Health and Healthcare Systems

COVID-19 hit the creative industries particularly hard. How can they be supported in future?

Creative industries: Man in apron, painting on a table.

Creative industries make up 3.1% of the world’s GDP and 6.2% of all employment Image: UNSPLASH/Eddy Klaus

Kayleigh Bateman
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  • Ten million creative jobs have been lost because of the pandemic.
  • Digital revenues fail to make up for losses from live events.
  • UNESCO calls for changes to better support the cultural sectors in future.
  • Better use of data and more public investment are two areas to work on.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 and national lockdowns had a dramatic effect on employment for many. However, they hit the cultural and creative industries particularly hard, with a total of 10 million jobs lost in these sectors worldwide in 2020, according to a new report from UNESCO.

This had an impact not only on individuals, but also on the wider economy, wiping $750 billion off the value of the global cultural and creative industries, the Reshaping Policies for Creativity report notes.

The job losses catalyzed a drive to digital that had already been happening before 2020. “Many artists and cultural professionals seized the opportunity of the rise in niche streaming services to develop innovative projects in the digital sphere,” the report says.

However, digital revenues failed to make up for the decline in live events caused by the pandemic, it adds. In the music sector, where live shows are a key part of artists’ income, the dominance of digital means the division of revenues among creators, producers and distributors “remains highly unequal”, the report says.

“People’s global access to, and reliance on, cultural content has increased, however, at the same time, those who produce arts and culture find it increasingly difficult to work,” says UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone. “We need to rethink how we build a sustainable and inclusive working environment for cultural and artistic professionals who play a vital role for society, the world over.”

Better support for the creative industries

The UNESCO report makes a series of recommendations to better recognize and protect the needs of artists and cultural professionals.

These fall into four main categories: increasing public investment; taking a whole-of-government approach; creating more work opportunities; and making better use of data.

An infographic showing recommendations on how to support creative workers.
UNESCO’s report offers several recommendations to better support workers in the creative industries. Image: UNESCO

Increased public investment

The cultural and creative sectors account for 3.1% of the world’s GDP and 6.2% of all employment, making them a “strategic investment for economic development”, according to UNESCO.

However, government spending on culture has been declining for a decade, the report says. There is now a need for targeted investment strategies, it says, calling in particular for support of community media, to foster a diverse range of content.

A chart showing government spending on the arts from 2010-2019.
Government spending on culture has been declining for a decade. Image: UNESCO/IMF/BOP Consulting

There are already some examples of this happening. Mexico has introduced two laws since 2017 to support the production and distribution of cultural content and products, the report says. Meanwhile, Finland has created a new strategy for cultural diversity, driving funding into teaching creative skills that will in turn lead to economic growth.

Whole-of-Government approach

Recommendations here include a dedicated office at a senior level of government, and cultural authorities having a say in key decision-making processes. It cites the case of Colombia, which in 2018 created the National Council for the Orange Economy to support the development of cultural initiatives.


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UNESCO also says there is a need for culture-related budget allocations across government departments, and for longer-term strategic thinking, such as 2030 agendas or national targets.

For example, Ireland’s Culture 2025 plan allowed the country to respond speedily to COVID-19 not only with funding, but also by supporting new creative projects to alleviate isolation among those who were out of work.

Creating more work opportunities

“For the diversity of cultural expressions to thrive, culture, creativity and education must be seen as going hand in hand,” the report says.

There is a mismatch between education, training and employment opportunities, it says, and calls for creative skills to be taught at as early an age as possible. In particular it sees a need for more to be done on digital literacy.

A chart showing specific education programmes in the arts, by developing countries.
There is a need for more training on digital skills, the report says. Image: UNESCO/BOP Consulting

“Adapting to the digital environment is still a challenge for the cultural and creative sectors,” the report says, adding that future generations will need to be trained in these technologies to make progress.

The report also highlights the importance of “non-formal learning”. It singles out Burkina Faso, where there is limited formal training in arts and culture, but civil society organizations regularly help artists and professionals develop their skills, with a view to helping them become professionals in their fields.

Making better use of data

Thorough data collection and information-sharing can help not only with policy decisions related to cultural fields, but also with employment, royalty payments and identifying educational needs.

Major gaps include databases of artists and creative practitioners, data on royalties and copyright, cultural employment and accurate GDP contributions, the report says.

A chart showing research bodies that have produced data on the creative sector.
There is widespread scope for better data collection about the creative sectors. Image: UNESCO/BOP Consulting

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Culture and Youth partnered with the UN Development Programme to put in place its Culture and Youth Administrative Records System, which collects figures to illustrate the impact and relevance of culture in society. The idea is to show that “behind every number is a person with an experience”, it says.

And Ecuador’s Culture Satellite Account measures the economic contribution of culture and creativity, and uses this data to help make cultural initiatives more professional.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsIndustries in DepthArts and Culture
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