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Reopening culture in world cities: adapting to the new reality
How cities can help the sector navigate through ongoing uncertainty

Unlocking cities is a complex process. As infection rates fluctuate rules continue to be tightened and relaxed successively. This is the beginning of a new and uncertain way of working. Social distancing and reduced capacity comes at a cost. Public safety is paramount, but cultural organisations also need the numbers to stack up. To supplement or begin to fill the gap from national-level funding, over 32 of WCCF’s member cities have provided direct financial relief. Funding both supports core operating costs while revenue drops, but also enables vital COVID-19 adaptations. Barcelona launched a subsidy of 200,000 Euros for venues to adapt spatially to new regulations.

Cultural venues are introducing a huge range of distancing and hygiene measures – from managing visitor routes and extending opening hours to installing screens and new ventilation systems. While it is often national governments determining the rules, cities have a vital role to play in interpreting the regulations, and providing guidance for their local context and needs of the sector. The Cities of Vienna and Los Angeles have worked directly with public health departments to launch guidelines for cultural venues with extensive sector consultation.

As cities unlock, attitudes vary widely, and audiences remain nervous about returning quickly to culture. Cities are, therefore, providing discounts and financial incentives. The Tour Shanghai App and Culture Tourism e-Passport includes 140 cultural venues offering discounts, coupons and other incentives to encourage people back. Cities are also launching marketing campaigns and assurance schemes to build confidence in safety measures, such as kitemarks for different sectors.

Cities have to be ready to act quickly and flexibly to support organisations in a rapidly changing environment. And communication is key. Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture receives information directly from the national Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters, and communicate daily with venues whether they can open based on the number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed. Cities must also support organisations to plan longer-term for this ongoing uncertainty. Seoul is working on a second Seoul Artists Plan for 2021-25, building in a strategy for major issues such as the response to disasters, continuity of artistic projects and artists’ support.

The impacts of COVID-19 will be felt unevenly across the cultural sector, but cities have a crucial role to play in working with cultural organisations, creatives and technical and ancillary services both to communicate and interpret wider regulations, and ensure the sector’s voice is positioned at the heart of planning for this new reality.

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