Creative and Cultural Industries and COVID-19

Dr Katherine Champion, Lecturer in Media and Communications, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Stirling

A street performer taking part in the Edinburgh Festival.

COVID-19 has caused enormous disruption to Creative and Cultural Industries around the world. Katherine Champion looks at the dynamics of this disruption, and explores how the sector has responded to the challenges presented by the virus.

Watch her lecture online or read the transcript below.

Hello, I’m Katherine Champion, I’m a Lecturer in Media and Communications at the University of Stirling, and today I’m going to be talking about the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) and COVID-19.

I wrote and recorded this talk on June the 17th 2020 and used the information that was available at the time. It’s also important to highlight that I’m not intending to cover everything related to this topic, but instead I’m trying to flag up some initial reflections on some of the key issues.

In terms of what I’m going to cover within the ten minutes, I’m going to talk about some of the ways in which the sector has been seen to be helping people deal with some of the challenges of lockdown in terms of the increase in cultural content being consumed remotely, for example. I’m also going to examine the particular challenges related to COVID-19 faced by the businesses, institutions and workers within the Creative and Cultural Industries and especially touch on those faced by the Creative and Cultural Industries outside of global creative clusters like London. Finally, I’m going to talk about a planned project around the particular COVID-19-related challenges faced by Creative and Cultural Industries in small cities which will focus on Stirling.

CCIs supporting wellbeing during COVID-19

The Creative and Cultural Industry sector is now recognized to be crucial in supporting well-being in the population. Since lockdown began in the U.K, creative content, music, film, TV, video games and e-publishing has played an important role in helping people deal with the challenging life circumstances associated with COVID-19. There’s been a surge in reading books, streaming music, filming video games, content with consumers, embracing a range of non-traditional material like watching filmed performances of theatre, concerts and dance shows. Cultural institutions like the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells, National Theatre Live and the Sage in Gateshead have launched digital initiatives to make content available. While the British Museum, National Gallery and Royal Academy are among the venues offering virtual tours, ensuring national collections remain accessible to all during lockdown.

Additionally, grassroots organizations countrywide have engaged with online delivery by launching new retail sites, streaming workshops and classes and engaging on social media platforms. For example, in Scotland, Cove Park has commissioned five artists to create online parks for creative activities suitable for children and young people. While curator space has been launched as a platform where artists and art professionals move there in real life courses online and list them for free during the pandemic. There is also widespread appreciation of the role which the CCI sector will hopefully be able to play in the recovery process over the coming months and years, addressing challenges of isolation and community cohesion alongside arts and cultural activities and how they contribute to the economy.

The negative impacts of COVID-19 on the sector

At the same time, the sector sectors had been acknowledged as one of the most affected by the pandemic and the impact of the recent unprecedented containment measures introduced in March.

Creative hobbies including theatres, cinemas and music venues have had their physical places spaces closed and artists, designers and craft makers have nowhere physical to sell their work. At the beginning of April, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport launched an inquiry on the impacts of COVID-19 on the wider DCMS sectors, and the submissions already made by arts and cultural institutions have been sobering. For example, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society submission detailed the loss in 2020 of well over 200 million pounds to the economy of Scotland and the UK, as well as a revenue gap of 1.5 million for the fringe society and deficit to fringe venues of around 21 million pounds.

The impact of lockdown on freelance workers, of which there are a very high proportion within the Creative and Cultural Industries, has been immense, with half of those responding to equate Creative Industries Federation survey of creative organizations and freelancers estimating that they could not last beyond June on their existing financial reserves, despite government support for freelancers being announced. Many working within the sector have found themselves in an ineligible for any financial support due to being hired on PAYE fixed term contracts or as owners of limited liability companies with sectors such as TV, film and music being particularly badly affected. An Oxford Economics report released on the 17th of June projected a combined turnover loss of £74 billion for the sector during 2020 as compared to 2019.

Regional CCIs and COVID-19

Despite the sector being seen as a crucial driver of job creation and economic growth across the UK, different places have been regarded to benefit to different extents, and the share and wealth generated by the sector has been uneven traditionally.

For example, in the UK, Creative and Cultural Industries activity tends to have been concentrated in London in the Southeast. Prior to COVID-19,  the UK government had highlighted helping spread the prosperity and growing the creative skill base across the UK as a key priority.

Despite being traditionally downplayed by mainstream Creative and Cultural Industries policy, small cities and towns have been argued to have economically, politically and culturally vibrant economies, but factors such as size and proximity and location all place specific burdens on these locations. Creative and Cultural Industries in regional areas do face particular challenges, and these have been substantially exacerbated by COVID-19, and its associated lockdown. The impacts of COVID-19 are significant on wide ranging, but it is clear that certain places and activities are more vulnerable and fragile than others. And I’m arguing the creative and cultural industries activities found in smaller cities and towns in the UK face particular challenges during COVID-19.

Insights from the global recession of 2008 tell us that without intervention, the opportunities for sustaining and growing the sector outside London are likely to be lost. This research found that Creative and Cultural Industries had been starting to spread evenly across the country prior to the global economic recession, but under economic duress, those burgeoning clusters shrank and concentration eventually focused back on London and the South East.

CCIs in the Stirling City Region

Turning to the specific context of Stirling, the city has a rich heritage founded on its medieval built environment, and there are burgeoning grass roots activities and policy initiatives towards strengthening Creative and Cultural Industries capacity within the region. Stirling could, however, be identified or defined as an overshadowed city in the context of neighbouring cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, which tend to host a higher level financial and administrative functions of the Scottish economy. This leaves it facing challenges such as the survival of local retail and related tourism industries, which will certainly be exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic.

Creative hubs such as Creative Stirling have been argued to mitigate some of the issues related to the precariousness and instability of Creative and Cultural Industries work by offering opportunities for a safe and supportive context for their development. Already, such hubs have taken on a vital role in the community during lockdown and COVID-19.

For example, the Made in Stirling physical store moved entirely online within weeks of the crisis, beginning offering an online shop and delivery service, as well as online event bookings and opportunities to purchase digital vouchers to ‘pay it forward’ in order to help the creative and social and cultural enterprises in the region through the challenges of the pandemic. The Kitchen at 44 King Street, which operates from the Creative Stirling Hub and Transition Stirling, are also among the businesses working together to distribute free food during the crisis from the Made in Stirling store every evening with strict social distancing measures in place, helping to feed communities and reduce food waste. Despite this vital contribution to the community, the Creative Stirling Hub at King Street and other cultural and creative hubs in the region could be rendered extremely vulnerable by this pandemic.

Project: Creative hubs in small cities and COVID-19

Therefore, the proposed project that I am currently working on aims to develop understanding of some of the challenges faced by the Creative and Cultural sector of Stirling and the response of the creative and cultural hubs in the city region to COVID-19.

In so doing, the project will develop an understanding as to how the hubs themselves are sustaining fragile cultural and creative industries activities, meeting challenges in the wider community, and also attempting to ensure their own existence in the context of a global pandemic.

Final thoughts

Turning to some final reflections. As I hope I’ve shown, research and policy must pay attention to Creative and Cultural Industries outside of London and the South East of England. Understanding the place-based intricacies of the impact of and response to COVID-19 in small cities is integral to ensuring that provincial towns and regions are not left behind during this inevitably long road to recovery. Achieving a strong response to COVID-19 among these more fragile parts of the Creative and Cultural Industries

is crucial for avoiding irreparable economic and social damage to the sector, its workers and the communities and places they support.

Many thanks for listening.

Theme by the University of Stirling