A cry for help: Aruba’s creative industries in need

Around the world, along with the tourism industry, cultural and creative sectors are among the most affected economies by the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. This is not an exception for Aruba. Since August 3rd 2020, a rise in (local transmissions) registered cases caused new guidelines that devastated the Aruban Cultural and Creative Industries. These procedures included but were not limited to: obligatory use of masks, no dancing, no Dj/Band performances, no agglomeration at bars, and 4 people max at a table in a restaurant, just to name a few. The reaction of the community, especially professionals in the Aruban Cultural and Creative Industry (CCI), were not positive. In the meantime, the criticism and the disappointment of this industry is not that the Government of Aruba has imposed these guidelines and measures, but that there is no mention of a national strategic plan to help this industry sustain the impact of COVID-19 on a short term or long term scope.

How is Aruba helping the Creative Industries?

Aruba is facing hard and difficult times due to the emergence of COVID-19. This pandemic has destroyed Aruba’s financial and economic development. The financial circumstances of the island don’t provide much room for assisting families that have no income or let alone investing in programs that could still stimulate socio-economic development. The Aruban Government in solidarity with the Aruban people has introduced a program called FASE, an Emergency Social Assistance Fund. Applicants that meet all requirements can receive AWG 950.00 monthly for a maximum of 3 months. According to the Aruban Government website: “on March 31, 2020, FASE received 5700 personal applications, 744 business registrations, and more than 15 thousand calls” (Government of Aruba, 2020). The private sector, entrepreneurs, and self-employed people (ZZP’ers) could apply for FASE while the funding was available. Since Aruba could not offer this assistance on their own, the Aruban Government had no choice but to ask The Netherlands for help (in accordance with the Kingdom Constitution).

Besides the social assistance fund, specifically related to the Aruban Cultural and Creative Industry, UNOCA (local cultural grant agency) in the heat of the COVIG-19 pandemic introduced a funding project called “UNOCA CARES” with the hopes of stimulating the development of cultural and creative content during COVID times. This project was executed for the months of May and June 2020 and was a total success. A total of 25 cultural project grants were awarded. Each applicant is granted AWG 2000.00 for their project, meaning AWG 50.000,00 was invested so far in the Aruban Cultural and Creative Industries. The project was so successful that the organization announced the second round of grants in September 2020. However, besides this initiative, not much has been done for the cultural and creative sectors on the island. Besides the lack of a National Cultural Policy or a Creative Industry Policy for Aruba, policy-wise there has been no information of how the Aruban Government is going to assist the Aruban Creative industry (with a contingency plan) during and post COVID-19.

How are other countries helping the Creative Industries?

In the words of the European Commission (2020) “empty cultural places, drastically reduced mobility and tourism blockade as an effect of COVID-19 measures not only generate an evident economic damage to cultural institutions, companies and workers but also create a strong economic and social discomfort at city level”. Therefore, the need for reform and policy responses are highly necessary for the Creative Industries. There are different ways countries around the world are helping the Creative Industries. This is done through Public Funding (grants for cultural sector, grants for creative entrepreneurs, compensations, tax incentives), Employment Support (income support and unemployment benefits which in most cases are also public funding), Administrative Support (advanced aid, postponement of dues, relief of dues, and procedural flexibility), and Structural Policies (training, employment, knowledge mobilization, digitalization, innovation, and copyright licensing).

On September 7th 2020, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report called “Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors” which in detail explained the impact of COVID-19 on the cultural and creative sector around the world while also illustrating what these countries have done (policy-wise) to help this industry. We realistically can’t compare Aruba, a small island of approx. 120.000 people, to bigger and more developed countries with millions of inhabitants, but the reason this report is relevant is because it illustrates the endless support (or lack thereof) other countries have expressed to the Creative Industry.

The Netherlands

Recently, on September 15th 2020 the Dutch Government released a notice on their website that “in addition to the support package of € 482 million, the budget for culture will have available an additional € 15 million per year the next four years (a total of € 60 million over 2021-2024). These funds are intended to further strengthen the cultural infrastructure in Dutch regions. The cabinet is committed to a solid cultural and creative sector. This sector makes a significant contribution to a favorable economic business climate in the Netherlands” (Rijksoverheid, 2020). This news drew a lot of attention on Facebook. Aruban creative professionals such as Ms. Pierangely Wever (Dancer/Dace teacher) expressed by stating: “Ok and Aruba? Is there money for ART and CULTURE? Dance schools are suffering; many students don’t come to class. What is going to happen? I can imagine that Music, Visual Arts, and other disciplines in the ARTS are also suffering! What is going to happen?” You can hear her cry for help, her cry for an answer, and her cry for a plan.

Europe

In the case of Europe, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel announced in April 2020 at the conference of EU ministers of culture and media, that the Commission is setting up two platforms to help share challenges and solutions at the EU level in relation to the COVID-19 impact on the cultural and creative sectors. “The first platform for EU Member States was launched on 24 April and it allows the representatives of EU culture ministries to exchange good practices. The second platform, Creatives Unite aims to help people in the cultural and creative sectors share information and solutions more easily. It was launched on 5 May within the framework of the Creative FLIP Pilot project co-funded by the European Union” (European Union, 2020).

Both national and city governments in Europe have issued a comprehensive collection of policy measures (from compensatory grants to tax reliefs) to maintain alive Europe’s cultural capital, while giving cultural institutions, companies and workers the time to get prepared to post-COVID times. A good example of such works includes the “European Cultural and Creative Cities in COVID-19 times: Jobs at risk and the policy response” (2020) report. Many of the policy measures Europe used to help creative entrepreneurs and creative businesses include: Aid package for solo self-employed persons and micro-enterprises, aid for organizers of cultural events, liquidity assistance, short-time allowance, simplified access to basic income, aid for parents and families, tax aid measures, insolvency law, protection of tenants, artists’ social security fund, consumer loans, reallocation of funds and flexibilization of programs, film funding, and capacity building measures, just to name a few. More detailed information of what the EU is doing to remediate the impact of COVID-19 can be found on the following website: https://ec.europa.eu/culture/resources/coronavirus-response

Moving Forward

The Aruban community and the creative and cultural community are experiencing great pain and loss. The Aruban Government is fighting many battles in regards to public health, the increasing covid-19 spread, economic development, tourism industry, education crisis during COVID times, financial crisis, negotiations with The Netherlands and so much more. The load is heavy; however, the Aruban Cultural and Creative Industry needs attention as well. Not only for now but for the future. All cultural and creative organizations (public, private and non-profit) should unite and create a platform like the EU did to discuss how we can collaborate and bring concrete solutions on the table and initiate real change. Especially, exploring how Aruba can deliver COVID-safe cultural experiences as time goes by.

The government has a responsibility, but it cannot carry it alone. This is why public policy is important and why culture and the creative industries also needs their own policy plan. I cannot emphasize this enough. Aruba has endured many obstacles in the past, so I am confident that our creative professionals are capable to help come up with ideas and turn this miserable situation around. However, it will only happen if we do it together.