UNESCO report: 10 million arts jobs lost in 2020 due to Covid-19
A report released earlier this month by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provides insight into some of the consequences for cultural life of the COVID-19 pandemic.
the Re/Shaping Policies for Creativity 2022 report is written in the usual global bureaucratic language of these agencies. It is full of references to “Building resilient and sustainable cultural and creative sectors” and “Ensuring a diversity of voices”, “Reinventing mobility” and “Opening up cultural governance”, etc.
The report consists of four sections, concerned, respectively, with supporting “sustainable systems of governance of culture”; achieve “a balanced flow of cultural goods and services” and increasingly “the mobility of artists and cultural professionals”; integrating “culture into sustainable development frameworks”; and the promotion of “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Generally, in each section, “encouraging developments” are detected which “indicate slow but positive progress”. On closer inspection, however, a ‘multitude of obstacles’ or ‘challenges’ emerge in almost every case that more or less outweigh, if not entirely erase, the previously documented ‘progress’.
The “barriers” and “challenges” stem inexorably, objectively, in fact, from the existence of capitalist private property, particularly the profit interests of entertainment and media giants, and the rival nation-state system. The UNESCO study takes the existence of the current social order for granted and seeks dignified ways to circumvent the obstacles it places in the way of harmonious and globally coordinated cultural development. But these obstacles, as a careful reading of the report reveals, are insurmountable in the current economic and political context.
The foreword, by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, politician of the French Socialist Party and Minister of Culture in the right-wing government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls from 2016 to 2017, sets the general tone.
Azoulay acknowledges that the pandemic “has led to an unprecedented crisis in the cultural sector. All over the world, museums, cinemas, theaters and concert halls… have closed their doors. In 2020, revenues from creators fell by more than 10%, or more than 1 billion euros. What was already a precarious situation for many artists has become unsustainable, threatening creative diversity.
Who was responsible for this “unprecedented” but entirely preventable crisis? Azoulay, a former French state official, does not hesitate to say so. She simply goes on to a series of banalities, “we need the vitality of a sector that employs young people and fosters innovation and sustainable development”, “we also need that culture and creation, in all the diversity of their expressions, can do to provide personal respite and what they can do to unite our societies and chart the way forward.
She speaks of “long-term policies”, but none of the meager measures proposed, even if introduced, would repair the damage done, much less solve the problem of art at the mercy of profits and the market.
Anyway, the following passages give an idea of what is really going on.
Current “challenges” in the cultural and creative sectors, we are told, “which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, include poverty, gender inequality, climate change and inequalities within and between countries.
Re/shaping policies notes that there is “a continuing downward trend in public investment in culture, which points to new challenges for the cultural and creative sectors, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the economic and social vulnerability of artists and cultural professionals around the world”.
Moreover, remarkably, the share of official development assistance (i.e. foreign aid) to the poorest countries devoted to culture and recreation in 2018 represented only a third funding that was available before the 2008 global financial crisis. Further decline “is expected in the coming years due to COVID-19 related recessions.”
In one of the central passages of the study, he reports that Covid-19 has “led to the closure of cultural facilities and the cancellation of events; hindered or interrupted regular work and collaboration in most cultural and creative professions; ending international mobility; and compromised the purchasing power of the public”. According to the first estimates, continue the authors of the study, “the global value added Gross value in the cultural and creative industries contracted by $750 billion in 2020, and at least 10 million jobs were lost. In countries for which data is available, revenue from cultural and creative industries fell between 20 percent and 40 percent in 2020, and cultural and creative industries in general performed worse than their national economies, which taking more damage than in any previous crisis.” [Emphasis added.]
The report observes that “the collapse in employment and income has followed a drop in public funding and a rise in the precariousness of cultural workers. These factors have reinforced entrenched patterns of gender and regional inequality. … Digitization has taken center stage during the pandemic, as it has become more central to the creation, production, distribution and access to cultural expressions. … As a result, online multinationals have consolidated their position and inequalities in access to the Internet have become more significant.
Regarding the consolidation of multinationals, the report notes: “Unfortunately, monopolistic and oligopolistic structures in the media remain commonplace. »
The report describes “the threat of oligopoly, which could recreate the gatekeeper function enjoyed by traditional media companies when spectrum capacity limited broadcast output and a handful of TV and radio network controllers effectively decided This time, however, the oligopoly would exist on a global rather than a national level.
Freedom of information and “diversity in the media” are threatened by “increased disinformation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, insufficient media monitoring, the continued concentration of media ownership and the difficulties of broadcasters to meet existing quota requirements due to a lack of local content.”
As for the conditions of artists, in a remarkable indictment of governments, arts agencies and philanthropists, the report cites figures indicating that “the greatest subsidy for the arts does not come from governments, patrons or the private sector, but artists themselves in the form of unpaid or underpaid work.
Artists and cultural professionals generally face “common conditions and vulnerabilities”: “long or atypical working hours, project-to-project contracts and last-minute confirmations or cancellations, … working under physical pressure, emotional and mental and not being able to afford downtime. ”
Many artists and professionals work under “informal and undocumented arrangements, which include unfair or inadequate compensation – and even non-payment – for the work provided, reduced or non-existent pensions upon retirement, absence social safety nets or sick leave and contractual conditions that do not bring stability.
The self-employed, the most vulnerable part of the workforce, represent around 30-50% of the European creative sector, and this figure rises to between 40% and 60% in the poorest countries. “The prevalence of freelancing, along with irregular contracts, creates a constant lack of predictability and security. This situation is aggravated by the prevalence of low wages and even unpaid work. »
The pandemic and accompanying social crisis are not only making artists poorer and more economically precarious, they are also making the political and creative atmosphere more dangerous. Re/shaping policies highlights the work of Freemuse, which produces annual statistics on attacks on artists around the world and in the creative sectors.
Freemuse records “for the period 2018 to 2020, compared to 2017, show a 20% increase in censorship against artists and cultural professionals. The most serious attacks, namely murders, imprisonments, detentions and prosecutions, have all increased in recent years. Other forms of repression constitute the bulk of the abuses and include instances of physical and online attacks and threats, banning of works and stopping of performances, denial of licenses and restrictions on freedom of movement.
The combined economic, political and social consequences of the pandemic, which the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, in a February 2021 report, called “a cataclysm for cultural rights”, make horrible havoc. In addition to the hundreds of prominent musicians, actors, writers and others who have died from COVID, the report observes that as the pandemic progresses, “the impact on mental health around the world is being revealed, the first studies from multiple countries showing exponential increases in reported cases of depression, which in some cases quadrupled from 2019.”
Re/shaping policies points out that the impact of this mental health crisis “on the cultural sector has been particularly acute. According to Muzik-Sen, the Turkish Union of Musicians and Performers, more than 100 musicians in Turkey have died by suicide because they were unable to continue practicing [perform].” Similarly, in Australia, the report explains, “there has been an increase in the number of people in the music industry taking their own lives during the pandemic… – a sad trend that is no doubt reflected in many other countries and cultural sectors”.
This is the sad reality, which empty, sugary phrases about “resilience” and “sustainability” and “new opportunities” cannot hide.