Looking back, it’s clear that 2020 was the most challenging year for Europe’s cultural and creative sectors (CCS). The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns brought many cultural activities to a halt. Revenues for the two sectors are estimated to have fallen by around a third last year; a loss of approximately €200bn across the EU. Whereas 2021 is looking more optimistic for other industries, most cultural institutions across the continent remain closed or, at the very least, are working with a reduced capacity, and subsequent lower revenue streams.
Cultural production has been impacted too, with stricter sanitary measures and other related challenges increasing costs exponentially; some productions will not resume. Furthermore, with the economic hardship affecting most people financially, we will likely witness subdued private spending on culture even after public safety measures are relaxed.
“Culture can, and must, play a vital role in Europe’s green ambitions and can promote sustainability in other sectors”
While the EU and its Member States have provided financial help, the measures have too often been inadequate or lacked precision. Furlough and unemployment schemes are not well calibrated to help artists and cultural professionals, who are characterised by irregular work and self-employment.
Similarly, aid in the form of guarantees and liquidity lines is unhelpful to most cultural establishments who are primarily SMEs and are increasingly facing the risk of immediate insolvency. Most EU Member States have not treated the cultural and creative sectors with the immediacy and firepower given to other sectors such as tourism and aviation.
Even where national or regional aid packages specifically targeted CCS, their size and scope has varied, thus implicitly reversing the Union’s cohesion efforts. To help overcome the crisis and to prevent brain-drain in both sectors, governments must improve social protection for artists and creative professionals, including technical workers.
While one never denies the societal value of culture, its economic impact is less-well appreciated. Europe’s cultural and creative sectors account for around four percent of the EU’s gross domestic product - a similar level to that of ICT - and contribute to job creation, responsible for just under four percent of total employment. That is why the European Parliament has repeatedly called for national governments to allocate at least two percent of the Recovery and Resilience Facility for CCS - and I applaud those Member States that have listened.
At EU level, there is a need for a more strategic approach towards the CCS exiting the crisis as well as measures to helping them rebuild. First, having a coordinated strategy among Member States for reopening the sectors for activity is among the key tasks. The inability to plan ahead is stifling cultural activity. Cross-border productions are constrained by a mismatch of rules between countries. A forum for exchange of best practices and sharing of ideas on cultural deconfinement must be established. The Berlin theatre’s recent pilot initiative to include a COVID-19 test with a purchase of a ticket is just one example which deserves greater attention.
Culture can, and must, play a vital role in Europe’s green ambitions and can promote sustainability in other sectors. Already, before the pandemic, four out of ten tourists chose their holiday destination based on its cultural offerings. Slow tourism, the promotion of secondary cities and an increased focus on rural destinations fosters a healthy symbiosis between the two industries. To illustrate, Uffizi, the celebrated Florentine gallery, plans to spread artworks from the museum’s collection throughout smaller venues around Tuscany.
Going forward, we must increase investment in European content as well as making it more accessible and visible for both local and global audiences. Digitalisation of the two sectors is imperative, as is finding new revenue streams through digital environments. Indeed, finding novel ways of monetising cultural work needs to be explored.
“Europe’s cultural and creative sectors account for four percent of the EU’s gross domestic product - a similar level to that of ICT - and contribute to job creation, responsible for just under four percent of total employment”
That is why EU programmes must focus on promoting and financing courses on cultural entrepreneurship and management, and on promoting digital literacy among artists and cultural workers. And, on education, finding partnerships between engineering and the arts is paramount. The New European Bauhaus has the potential to establish such links. Similarly, now is a good time to focus on building new - as well as renovating existing - cultural infrastructure.
Culture is Europe’s great unifier; it has helped us all throughout the worst of the pandemic. Despite financial difficulties themselves, artists and cultural institutions expressed solidarity with fellow Europeans, making content freely available during the previous lockdowns and beyond. It is our duty to reciprocate such solidarity and ensure that the cultural and creative sectors not only weather this crisis but emerge stronger from it. Both sectors have all the ingredients to contribute towards Europe’s recovery and sustainable growth efforts.