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April 17, 2020

Culture’s way out of this crisis

April 17, 2020

Blog post from the Director and CEO, Simon Brault

Culture and post-pandemic recovery

While some countries have begun a progressive return to normalcy, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on every continent. Half of humanity remains in confinement. Justifiable health measures have put the brakes on economic activities everywhere. The slowdown has shone a light on globalization’s serious flaws—its inequalities, democratic shortfalls, and ecological disasters.

As scientists work to find a vaccine, governments are tending to numerous emergencies. They are also preparing for recovery with solutions that call for investments worth trillions of dollars. The cultural sector has a place in these discussions because it has lost so much in this crisis, which will continue to afflict the sector for a long time to come. In playing its part, the cultural sector may also inform some of the societal choices that will shape recovery.

A challenge to creation, production, and dissemination models

The ban on gatherings, months of confinement, travel restrictions, and near-total border closures have deeply affected the pre-pandemic principles for cultural creation, production, and dissemination. But the shock of these changes has not led to the disaster we anticipated. Within days, hundreds of artists were broadcasting their creations from their homes. A remarkable number of events and works initially created for theatres and other public spaces migrated at lightning speed to digital platforms. Cultural consumption and participation patterns changed enormously and, perhaps, will continue to change for a long time to come.

The likelihood of a quick return to pre-pandemic cultural attendance becomes less and less likely as officials continue to postpone the end of physical distancing. To add to this, cultural attendance was already on the decline before the pandemic, and the spending power of both families and individuals is decreasing. Also, as countries turn inward, domestic consumption of products destined for international markets is unlikely—home markets were practically saturated before the pandemic. 

And yet, this crisis has not diminished the importance of arts and culture. In fact, arts and culture have become an even more integral part of our daily lives during confinement—in large part thanks to the initiative of many artists. The growth of buy-local movements will undoubtedly benefit artists and arts organizations that rely on audience proximity, strengthening ties with their community. We must acknowledge this reality and look to the future with a genuine interest in experimentation and innovation.

What recovery for the arts sector?

The arts and culture sector will continue to invent new models as we emerge from this pandemic. The Council, as well as the wider community, has already started to reflect on this.

The crisis highlights how important it is to engage in mutually beneficial collaborations with other sectors that foster innovation—through, for example, scientific research, digital entrepreneurship, community action, and international cooperation. Sustainable progress in rebuilding our societies, as well as the reorganization and adequate funding of the ways we create, produce, and interact with audiences will require the best in artistic and literary creation. We will have to rethink supply and demand in the cultural sector and better support both.

Our society’s recovery cannot repeat the formula we followed in the past.

Some of the most important lessons learned through this crisis—the rapid and widespread use of digital tools to maintain essential social interactions despite physical restrictions, local and international solidarity, and the widely shared observation that the restrictions placed on our regular activities have benefited the environment—can guide us as we restart our economy and return to life together.