Loss and More Loss: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Cultural and Creative Sectors of Aruba

Along with the tourism industry, cultural and creative sectors are among the most affected economies by the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. Last month on Monday, August 3rd 2020 the Prime Minister of Aruba announced the new Covid procedures in effect, after a rise in (local transmissions) registered cases emerged. These procedures include but are 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.

Many specifically in the music industry came forth on their Facebook pages and expressed their disappointment and deep concern in regards to the new procedures. Most of these people completely depend on their gigs and performances to put food on the table and to pay their bills. These new guidelines cause a huge financial loss and to make it more stressful, considering most of them are not even eligible to receive the subsidy plan of the Aruban Government. Up until now, most of these measures are still in effect.

Besides the financial aspects, many others questioned the purpose for opening Aruba’s borders if tourists can’t enjoy some musical performances at restaurants, lounges, bars, and other places of leisure. The cultural sector of Aruba is experiencing a complete paralysis. Most museums are closed and no cultural performances are allowed. However, Aruba compared to other islands in the region has the most organized and well planned recovery plan. Aruba has been praised even by tourists for having a good plan and taking this virus seriously. However, Aruban creative entrepreneurs are asking for a fair plan. They are not against social distancing and wearing masks, but are asking clearance to do their job in a safe manner and following all guidelines of the Public Health Department. Unlike many others on the island, they can’t work from home and they can’t receive the Government’s Covid financial coverage plan. So, their hands are tied and it feels inequitable to say the least.

According to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development better known as OECD (2020) expresses that “the current crisis is particularly critical for cultural and creative sectors due to the sudden and massive loss of revenue opportunities, especially for the more fragile players. Some actors benefit from public support (e.g. public museums, libraries, theatres) but may experience significant budget shortfalls” (n.p). In bigger countries, the sector includes major multinational businesses with sustainable profits, but in small islands many (small) companies and freelance professionals essential for the sector could face bankruptcy. Ultimate loss is caused among the self-employed persons and freelancers of the CCIs. This nationwide and worldwide crisis creates a structural threat to the survival of many firms and workers in cultural and creative production.

Now, more than ever, the significance of culture and creativity for society is undeniable. The accessibility of cultural content contributes to mental health and well-being (SDG #3), and many cultural institutions have provided online and free content in recent weeks for that purpose. Sustainable business models during and after the initial crisis are now crucial for the sector’s survival. Leaving behind the more unstable part of the industry could trigger irreparable socio-economic destruction. The current trial for all countries, especially small island states such as Aruba is to design public provisions that alleviate the negative impacts in the short term and help pinpoint new opportunities in the medium term for different public, private and non-profit stakeholders engaged in cultural and creative production.

Research Case Study in Germany

Germany is one of the “best practice” countries that has used this crisis as an opportunity to conduct proper research on their Cultural and Creative Industry. One of these ongoing research projects is titled: “COVID-19 Impact on the Cultural and Creative Industries in Germany: Economic Effects in a Scenario Analysis” and is conducted by the Federal Government’s Centre of Excellence for the Cultural and Creative, in partnership with Dr. Olaf Arndt, Kathleen Freitag, Roman Bartuli, and Dr. Tobias Theel, and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in Berlin. In this report, they analyze the extent to which the cultural and creative industries (CCIs) are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. Their chosen methodology is a scenario analysis in which they aim to examine the economic effects of public health measures which were introduced to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

According to the Federal Government’s Centre of Excellence for the Cultural and Creative Industries (2020) “the restrictions pose a threat to the cultural and creative industries, as some companies and self-employed persons suffer major losses. Many freelancers and micro-enterprises work in the creative industries. They depend more than others on events and markets for earning money. Many artists, such as singers, professionals in event and stage technology, photographers, actors or writers, live on the edge of subsistence anyway. Due to the cancellation of events, these groups face severe existential problems. We also observe that the cultural industries are more affected than the creative industries” (p.1). The difference between the cultural and creative industries is that cultural industries consist of more cultural expressive output such as performance arts, virtual arts, arts and crafts, museums and galleries, while creative industries consists out of more creative outputs that require more technological support such as graphic design, gaming industry, big data and so on. There are other sectors that fall in between such as publishing, marketing, writing and so on. Together, they form the Cultural and Creative Industries.

 

In the report, the researchers state that three major industries are directly affected; the music industry, performing arts, and the broadcasting industry. In the music industry, it is expected that a large part of the annual turnover of self-employed persons or businesses will be lost. This estimation is based on the nationwide (worldwide) cancellation of events and the consequent post-lockdown results. The crisis is furthermore assumed to be of burden for self-employed people and companies from the art market and the performing arts. This affects independent artists, artisans, variety and cabaret theatres, and cultural education companies such as dance and music schools. In many cases, these professional groups depend on performances and events as well. Due to the cancellation of events, the turnovers almost absolutely disappear. Furthermore, in the broadcasting industry, it is anticipated that radio and television broadcasters will suffer more from the COVID-19 pandemic than originally expected. They will most likely continue to face declining advertising proceeds. This development depends to a large extent on the development of the advertising market and thus on the economic situation of the overall economy.

Moving Forward

There is no discussion whether the Aruban Government is doing a great job in fighting this pandemic. Could things have gone better, of course. Covid-19 came without a warning, manual and instructions. No one can predict how this will further impact the Aruban economy and its people. However, there are aspects to consider especially concerning the Aruban cultural and creative industries who in many cases are left behind and forgotten. The urge is to call on procedures that are more fair and balanced, and to also raise awareness within the community that seems to only support these creatives when times are good. Despite the threatening aspects of the pandemic described above, the crisis also offered opportunities to innovate in some areas:

  • Students are enabled to use virtual classes and, as a side effect, test and prove the functionality of the systems. Whether this is being done effectively, we can further debate. But how will we make sure that even at home students can have access to a creative outlet?
  • There is a growing demand for “stay in house” innovative and more technological advanced services, such as online streaming services, innovative food delivery services, and online shopping and delivery services. How will this help the local economy grow?

Overall, the responsibility lies with everyone. It should not only fall on the shoulders of the government. Are there areas for improvement? With no doubt! But we as a community should fight this as well. This column will always support Aruban creatives and creative businesses. Hope remains to soon resolve the difficult situation these creatives are stuck with. Creativity and culture should not be forgotten or disposable.