During the last couple of weeks, Culture Action Europe, the only intersectoral European network that brings together all practices in culture, has been in conversation with its members. The aim of this sizeable exchange has been to identify the main challenges the European culture and creative sectors are facing in times of pandemic. Interviewing both small, medium and large cultural organisations, associations, networks, as well as independent artists and cultural workers gave us a substantial overview of the urgent issues and concerns of the sector. It also opened the space to rethink some of our practices and engagement methods, as well as take the time to invest in strategic thinking and long-term planning.
In this time of crisis the main concern of the sector is uncertainty, both short-term and long-term uncertainty, related to operating in the lockdown, adjusting to the new requirements as the lockdowns ease. There are great uncertainties also about the future, making long-term planning and programmation almost impossible. Most of the cultural creators are severely affected by the discontinuation of their exhibition and performance opportunities. In a sector characterised by self-employment and freelancing, combined with little or no access to social protection, the loss of income in the next months poses a direct and immediate threat to the existence of artists, performers and many other cultural operators, who had already been struggling with a precarious situation well before the current emergency. Issues related to mobility and internationalisation are also among frequently mentioned challenges. Restrictions on mobility poses existential problems to many cultural agents, artists and companies. While indeed, some of our practices can be rethought and can be more grounded in the immediate, local environment, many cultural practices are simply depending on international collaborations – it is quite difficult to recruit musicians for an orchestra only locally, for example. Internationalisation and international cultural collaboration and creation is also under threat, as emergency measures proposed by countries are designed to safeguard national cultural production, often compromising on international dimension.
We have also been observing that the cultural sector in the East and South of Europe is facing more severe consequences then counterparts in Western and Northern Europe. Weaker social security nets in some EU countries increase the already precarious situation of the cultural sector. While digital transformation has been a solution applied by many cultural institutions and organisations to continue to operate during the lockdowns, digitalisation has raised a number of concerns too. Beyond the fact that for many art forms (live arts specifically), digitisation is only a temporary fix and cannot be a long-term solution, it also raises more fundamental questions related to the “cost of arts”. As we are accessing all these cultural contents for free in this period, does it mean that culture and the arts is free? Additionally, there are diverging opinions about the role of digital commercial platforms like Netflix, youtube, spotify etc. and the role of Artificial Intelligence and biased algorithms in hindering diversity and access to non-mainstream cultural content. Broken link with audiences, re-establishing trust and connection, and expected drop in cultural participation – either due to new rules and regulations or economic recession – is another problematic topic for the sector.
Given the dire circumstances, failing to support culture in this time of crisis will result in potentially irreversible loss to creators, artists and cultural professionals, as well as it will damage many cultural practices, resources and organisations. Without specific support, there will be a considerable deterioration in the richness and diversity in all manifestations of culture.
The urgency and the nature of these challenges have also been pointed out in a recent interview that our Communication & Community director, Natalie Giorgadze gave to the Bulgarian National Radio. Giorgadze stressed how neglecting culture at this crucial point can have enormous consequences for the societies. “On the road to a global recession, culture is not a luxury, but a necessity”,-she said. You can find the full interview (in Bulgarian) here.