HOW do the performing arts even work anymore? Well, you have to blunder on, try things – “iterate” (as creative consultants in thick-framed retro specs used to advise).

For example, tonight from 6.50pm on YouTube, we (Hue And Cry) will be contributing two songs to the Let’s Rock 80s Lockdown Fest. This is a webcast of acts that were due to be pouting and cavorting in front of tens of thousands of people in a few months’ time.

But here we all are, roaming listlessly around the upper floors of our pink glittery superstar mansions (aye that’ll be right), doing our lungful best for the charity Child Bereavement UK.

Technically, it’s been a tricky exercise. Separated by a couple of hundred miles, my brother Greg and I started playing down the Zoom channel. We were defeated by what the technologists call “latency”, which is an up-to-one-second gap between the sound leaving your networked computer, and arriving at another one. General hilarity ensued.

So the only hack that worked was Greg sending me some sensitive piano performances from his studio, underlaid by a click track to enable synchronisation. I hollered away to this music in my front room, camping wildly into an iPhone X resting on some books stacked on a folding chair, which itself was standing on the living-room table.

Then my able brother spliced it together, stuck it on a split screen, and … well. It’s something, anyway.

But it’s certainly not enough. Rest assured, in the bowels of the entertainment technology complex, someone is bolting together a platform that makes virtual performance credible, viable and – heaven forfend –monetisable. Indeed, some claim the model is already here. At the end of April, the rapper Travis Scott performed to 12 million players in the online gamespace Fortnite. With no concession to critiques of rock star egoism, Scott bestrode a psychedelic landscape like a Lilliputian giant.

Playing fans could scurry round his gargantuan, dancing sneakers, like happy ants. Later, their avatars could buy a “skin” from Scott (like merchandise, except it’s your whole body). There are plans for Travis-like game characters to visit your patch of Fortnite (for an appropriate fee, of course).

Moguls in the entertainment industry are already salivating at the idea of rappers and rockers covered in tracking dots. This will make possible the mapping of every hip grind to animated versions of themselves.

They’ll be in spectacular environments without limit. A “metaverse”, as the tech gurus put it, where you can stand anywhere in the scene, using any device, at any time. And where promoters and stagers control the ticket booth tightly, if not more tightly than before.

All of this, of course, presumes that the simple, primal act of humans gathering together in a room to enjoy themselves will remain problematic for months and years. Or – for some parts of the audience – perhaps permanently from now on (at least till universal vaccination).

If so, then I wonder if artists in general shouldn’t be waiting for near-psychedelic game experiences, before beginning to be straight with the public. Look: how much will you pay for us to perform to you, through the fibre and on to your screens, as we endure these cycles of lockdown and open-up?

In less extreme times, a tweak of the cultural business model towards digital “pay-per-view” would only be an acceleration of existing trends. Content streamers – whether they be Netflix or the Glasgow Film Theatre – are already benefiting from stressed, anxious quarantiners. Many of us want our entertainment to give us hope, escape and relief, and are willing to pay something to access it.

Yet we’re in a mid-Covid environment of depression and economic distress – when there will be pressure on household budgets on every level, and in a far from equal way. So it’s certainly not the moment to slap a reasonably-priced ticket on what has previously tended to be digitally free.

Already, one suspects that audiences may be getting their emotional recharges as much from free-access amateur memes and clips on social media, as they are from that full-blown Gesamtkunstwerk on the Paris Opera website.

ANIMALS and children, poignantly enough in these times of disrupted biospheres and future-longing, do keep you going. I must have watched a Twitter clip of two tousle-headed Scottish toddler boys about 12 times yesterday. They were just falling apart with laughter on their back green, as they “accidentally” spluttered Lucozade over their jumpers. The happiness started deep in my body, as I irresistibly laughed with them.

That kind of content sends quite a different signal from spectacular, escapist metaverses full of giant hip hop stars, about what audiences might now want from their art and culture. How much will we let the upheavals of coronavirus question our basic modern assumptions – what we value about being human, what we feel our purpose is, what actions in the world best manifest these shifts? Those of us who meshed early with the climate crisis have been trying to use scary environmental science to change behaviours and structures – with actually very little success (though Greta and XR have accelerated things recently).

Marketing and advertising, possessing data banks and analytics aplenty, are much more part of the problem than the solution. Their powers to frame and prime minds and hearts are awesome, precise; they easily set trends (and win national elections). But they’re still selling these smarts to the highest bidder – that is, companies and corporations still locked into poisonous models of trash-generating growth.

So who can reach us in our innermost realms, make us molten and open to change, evoke alternatives and spill out multitudes of options? Step up, arts and culture (and the services and technologists around them). This role needs to be validated and supported – but it requires subtle handling. Neither too much direction from any central office, nor too much free-for-all in such generally straitened circumstances.

It’s heartening to see how the Scottish Government has properly stepped up to support performers and artists in the short-term. Schemes such as Creative Scotland’s easy-to-access Bridging Bursaries; the re-targeting of their Open Funding pot to support arts outfits during lockdown; as well as the inclusion of “Creative” as a category in the Scottish Government’s small-business relief programme – these are all worthwhile.

But I’d like to see some overlap between Scot Gov and the artistic sector over Universal Basic Income. It’s exciting to read in these pages the support from leading Scottish MSPs for UBI. It’s certainly an answer to basic economic insecurity for Scots, as well as a support for those who want to commit to more caring and social behaviours.

Yet artists and creatives, often making wonders out of very little, have a vital communal job to do in the next few years. As dramatist and Lyceum director David Greig puts it, the arts “can offer you this extraordinary resource of people who are already creative, engaged and useful, who can do really good work keeping communities tied and bound together, which is what we are going to need”.

UBI will also be (and should be valued as) a support for them.

In a small, smart country like this, we can easily “be whaur extremes meet”, as MacDiarmid put it. We have both the games makers that construct vast, planet-straddling synthetic worlds and masters of the intimate, such as our national Makar Jackie Kay, currently sending her video-poems into the datastream.

How do parties like this turn to each other, and mutually support the people of this country to think and feel their way through to some better, more sustainable world? How can arts and culture create imaginative headroom for citizens that helps them make decisions – perhaps startling and radical ones – about our future resources and structures?

As well as needing a livelihood, the arts also need to be liberated to help us ask what our lives are essentially about, under a modernity that sometimes seems designed for self-termination. The tech, at least, is fixable.