Staying In is the New Going Out: Free & by Donation Online Resources for Culture Lovers

Post last updated on 04 May 2020

Rainbow fairy door in forest

Life is still a festival, just in a different way

We’re all in the same boat at the moment. No one can really make any plans for the foreseeable future, in most countries we’re asked to stay at home as much as we can and travel is completely out of the question. Some of us might have holidays cancelled and, in my case, my whole calendar of festivals and cultural events has been wiped out pretty much overnight.

Yes, this can all be very frustrating and a time of heightened anxiety for many of us, but we don’t really have a choice and life is what we make it after all. Lots of fun things have recently been started by creative folks all over the world to help connecting us in these unusual times. I’m going to try and collect a good few here and update the post regularly, so do bookmark this page and check back whenever you’re in need of some positive inspiration (no mention of the c. word allowed!).

The good thing about being signed up to lots of newsletters by bands, cultural organisations, venues and other interesting creatives is that now most things have moved online, my inbox is brimming with helpful and positive tips from everyone. I’ve grouped them into a number of categories and will keep adding to them whenever I get time to do it.

One more thing: most of the things I’m listing below are free as there will be a lot of you out there who are already feeling the pressure of just keeping going at the moment. However, please also think about how you can help your local community in any way you can, which does not always have to be financially. Look around your city’s streets and pick a few independent cafes and shops you like, follow them online and ask how you can help. Buy merch by smaller, independent musicians and other artists, if you can, as birthday or Christmas presents. The options are endless and you can do all this from your own home.

Online music festivals

To my delight, within days of most of us being at home instead of out and about, a lot of smaller and larger initiatives have sprung up to either take existing cancelled events online or as fundraisers for musicians who are having a hard time at the moment. I’ve already missed a few but here are some upcoming ones:

The Folk on Foot Front Room Festival happened on Easter Monday on Youtube and Facebook and had a stellar folk music line-up with half hour sets by Karine Polwart, Kris Drever, Peggy Seeger etc.. and can still be watched online. Donations are still open, too, and will be shared between the participating musicians and the Help Musicians UK charity.

Folks at Home is another online folk music initiative. While it is not streaming live, it has over 27 hours of exclusive online content for ticket holders (proceeds to the musicians). So you can watch whenever you feel like it.

Oregon-based music festival Pickathon have decided to do online live gigs in aid of MusiCares at 1pm PCT (luckily for us 9pm UK time) on various dates starting on 8 April. Can’t wait to tune in!

There are also more and more fundraisers for independent music venues, many of which, let’s face it, are struggling to survive at the best of times. If you want them to still be there after the crisis, why not adopt your local venue, like The Greennote in London, where I used to volunteer, or The Glad Cafe in Glasgow, where I live now, and donate to them directly. A good organisation to check out for additional information is Music Venue Trust.

stay positive sticker on tree trunk in Scottish forest park

Live music streams

Live music is a big part of my life and it’s been really hard getting used to going from several gigs a week to absolutely zero. Socialising and listening to music by artists who care about other people and the world does not have to stop completely though. Like everything else, it has just gone online for now! While the time difference makes it sometimes a bit tricky to catch every event and still get enough sleep, it has the one big advantage that we are now all ONE big global audience. These musicians have been doing live streams recently, so check them out and follow them for more virtual gigs:

Peggy Seeger (Sundays at 5pm), Sierra Hull, Don Gallardo, The Barr Brothers, The Royal Jelly Jive, Dougie MacLean (every second night at 8pm), Anne McCue, Elaine Lennon, James Hodder, Andrew Combs, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay, Cathy Jordan, Mo Kenney, Daoiri Farrell, Niamh Regan, Rachael Sage and many more. If you’re not familiar with the above artists, check them out, you might quite like them and they all have a back catalogue of fantastic music for you to get!

I recommend signing up for newsletters by the Journal of Music and Shrewsbury Folk Festival (the SFF Youtube channel is pretty awesome, too), who are doing online music listings on a regular basis now.

US radio NPR have an impressive list of daily live concerts by musicians of various genres.

Secret Sessions, London’s monthly new music night, is now also doing live stream takeovers of their Instagram account with inspiring mini gigs by talented performers, usually at 7pm.

US-based Signature Sounds have some fantastic ‘home sessions’ with Americana artists.

The Green Note in London are now offering online gigs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 8pm (suggested paypal donation for the musicians of £10 per show) with a great line-up of Americana and folk musicians.

UK folk musician John Spiers is running an #IsolationPubSession on his Youtube channel for everyone to play and sing along.

Sofar Sounds has also launched online gigs in their listening room. As with all the others, donations to the artists are encouraged.

The #Covidceilidh hashtag on Twitter (you can see the vieos without having an account) has been fun to follow with musical contributions from around the world. #LiveFromHome seems to be mostly US-based sessions of any kind of genre.

Check out the Life is a Festival Youtube channel for videos of past festival performances and plan your next festival visit from your couch!

If you’re planning on doing your own live streams from your home, The Space have a handy low-tech low-cost streaming guide for doing just that.

Author events

I need to do some more online research to find more live readings, but all the book festival websites and other organisations promoting reading are usually a good start.

BBC Arts has recently launched Culture in Quarantine, a virtual arts season, which will also include The Big Book Weekend, co-founded by authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt, happening 8-10 May. It will run in cooperation with MyVLF, a free global virtual literary festival holding online author events.

The Scottish Wigtown Bookfestival is doing #WigtownWednesdays with live author talks, book club sessions and literatry pub quizzes.

There is a new Scottish crime writing podcast: The Tartan Noir Show.

The Edinburgh Book Festival (one of my very favourites, see my review) has a lovely audio and video section with lots of inspiring author talks.

Cambridge Literature Festival had #thelisteningfestival 17-19 April and might do more online events.

The Hay Book Festival in Wales (have been both to the summer and the winter version, both brilliant) has a wealth of interesting material on their webiste, including films, podcasts and free resources for school children.

Poet and Scots Makar Jackie Kay seems to be doing a new poem every Sunday on her Twitter account. She is inspiring and funny, you’ll love it.

#ShelfIsolating is a fun Twitter hashtag to join other booklovers, libraries etc. who are talking about reading, authors and books

NHS rainbow sign outside a shop in Glasgow

Film screenings

There are various organisations offering a catalogue of films for free online, for instance 200 free documentaries by IDFA, the BFI’s online film collection, this year’s (sadly cancelled) SXSW latest short films, shortfilm.de (most films in English or with subtitles) and others.

Mubi also seems to currently be doing a free three month trial of their movie screening service, sign up via this Filmhouse link.

We Are One is a global free event on Youtube that brings together 20 international film festivals from 29 May until 7 June and includes fiction, documentaries, music, comedy & filmmaker conversations. 

London’s Open City Documentary Festival has a huge online film archive with many free films to watch.e

If you like adventure and outdoor films, Explorersweb has collected a list of so far 400 (!) free to watch ones: List 1 (mostly Banff Mountain Film Fest), List 2, List 3, List 4

Bertha DocHouse in London has a great online hub with recorded interviews with filmmakers and is also working on more live stream collaborations.

Other streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, NowTv or Britbox are also often offering 30 days free trials or pretty cheap monthly fees. They can be cancelled anytime, so you can mix and match to get the best new content when you want it or can afford it.

Theatre shows

The Stage has a rolling list of theatre productions, which are now available to view online, including some charity projects in support of e.g. the NHS.

The National Theatre is now screeing one of their hit shows every Thursday at 7pm online for free, so this is my new weekly theatre night! Again, please support them with a donation, if you can, any amount will help.

The Coronet Theatre in Notthing Hill has an Inside Out online content and event section with cultural content.

Other fun & social online events

One of my local Meetup groups did a pub quiz and an open mic on Zoom, which were both great fun, so I bet your local groups are doing similar things. You can usually join for free (or a small fee for admin costs) and as it’s mostly smaller groups, it is a lovely way of keeping in touch with people or even make new friends while self-isolating, especially if you live on your own.

The Edinburgh Science Festival has been cancelled, but has announced some future online happenings, so keep an eye on their website or sign up to their newsletter.

The Cosmic Shambles have started a pretty impressive Stay at Home Festival with a almost daily mix of science, book and comedy shows on their Youtube channel. Intriguing stuff! Again, donations very welcome.

The Arts Society is running online lectures on arts topics to try and promote connection through a shared love for the arts.

If you fancy brushing up on your French skills, head over to the Alliance Francaise website, which has a fantastic collection of free films and materials.

There are also quite a few online choirs, such as Sofa Singers or Gareth Malone’s #GreatBritishHomeChorus now, which you can join from anywhere in the world online. No excuse not to get singing!

Keeping active indoors (and outdoors, if you can) & beating anxiety

Yoga with Adriene has been my favourite go to channel on Youtube for taking some time out and getting a new perspective for a long time. This is what got me into yoga and you’ll get something out of it whether you’re a total beginner or a pracised yogi. Plus, there is Benji, the dog!

New York non-profit The Tricycle Foundation has started free/by donation online practise sessions with inspirational teachers, such as Pema Chödrön and Jack Kornfield. Make sure you sign up beforehand for the Zoom link. They also offer a great worldwide live online meditation calendar. One of their contributors, NY-based journalist Jihii Jolly, has also compiled her own list of useful resources & online tools, reading tips and more.

UK-based World Yoga Festival offers online yoga, meditation and cooking classes.

If you are OK to do so, it’s also a really good idea to get some fresh air outside while keeping to your location’s physical distancing rules, of course. I’m lucky to have a large park right behind my home and I try and get out there as often as I can. Even just a few minutes a day make me feel so much better.

Be kind to yourself and others

There seem to be quite a few negatives about our current situation: clearly the actual danger to people’s lives (do keep up with trustworthy news sources and avoid the scams!), anxiety because of worrying about family and friends while being separated from them, boredom, lack of money or other ways life is restricted at the moment.

But here is the good news. This crisis also brought out the best in many people and in our communities. Volunteer opportunities (e.g. NHS responders in England or Ready Scotland) and mutual aid groups have sprung up practically overnight, there is a real focus on living in the moment, minimalism and not taking anything for granted anymore. While there seems to be more tension and anxiety in the air, there is also kindness to be found wherever you look. There are so many positive things we can focus our time and energy on, including taking a little more time for ourselves.

There is a new online radio show for Scottish volunteers called Radio V with a new show every Saturday.

This brilliant online letter writing project called #DearFriend was started in Aberdeen, but anyone from around the world can write to care home residents – write your letter now!

Action for Happiness has a Coping Calendar and lots of other useful resources for staying positive.

Action for Happiness Coping Calendar April 2020

What all of us can do right now

Contact a friend, family member or neighbour and ask if they’re OK. They might have an issue you didn’t know about, maybe to do with their health or mental health, work or just not being able to cope that well with change as quickly as you might be able to.

And don’t forget to show yourself some love, too. I’ve been taking a lot more baths recently and am enjoying my favourite foods even more than usual. Sending everyone a virtual hug from my home office in Glasgow. Stay safe, look after each other and let’s keep inspiring one another!

Home office

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