December 21, 2020
Sustaining culture and the arts
Over the past few years, the cultural sector was living through a revival phase. Buoyed by the increased tourism flows; performances, cultural events and music shows and events, where also becoming a tourism niche in their own right. Then the pandemic hit, and the tourism sector and cultural sector came crashing to a grinding halt.
Along with the tourism sector, the cultural and creative sectors are among the most affected by the current crisis across the globe. The venue-based sectors including museums, performing arts, and others are the hardest hit by social distancing measures. The abrupt drop in revenues puts their financial sustainability at risk and has resulted in reduced wage earnings and lay-offs with repercussions along the value chain of their suppliers. Cultural and creative sectors are largely composed of micro-firms, non-profit organisations and creative professionals, often operating on the margins of financial sustainability. The reduced subventions from the private sector can prove to be catastrophic for some entities and museums unless the Government intervenes.
The effects of the crisis will affect the production of cultural goods and services in the months, if not years, to come. Over the medium term, the anticipated lower levels of international tourism, drop in purchasing power, and reductions of private funding for arts and culture could magnify this negative trend even further. In the absence of responsive public and private support, the possible downsizing of cultural and creative sectors will have a negative impact on the broader society, not only just in terms of jobs and value-added but also on levels of innovation, citizen well-being and the product offering of the Maltese islands.
Going forward, it will be critical to consider cultural and creative sectors as well as cultural participation as a key economic driver in its own right with linkages to the broader economy. The sector is already an economic driver and source of innovation.The cultural and creative sectors can in fact play an important role in innovation throughout the economy especially if economic sectors are seen as clusters and ecosystems rather than silos. In fact, public and private support to these sectors is more effective when taking into account the strategic inter-relationships across sub-sectors that come together in an ecosystem. For example, the relationship between the creative sectors and the educational system is likely to be further reinforced by the acceleration of digitalisation processes in both spheres. This strengthened relationship will likely generate important knowledge and technology transfers across the two spheres. The strategic complementarities between the creative, cultural and the educational sectors will not only be essential for the development of new forms of digital edutainment and gamification but also for digital creation and curation of content. Moreover, these sectors are a prime field of development and experimentation of emerging technologies such as augmented and enriched reality, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence which can complement other economic sectors including online gaming and other ICT related sectors.
As we look forward to 2021 and the resumption of travelling and tourism, there is an opportunity for new models of more sustainable cultural tourism going forward which are more niche, resilient and less potentially more value-adding. Here the business models would focus on longer and repeat stays rather than on very high volumes of short visits. This new trend will require additional investments in tourist attractions including efforts to expand the nature of cultural experiences, the digital training of local guides and service providers, and the creation of digital narratives that complement traditional physical experiences. As Malta draws up its revised tourism strategy, the role of creative and cultural tourism needs to be deeply embedded within this.
To shape better policies, national and local governments need more and better evidence on the economic and social impact of cultural and creative sectors. Despite the increased awareness of the role of culture and creativity for development, much can still be done to improve and mainstream across policy areas. Looking ahead, culture needs to be part of recovery strategies in particular through place-based and people-based policies together with the right infrastructural support.
The article first appeared in The Sunday Times.
JP Fabri is a co-founding partner of Seed Consultancy.