quarantine: Which UK venues have gone virtual during the coronavirus crisis?

Since Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week ramped up social distancing measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, thousands of cultural institutions across the UK have been forced to close their doors.

However, as millions of Brits hunker down at home, a range of arts and culture venues have launched new digital initiatives to ensure exhibitions and performances can be enjoyed online.

From film and theatre to literature, opera and fine arts, here are some of the cultural treats on offer during the pandemic.


  • Virtual tours

The British Museum, National Gallery and Royal Academy are among the museums and galleries offering virtual tours, ensuring the national collection remains accessible to all.

  • #ConnectedByArt

The government collection, which boasts over 14,000 works of art, will be sharing images of works currently on display in government buildings around the world under the #ConnectedByArt hashtag.

  • Armchair Gallery

City Arts in Nottingham has developed a free app which features artworks and artefacts from collections across the UK, including the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, The Lowry and the Pitt Rivers Museum. The Armchair Gallery app, available on Apple and Android devices, also has special features for users with dementia.


  • National Theatre

The National Theatre will this week launch a new initiative making a selection of its productions free to stream on Youtube. A new performance, including One Man, Two Guvnors, Jane Eyre and Treasure Island, will be released each Thursday evening and will be available to stream for seven days.

  • Shakespeare’s Globe

From Monday 6 April, six rotating Shakespeare’s Globe productions will be available to watch for free on the theatre’s video on demand service Globe Player. Featured films will be captioned to make sure they are as accessible as possible. The Globe Player will also host all 37 Complete Walk short films for free.

  • Sadler’s Wells

Iconic Clerkenwell theatre Sadler’s Wells has launched a so-called digital stage to showcase content including digital premieres of dance performances, screendance (choreography designed for film) and new dance workshops for children and over-60s.


  • Online concerts

Sage Gateshead is linking up with 25 concert halls as part of the European Concert Hall network to stream archive performances on social media every evening.

  • Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House is offering a free programme of curated online broadcasts, musical masterclasses and cultural insights, as well as free, weekly ballet and opera productions streamed on demand via Facebook and Youtube.


  • BFI

BFI Player is offering a two-week free trial for everyone to enjoy access to classic and contemporary world cinema. The platform’s selection includes Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, Tilda Swinton and Mark Kermode, 1000s of free archive films through Britain on Film and a special BFI Flare at Home online festival from the 2020 edition, including filmmaker Q&As and Spotify playlists.


  • Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre’s new weekly Culture Fix shares literature, music and visual arts content with subscribers. This week’s edition included podcasts with Louis Theroux and Hilary Mantel as well as playlists and archive imagery of past Hayward Gallery exhibitions.

Culture in Crisis

The government has come under pressure from MPs to provide emergency funding to arts and culture organisations that have been forced to close their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the latest measures, music and theatre venues with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will pay no business rates for 12 months and are eligible for cash grants of up to £25,000.

In addition, Arts Council England has unveiled a £160m support package, while the BBC has created a new fund that will commission and distribute roughly 25 new works by independent artists.

“The UK’s cultural sector is one of our great global calling cards, and these new digital initiatives are ensuring they will continue to be enjoyed by people across the country and around the globe in these difficult times,” said culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

“Thanks to the innovation shown by our world class cultural institutions, we can continue to enjoy the fantastic work of UK artists as we all do our bit to stay at home, save lives and protect our incredible NHS.”

Main image credit: British Museum