Online immersive and interactive events booming in the Coronavirus age

A work by Rasheed Araeen, from the virtual 3D exhibition, ‘Rasheed Araeen – In the Midst of Darkness’, through May 23, 2020′ by Aicon Art New York. Photo: Aicon Art.

NEW YORK – Popular New York City attractions like Broadway may be closed through Labor Day; museums, bars and restaurants, popular tourist attractions shuttered up, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, for those inclined to do so, there’s a plethora of immersive and interactive activities online to be indulged in, all from the cozy confines of one’s home – from top class virtual art shows, book expos, film festivals, speed dating, business networking, and speakeasy webinars among others. The mushrooming sessions have transformed the digital space like never before.

In a way, the world has once again warmed up to the concept of fireside chats rendered by President Franklin Roosevelt. Those 30 radio addresses to the nation, between 1933 and 1944, when FDR spoke about the recession, the banking crisis, and the course of World War II, among other topics, seems to be in vogue again with hundreds and thousands of free engaging webinars and social media talk shows daily, all over the country.

One can be all alone in an apartment, yet the social world has expanded in a mind-boggling way in the last two months – with just a click on a TV, laptop, or on a hand-held device. It’s not just confined to zooming with friends, scouring Facebook, or watching movies on streaming apps.

For South Asian art aficionados, Aicon Art New York – the leading Indian American art gallery in the US, have made available their debut virtual 3D exhibition – ‘Rasheed Araeen – In the Midst of Darkness’, through May 23, 2020. The major exhibition of the artist’s recent works constitutes his fourth solo exhibition with the gallery.

Araeen’s work is a voice for alternative and Non-Western interpretations of Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960s and 70s, outside of the typically referenced canon. The artist introduced a lattice structure into the oeuvre of Minimalism, a visual language that had come independently to him at the same time as it was taking root in New York; although, in Araeen’s case, it was linked back to his background in structural engineering.

This approach of creating stable but open structures by finding inspiration in nature and the classical elements – earth, fire, air and water -is at the center of Araeen’s innovative practice.

The gallery, in conjunction with the virtual exhibition, also held a webinar last week hosted by Prajit Dutta, a Partner of Aicon, in conversation with Kate Fowle, Director, MoMA PS1 and Nic Aikens, Curator, Van Abbemuseum.

Online collections of public, school and university libraries have become invaluable resources and tools for the public during the pandemic, as children and adults alike are forced to stay home.

Now, one of New York City’s biggest annual attractions, BookExpo and BookCon, are going virtual with a full slate of free online programming, from May 26-31 – the originally scheduled week of the two events. Seasoned visitors to the events know how tough it is to get registrations for popular sessions, even with expensive tickets, so this is a bonanza for book lovers.

BookExpo Online 2020 will offer the marquee programming that attendees look forward to each year, including the Children’s and Adult’s Book & Author Dinners, the Buzz Book panels, spotlights on New Graphic Novels and Picture Books, and curated content for librarians. On Tuesday, May 26, BookExpo Online will kick off with Librarians’ Day, offering a full day of library content.

The 2020 Adult Book & Author Dinner will find Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, Carmen Maria Machado, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Rebecca Roanhorse taking the virtual stage for a discussion of their forthcoming works and initiatives with MSNBC political analyst and SiriusXM radio personality Zerlina Maxwell as host.

Author Raj Haldar. Photo courtesy of, via Twitter

The Children’s Book & Author Dinner will bring together several of literature’s most esteemed children’s and young adult authors for a lively discussion, featuring Judy Blume, Natalie Portman, Marie Lu, Raj Haldar, Misty Copeland, and Kwame Mbalia. The Editor’s Buzz panels will be presented in an updated format that brings together a discussion between editor and author for each featured title.

BookConline 2020, the event where storytelling and pop culture collide, will offer fans a virtual gathering place to interact with their favorite authors and publishers. Taking place on Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31, the two-day event will feature a full slate of Q&As and panel discussions with nearly 100 bestselling and debut authors including Cassandra Clare, Zoraida Cordova, Jenny Han, Judy Blume, Jodi Picoult, Nic Stone, and Mike Curato, discussing topics including the new age of super heroes, LGBTQ+ characters in young adult and middle grade literature, social justice, and much more.

Jenny Martin, Event Director for BookExpo and BookCon, said, in a statement, “We know how valuable it is for our community to gather and we felt it was important to reimagine the experiences you look forward to each year at BookExpo and BookCon to fit our current reality.”

BookExpo Online 2020 will also present an additional day of bookseller programming in late July that will include education sessions, speed dating, UnBound content, and publisher showcases.

For math aficionados, if Khan Academy sessions or other online resources are not enough, check out the New York-based National Museum of Mathematics’ (MoMath) “Mind-Benders for the Quarantined” weekly online puzzles, which has become a global phenomenon during the Covid-19 crisis.

MoMath’s new program has reached thousands of people in all 50 US states and 75 countries, including India, Australia, Vietnam, Italy, Argentina, China, Spain, Sweden, France, and many others.

“Mind-Benders for the Quarantined” contains weekly puzzles from the collection of the Museum’s puzzle master, Dr. Peter Winkler. MoMath is also hosting a variety of online math programs to keep children and adults of all ages engaged with its fun math programming, while schools across the nation, and the Museum, are closed.

“During these challenging times, we want to offer the public fun, interactive experiences that continue to highlight the joy of mathematics,” said Cindy Lawrence, CEO and Executive Director of MoMath, in a statement. “Our digital programs provide people of all ages a much needed outlet for recreation and learning while they are spending time at home.”

When you sign up for “Mind-Benders for the Quarantined,” each Sunday, MoMath will send you a challenging mathematical puzzle from the collection of Dr. Winkler. On Tuesday, you’ll receive a subtle hint; on Thursday, a serious push; on Saturday, the solution. The next day, a new puzzle follows.

The museum is also hosting a bunch of other interactive programs, including free one-hour online session the first Thursday of each month starting at 4:00 pm EDT, featuring MoMath’s Dean of Academic Content and Rutgers Math Professor Alex Kontorovich; an adult evening of mathematical games; tabletop gaming; interactive sessions with Professor Jay Pasachoff, one of three people who have seen more total solar eclipses than anybody else in the world; and sessions on sports analysis through math.

Children and teens can also follow the adventures of three children, who are math aficionados and are trying to crack the Beale Ciphers, a set of three documents from the early 1800s which supposedly encode information about a treasure.  Along the way, they run into many interesting mathematical topics like factorials, Fibonacci numbers, triangular numbers, substitution ciphers, and Pythagorean numbers.

For those not yet tired of binge watching films on streaming apps, there’s the ‘Escapist Cinema of South Asia’ (ECSA), a seven-week, online series (May 16th to June 27th) that will live stream a new film every Saturday night (7 to 10 p.m. CDT).

“The cinema-going world, as we know it, is changing drastically in this socially distant but virtually connected environment,” said Festivals Director Jitin Hingorani, also Principal/CEO of JINGO Media, in a statement. “Since most of us are now consuming content online, film festivals, an important cog in the wheel of the entertainment ecosystem, are reacting to this major shift in viewing behavior and adapting their formats accordingly. This is why, in lieu of hosting two live festivals this year, we are live streaming new content online and opening up our programming to a national and, in some cases, international audience.”

ECSA will showcase premieres of shorts, documentaries and feature films curated around a specific theme over the seven-week period. Each live stream will be followed by a Zoom post-screening Q&A with actors and directors; audience members can engage by asking questions through live chat.

The series will kick off on May 16th with song and dance programming, including the short dance film ‘Tina’ followed by the Gujarati film ‘Hellaro’, which won two National Awards in 2019 for Best Feature & Best Ensemble Cast.

Highlights of the festival include Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Falu Shah performing a Gujarati song; and Priya Arora, editor of The New York Times and host of Queering Desi podcast, moderating a post-screening Q&A.

For those who still lament the closure of Broadway, and nothing else seems the same, there’s the BroadwayHD app, to stream hundreds of hours of musicals and plays. In the coronavirus age, there’s something for everyone, online.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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