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Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on culture
World cities are using their unique capabilities to soften the blow and to begin the process of recovery and renewal

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona

The immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are severe. But world cities are mobilising their unique toolset to mitigate the impact, and to begin the process of recovery and renewal.

Beyond using their formal powers, cities are tapping into and coordinating between local, regional and national networks. And placing culture at the heart of city-wide recovery.

Cities have issued grants and loans to cushion organisations from revenue loss, and are funding COVID adaptations to support an ongoing process of easing and tightening restrictions. The pandemic has revealed and amplified the most fragile parts of the sector. And cities have targeted funding where it is needed most. For example, Seoul provided emergency living allowances for individual artists up to 500,000 won.

Cities have the power to adapt regulations and evolve their streetscapes, making more space for culture outdoors and in the public realm. Sydney have seized the opportunity to accelerate public space initiatives, pedestrianising large parts of the city. And Toronto expanded it’s tax regulations to provide much needed property tax relief for live music venues.

Cities are also tapping into their networks to amplify the needs and concerns of the local sector. Through gathering the data, advocacy and lobbying, cities ensure that national governments understand the impacts on culture. Italian Deputy Mayors for Culture quickly gathered together and lobbied central government with great success. Cities are also brokering new partnerships with business and philanthropy to fill the urgent gaps in funding required. London’s £2.3 million Culture at Risk Business Support Fund for grassroots venues includes additional investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Cities are also mobilising culture to protect a sense of place. Cities have a unique understanding of culture’s role in shaping city life, and supporting recovery across the community. And in doing so, make a renewed case for culture.

Cities are embedding culture in post-COVID planning, as seen in Milan’s holistic ‘Milano 2020: Adaptation Strategies’. They are also developing new cultural programmes to support affected communities. Buenos Aires are positioning neighbourhoods as a vital social network through activities such as ‘Cultura puerta a puerta’, a local book delivery service for senior citizens.

Programmes mobilise culture to tackle isolation and anxiety, and support collective reflection and memorialisation. The Library System of Bogotá organised content for children, youth, families, adults and the elderly on self-care, storytelling and reflection. By placing culture at the heart of recovery, there could be new opportunities for the sector to transform longer-term.

The full WCCF COVID-19 Impact and Policy Bulletin can be downloaded here.