The arts and culture industry has faced countless obstacles in the past decade. The impacts of economic recession and natural disaster, among other challenges, have taken their toll on this sometimes-undervalued sector. But time again, we see these tenacious institutions rise to meet challenges and persevere. Recently, they faced an unprecedented challenge in this global pandemic —lockdowns, quarantines and resulting cuts in patron investments and staff wages. Can the creative industry survive this global disaster? Yes, it can. Because it must.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ARTS + CREATIVE INDUSTRY
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (2020), “the cultural and creative economy is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world, with the value of the global market for creative goods increasing from $208 billion in 2002 to $509 billion in 2015.”
Additionally, the center found that the two-way cultural engagement that occurs through creative collaborations further develops future business opportunities in communities, while simultaneously building cross-cultural relationships and trust (2020). Nurturing the cultural sector is not only key to economic growth, but also vital for social development.
The invaluable impact that the arts have on society cannot be overlooked. They have the exceptional ability of opening dialogue between communities, empowering disadvantaged populations and giving them voice, raising awareness for causes, providing people with new and different perspectives, and fostering growth and innovation. As stated in the CSIS report (2020), “in a time marked by social distancing and quarantine, the important role of cultural and creative industries in our lives is more evident than ever.”
“A well-developed creative economy supports employment, socioeconomic development, innovation, and cultural preservation within a country or region. The cultural and creative economy also has a nonmonetary value as well; it contributes to inclusive social development by encouraging dialogue between communities.” – CSIS (2020)
The question is not whether these institutions should be supported. The question is how to support these institutions, so that they may thrive and continue to enrich our communities. It is a truly symbiotic relationship — and, as is true of any symbiosis — balance and mutual support are essential.
THE TOLL OF COVID-19 ON THE ARTS + CULTURE SECTOR
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the arts and culture sector hard. Along with tourism, the arts and creative economies were among the sectors most gravely impacted by the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns.
According to the CSIS (2020), 90% of museums around the world were shut down by May 2020, with 16% of the U.S. museums at risk of permanently closing. The analysis further found that in the United States alone, an estimated 2.7 million people lost their jobs in the cultural and creative industries between April and July 2020.
As stated by the Blackbaud Institute (2020), the pandemic “transformed the way arts and culture organizations can reach and serve their patrons. When they closed their doors earlier this year, organizations faced a loss not just of earned income, but also of a vital way to foster connection.” This connection is the lifeblood of arts and culture industry. Without it, that symbiotic relationship weakens.
“In the absence of responsive public support and recovery strategies, the downsizing of cultural and creative sectors will have a negative impact on cities and regions in terms of jobs and revenues, levels of innovation, citizen well-being and the vibrancy and diversity of communities.” – The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2020)
Rebuilding the creative and cultural sectors will require targeted strategies over the medium and long terms. For example, smaller organizations and self-employed creatives will likely need assistance when adapting their business models to new consumer behaviors, implementing the latest digital equipment, and complying with updated, post-pandemic health and safety regulations (CSIS, 2020).
It is also critical that the economic COVID recovery efforts actively include the cultural and creative sectors. According to the CSIS (2020), only 1% of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program went to businesses in the arts and entertainment sector by April of 2020. Regarding distribution of the funds, they prescribe that appropriate backing should be given to small towns and rural regions, not just the major cultural hubs.
In the meantime, many cultural organizations have been quick to respond creatively and dependably to their patrons’ needs, adapting as best they can under the circumstances. Quickly shifting to accommodate online experiences may prove to be a game changer. As stated by the Blackbaud Institute (2020), “organizations are now exploring how to weave that virtual engagement back into a sustainable earned revenue model.”
However, they go on to stress that many organizations in this sector continue to wrestle with challenges to their pricing structures, staff employment and adjusting to the new health requirements.