Tuesday. 26/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Ed Stocker

Blank canvas

It’s a funny thing when a city is temporarily stripped of its cultural institutions – and whatever people say, virtual exhibitions just aren’t the same. Does a city with great cultural offerings become a little less great when it cannot deliver? Perhaps its citizens think so: like wild animals gradually taking over an abandoned building, humans are once again starting to populate the environs of New York’s arts institutions, almost as though they are willing them to reopen. At weekends, the steps outside Brooklyn Museum near where I live are full of people taking in the sun and occasionally performing elaborate exercise routines.

One piece of positive recent news in this regard is the announcement by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (pictured), better known as The Met, that it will reopen in mid-August. Or at least – in what is a sign of the times more than vagueness on the part of the gargantuan museum – “perhaps a few weeks later”. Physically distanced viewing and reduced opening hours aren’t going to put an end to what are tough times for The Met, which has forecast losses of $150m (€137m) due to coronavirus. Other venerable NYC organisations, such as the American Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim, aren’t faring any better – and all have been slashing jobs.

Civic leaders will need to step in to help these places, which have to be allowed greater financial flexibility than in the past to adapt to the new times. But their relevance will be greater than ever. As we remain wrapped up in ourselves and this moment in time, these cultural institutions are a reminder of the bigger picture: windows into our past that might hold the key to our future collective catharsis.

Politics / Japan

Open to question

There was a cheer from Japan’s business community when the country’s economy minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, announced yesterday: “There is no longer a need for a state of emergency in any part of the country.” Prime minister Shinzo Abe later confirmed that restrictions would be lifted in the capital and the four other prefectures in which the shutdown remained in force. In Tokyo, museums, libraries and indoor sports venues will gradually reopen, and restaurant and bar hours will be extended until 22.00. It should have been a moment of relief for Abe – Japan has had far fewer coronavirus infections and deaths than any other G7 country – but instead his ratings have tumbled. It seems that the public is not impressed with Abe’s handling of the virus and even less so with a series of political scandals. As critics wonder whether Abe’s influence is waning and successors are already being spoken of, the PM will have to work hard to reverse his fortunes.

Politics / Costa Rica

Wedding party

Costa Rica becomes the first Central American country to formally legalise same-sex marriage today. It’s been a long time coming – the Inter-American Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that same-sex marriage was legal – and follows a last-ditch motion by more than 20 lawmakers to delay its legalisation for another 18 months; the move was rejected last week. It is a significant moment for Costa Rica’s president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada (pictured), who won his post on a socially liberal ticket and is enjoying the highest approval ratings of any Costa Rican leader in almost 20 years (thanks in part to his adept handling of the coronavirus pandemic). Though gatherings are still prohibited, virtual celebrations are taking place to mark the occasion, with some events registering interest in the thousands. Pandemic or no, Costa Rica still knows how to party.

Business / Scotland

Best of spirits

Bruichladdich, a distillery based on the Scottish island of Islay, might have some answers for businesses looking to become more sustainable in their operations. Last week it became the first gin and whisky distilling company in Europe to achieve Certified B Corporation status, a set of binding policies that verify social and environmental performance. CEO Douglas Taylor says that the company is inching ever closer to being an “all Islay” operation, from the water it sources and the barley it grows to the distillation, maturation and bottling of its spirits. “The missing piece in the jigsaw for us is the maltings,” Taylor tells Monocle. The company aims to conduct on-site maltings from 2023. Taylor says he hopes that Bruichladdich can help to drive an entrepreneurial spirit on Islay to “reduce our dependence on importing everything from somewhere else”. Self-sufficiency might not be a realistic goal for everyone but Bruichladdich could certainly hold lessons in how companies can shorten their supply chains where needed.

Media / Australia

Good neighbours?

Australia is hoping that television programming will help to curb growing Chinese influence among its Pacific island neighbours. Its government has committed AU$17m (€10m) to making 1,000 hours of Australian TV, including hit shows such as Neighbours (pictured) and The Voice, available at no cost to broadcasters in seven Pacific islands. Australia believes that the transmission of these shows will act as a potent source of soft-power diplomacy in a region that has seen growing Chinese diplomatic and media presence in recent years. China’s incursion has been made easier by Australian funding cuts to international broadcasting. In 2017, for example, ABC’s Radio Australia ended shortwave broadcasts across the Pacific, leaving China Radio International to take over the abandoned radio frequencies. Although broadcasting remains a powerful diplomatic tool in geopolitically significant regions, some critics of Australia’s new plan say that the money could be better spent if, instead of importing Australian programmes to the islands, it was put towards skills training, strengthening independent journalism in the region and funding local co-productions.

M24 / The Urbanist

Letters from the city

How a city handles a pandemic reveals much about its character. As urban centres around the world begin to reopen, Monocle’s correspondents send us letters from their own outposts.

Monocle Films / Global

New-generation animators

Mike Mills explains how he spun recollections from his childhood into his new film, ‘20th Century Women’, starring Annette Bening. Plus: ‘Thumbsucker’ author Walter Kirn and we write a letter of appreciation to Ferris Bueller’s sidelined sister.

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