The coronavirus pandemic is a public health crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Its economic impact has yet to be assessed accurately as all industries have ground to a halt around the world: the IMF reckons that the world economy will experience its worst recession since the Great Depression with global growth falling to – 3% in 2020.
Cultural activities will not be spared either: empty heritage monuments, deserted museums, cultural events cancelled, artists unable to make ends meet and the cultural tourism sector greatly affected. UNESCO confronts this global emergency with upgrading its flagship programmes such as the International Fund for Cultural Diversity or World heritage Fund, also with a specific initiative, ResiliArt, meant to shed light on the current state of creative industries amidst crisis through an exclusive global discussion with key industry professionals while capturing experiences and voices of resilience from artists – both established and emerging – on social media. Together, it raises awareness about the far-reaching ramification of COVID-19 across the sector and aims at supporting artists during and following the crisis.
In a dubious tribute to its lead on the cultural front, France is impacted heavily: Avignon, the ‘mother of all festivals’ (700,000 guests) has been cancelled; Cannes is postponed until likely cancelled (not a first in its momentous history though); Les Francofolies, Les Eurockénnes, Le Printemps de Bourges, Les Vieilles Charrues, Les Nuits de Fourvière, Jazz à Juan, the list is never ending of landmark events whose organizers have thrown in the towel.
To address this challenge and make sure that the post-COVID 19 world will not be a cultural desert, a number of significant initiatives have been made available to the main players on the cultural front. SACEM, France’s music rights collecting society, is offering a variety of emergency instruments since 2 April:
– A Rescue Fund (€ 6 million) will target individuals in deep misery and offer them cash allowances of up to €5,000.
– Advance payment on copyright (€ 36 million) to those hit either by instant loss of revenues or considerable reduction of claims next year, once their works are made available to the public. This programme will span the next 12 months, with repayments scheduled over the next 5 years.
– Increased assistance (+ € 1 million) to music publishers.
While the French government and all leading cultural stakeholders have pulled out all the stops to make sure that all those who make culture possible are able to weather the COVID-19 tidal wave, there is little doubt that culture itself will survive not only unscathed but rather stronger from its current travails. Suffice it to quote this number from HADOPI: 53% of French internet users put the consumption of cultural goods and services at the top of their list of essential activities during lockdown; or to refer to the many spontaneous remote concerts, from professional artists to plain amateurs, given to the benefit of all users of social networks.
Which begs these three questions:
– If culture has proved an unparalleled provider of solace in the time of Coronavirus, if it has softened the damage on social life around the world, doesn’t it deserve a bit more attention when we emerge from the crisis?
– If the virus has accelerated the switch to ‘digital culture’, the one produced and experienced via digital technology, shouldn’t we provide those amazing tools with the optimal environment for them to operate?
– And once the threat is over and we are authorized to venture out of our homes to enjoy our first cautious gatherings after weeks of confinement, shouldn’t we make sure that music is invited to the party and granted enough spectrum not to mar the celebration by striking a discordant note?
Patrice Chazerand, representative of “SOS – Save Our Spectrum” for France, Belgium and the EU