Ten million jobs were lost in creative industries during the coronavirus pandemic—while thousands more remain imperiled—according to a new report from UNESCO. Released today, the report outlines “an unprecedented crisis in the cultural sector” exacerbated by a decline in government spending on the arts in the years leading up to the pandemic.
“The social security net for artists in many countries was already inadequate, however the pandemic has exposed just how vulnerable workers in the cultural and creative sectors are,” the report reads.
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The report called on governments to ensure greater labor protection for the creative industry, including establishing a minimum wage for cultural workers, as well as better pension and sick pay plans for freelancers.
“Even in countries with social security schemes designed for freelancers or self-employed people (who constitute a large part of the creative economy workforce), a significant proportion of such workers were often ineligible,” UNESCO said.
In what the report describes as a “basic paradox,” the cultural sector is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with people’s global access to creative content only increasing due to the shift towards showcasing art on digital platforms. However, it’s also a particularly vulnerable industry: the arts are often cut from government budgets or overlooked by private investors. Museums and galleries were especially affected by the pandemic, with 90 percent of venues forced to close their doors for months, according to UNESCO. In 2020, the global gross value of the creative industry contracted by $750 billion, despite several artists relief programs launched by national and city governments.
The report also recommended action be taken to close the income disparity between revenue-rich streaming services and the creatives producing digital content. Within the last two years, a digitization has become “more central to creation, production, distribution and access to cultural expressions. As a result, online multinationals consolidated their position, and inequalities in internet access became more significant,” the report said.
Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for culture, added, “We need to rethink how we build a sustainable and inclusive working environment for cultural and artistic professionals who play a vital role for society, the world over.”
Meanwhile, cultural workers worldwide have staged protests over coronavirus restrictions that have kept museums and other arts venues closed. In January, several dozen museums and concerts halls in the Netherlands temporarily reopened as salons and gyms in a playful protest against the nation’s coronavirus protocols. The Dutch Prime Minister had lifted the national lockdown on gyms, hairdressers, and fitness, but cultural venues including theaters and galleries were required to remain shuttered for at least another week. Among the prestigious venues to participate in the day-long protest were the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Mauritshuis gallery in the Hague, home to Vermeer’s iconic Girl with the Pearl Earring.
In Morocco, tour operators gathered in front of the tourism ministry in Rabat, the country’s capital, to protest strict restrictions on international travel. Flight and ferry services into Morocco were suspended in November to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant, dealing a blow to the nation’s beleaguered tourism industry.