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The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Culture in World Cities
The World City Culture Forum’s first Impact and Policy Bulletin summarises what we know so far
04.08.2020

The immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are severe. Lockdowns and restrictions on people congregating and moving threaten an already fragile sector across the globe.

Revenue is lost. London alone is set to lose £14.8 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA), and 1 in 6 creative jobs (Creative Industries Federation). Employment is falling. In early April, almost 50% of cultural organisations surveyed in Montréal had carried out temporary layoffs (Culture Montréal). Supply chains are disrupted. In Guangzhou 40% of cultural SMEs reported an impact that threatens their survival.

The economic downturn and restricted movement also affect the wider population. Existing inequities are amplified – whether racial, socioeconomic, generational, spatial. Black Americans in the US have a death rate 3 times higher than white people (APM Research Lab).

If the effects of the pandemic – intermittent lockdowns, disrupted production and re-closing venues – continue long-term, we could see permanent losses and systemic change.

But the pandemic also reveals where culture is most resilient. If cities act decisively for recovery and reinvention, the cultural ecosystem can reconfigure. New organisations and cultural forms can emerge. Cities can support longer-term sustainability through new models of partnership and funding. And build cultural equity into the heart of their response.

Some work, production and events have continued remotely online. Cities have already developed platforms across the cultural ecosystem - from Buenos Aires’ ‘Cultura en casa’ to Abu Dhabi’s ‘CulturAll’. Continued acceleration of digital could provide a new dimension to the cultural offer, and provide new revenue streams longer-term.

New jobs and skills could emerge. Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched a Support Programme for cultural practitioners to create video works. And LA City are developing a programme to create murals and get public artists back to work.

There are new models of collaboration. Vienna organised a 2 month umbrella summer event with new content commissioned alongside the city’s existing festivals. Cities can broker new partnerships for funding, too. The New York COVID-19 Response and Impact Fund is a growing consortium of over 500 funders with over $100 million raised.

There are also opportunities for wider citizen production and participation. From balcony art in Paris, to producing content for digital initiatives, citizens have shown great creativity. And local, neighbourhood culture could come to the fore.

Cities are uniquely positioned to support the cultural sector, and their response in the coming months will be crucial to mitigate the impacts and support the sector’s resilience. The next Impact and Policy bulletin will explore this in more depth.

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