By Jaya Ramachadran*
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has urged adequate policies and actions to help the culture sector weather the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. The sector employs more than 30 million people globally. It has been hit much harder than expected.
UNESCO expects the film industry alone to lose about 10 million jobs in 2020. A third of world’s art galleries could cut their staffing by half or more, data collected by the UN agency show. Similarly, a six-month closure of concerts and performance could end up costing the music industry more than $10 billion in lost sponsorships. The global publishing market could shrink by 7.5 per cent.
“The sector, which accounts for 30 million jobs, is struggling to survive and needs our help,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
“Culture has helped us out of the crisis. Now we have to help culture and support the diversity to which culture owes its strength”, she added.
It is not only the sector itself that has been hit hard, also people have lost access to cultural events.
Since COVID-19 hit, many concerts, art events and festivals have been taking place online. However almost one in two people globally cannot access them due to the lack of internet connectivity, UNESCO estimates.
UNESCO has developed a resource to help governments and policy makers address the challenges artists and cultural professionals are facing during the pandemic. Culture in Crisis: A Policy Guide for a Resilient Creative Sector also offers advice on strengthening resilience of the creative industries in the future.
The agency is also urging specific action to address the gender dimensions of COVID-19 impact on the culture sector, as women – who hold a higher proportion of precarious jobs in the sector – are particularly vulnerable to social and economic insecurity.
The guide presents three key steps for governments: direct support to artists and cultural professionals; indirect support to cultural and creative industries; and strengthening the competitiveness of cultural and creative industries.
Specific measures outlined in the policy guide include commissioning and purchase of works; providing compensation for loss of income; promoting programmes to develop new skills; providing temporary relief from regulations and tax incentives; promoting national content; stimulating demand; and making available preferential loans.
The guide, supported by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, also includes best practice examples from numerous countries.
The guide says, since UNESCO launched the ResiliArt movement, a series of open-format virtual debates, on April 15, 2020, over 1,000 artists and cultural professionals from around the world have shared their stories and offered recommendations on how the cultural and creative sectors can emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger and more united.
UNESCO notes that the vast majority of the measures taken by States during the COVID-19 crisis has been geared to compensating revenue loss, both for individual creators and for cultural and creative enterprises as well as non-profit organizations and public institutions.
In this respect, the replacement income is equivalent to unemployment insurance, with the difference, however, that it is not linked to the complete cessation of employment. In fact, the purpose of the wage support paid to creators and cultural organizations was to enable them to continue their activities.
The compensation is therefore more akin to a subsidy, argues UNESCO. The financing of the measure comes from a specific budget allocation, where social assistance is normally financed from funds provided by employers’ and employees’ contributions.
Faced with the risk of another wave and an uncertain recovery, governments have had to extend these measures and ensure that all creators whose artistic work was their main source of income were covered.
In some countries, it was first necessary to identify those eligible for this type of income through an initial census of artists and culture workers that can be maintained and supplemented to speed up aid payments in the future.
These are measures exceptional in their scope and scale, which in some countries (including Canada, South Africa, the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) have revived the debate about a universal basic income for artists, concludes UNESCO.