Arts education opportunities abound online

Revised (First Published in The Bison student newspaper Fall 2020)

Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival 2021 – canceled.

Amplify 2020 NAfME (National Association for Music Education) National Conference – canceled.

League of Broadway Theaters – closed ‘til May 2021 (at least).

Multiple Disney films’ release dates moved back, according to Screen Rant.

The MTV 2020 Video Music Awards – largely pre-recorded rather than live.


COVID-19 has effectively pressed pause on many aspects of the arts world.

For many young artists, this has also pressed pause on their ability to attend conferences and workshops normally available to them.

Gathering large groups together for special courses is simply too risky at this time.

Yet, despite the challenges that social distancing poses for artists and arts enthusiasts around the globe, it has also created or raised awareness of arts opportunities in unusual places.

Numerous arts organizations responded to the pandemic by creating fresh online content to replace professional training events usually held in-person, often free of charge.

While gradual reopening has slowed the stream of new online arts educational content, many resources are still available (or have always been available, just little known).

The following are just a few of these free opportunities selected for their accessibility, breadth, and overall quality.

Literature, History & Culture

Culture & History (Playlist)

Audience: lovers of literature

Available on: Intelligence Squared YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: approx. 1.5 hours each

Intelligence Squared “is the world’s premier forum for debate,” according to its YouTube Channel description. While that claim is itself debatable, it is certain that the UK-based channel’s “Culture & History” playlist offers several fantastic videos of experts debating issues like whether Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickins was the better writer. Think TED talk, but in (an amiable) debate format.

Pros: Tom Hiddleston performing dramatic readings of Tolstoy and Dicken’s writings, Helena Bonham Carter reading poetry, considerate debate atmosphere

Cons: possibly too lengthy and serious for some viewers

Letters Live

Audience: all lovers of great writing

Available on: YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: approx. 2-13 min. each

Letters Live “is a series of live events celebrating the power of literary correspondence,” according to its Channel description. Based in the UK, the channel features a variety of letters read out loud. Most of the older videos are recording of live performances more recent videos are mainly self-recorded due to social distancing needs. Both new and old, the videos feature many prominent British actors.

Pros: short and sweet morsels of beautiful writing; Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman and Sharon Horgan reading letters about the political leanings of household pets

Cons: potentially mature themes and adult language (varies by video)

Theatre & Film

SAG-AFTRA Foundation

Audience: acting, film and tv students and professionals

Available on: YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: 30 min.-1.5 hours each

One of the most brilliant free resources for anyone considering a career in acting, film or TV. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation takes its name from the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), a labor union which helps set gold standards for professional film and TV practices. The Foundation’s YouTube channel features numerous panel discussions and longform interviews with the best in the business. Guests are often Oscar- or Emmy-nominated artists.

Pros: artistic real talk, quality interviewing, lots of “A-listers,” it doesn’t get more professional than this

Cons: adult language (depending on the video), potentially mature themes, might be too studious for the casual viewer, some interviews might not make sense unless familiar with certain movies or tv shows

Actors on Actors (Playlists)

Audience: acting, film and tv students and professionals

Available on: Variety YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: 20 min.-1.1 hours

Professional actors sit down and discuss their work with each other, in this series of playlists on Variety’s YouTube Channel. The format is unique because there is no visibly involved interviewer or moderator. Guests include Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Zendaya and Patrick Stewart.

Pros: “A listers,” detailed discussion of professional acting

Cons: probably won’t make sense if you haven’t seen the actors’ work

Virtual Events (Playlist)

Audience: acting or theatre students and professionals

Available on: New York Theatre Workshop YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: 30 min.-1.5 hours

New York Theatre Workshop is a non-profit professional theatre organization. Their “Virtual Events” playlist contains a variety of zoom panel discussions on numerous topics, from teaching theatre online to dramaturgy to the preview process.

Pros: professional-level theatre discussions, in-depth thought

Cons: New York Theatre Workshop may be too liberal for some viewers’ preferences, discussions of mature content and adult language (depending on the video)

Dance & Music

Royal Opera House

Audience: dance and opera students

Available on: YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: 3 min.-1.25 hours each

Located in Covent Garden, UK, The Royal Opera House is the home venue of The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera. Their YouTube channel features world-class ballet and opera performance excerpts, as well as several opera masterclass playlists, and rehearsal video series that show what it looks like behind the scenes of a ballet performance.

Pros: expert masterclass videos, watch professional artists in rehearsal, short but stunning ballet and opera performance videos

Cons: although explained fairly well to casual viewers, the masterclasses are quite advanced – do not attempt to follow along without proper extensive training in the relevant subject(s) (otherwise you could injure yourself)!

Diary of a Song (Playlist)

Audience: anyone who loves music

Available on: The New York Times YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: 4-10 min. each

This series of videos from The New York Times uses interviews with major musicians, writers and producers to tell the story of how current pop hits were created. Featured songs include “Lover” (Taylor Swift) and “Dance Monkey” (Tones and I).

Pros: short and sweet, easy to understand

Cons: maturity rating varies depending on the video (due to featured songs’ lyrics)

Visual Arts

Bob Ross – The Joy of Painting

Audience: anyone who loves visual arts, painting students

Available on: Bob Ross YouTube Channel

Format: video

Length: 30 sec.-1 hour, each

This classic educational tv show is now on YouTube for free. Bob Ross walks viewers through the steps to create simple, beautiful oil paint landscapes. His explanations are effective and his patience is calming.

Pros: positive atmosphere, simple explanations

Cons: Might be too simplistic for more advanced art students

Google Arts & Culture

Audience: anyone who loves the visual arts

Available on: artsandculture.google.com

Format: website and app

Length: n/a

Google’s dedicated arts and culture website includes hundreds of arts resources. Virtual tours of “over 2500 museums and galleries” display what it’s like to walk through museums including the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and the British Museum in London, according to Andrea Romano of Travel+Leisure. However, the site and app’s most useful resources are less showy: articles that explain aspects of the arts in a manner very similar to a museum exhibit, and detailed descriptions of featured art pieces and artists.

Pros: Incredible high-quality digital renditions of classic visual art works, detailed descriptions

Cons: website and virtual tours are difficult to navigate (the app is easier to use)

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