Culture, development and Covid-19

The cultural and creative sectors were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with over 10 million jobs lost in 2020 alone.

Re|Shaping policies for creativity: addressing culture as a global public good, UNESCO, 2022

Since 2005, UNESCO has published reports about the implementation of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, and culture’s contribution towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The latest edition, published on 6 February 2022, is an important step in documenting the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the people who create and sustain culture. It joins a thick library of such reports, ranging from cool academic surveys to cries of distress from those who have lost hard-won livelihoods. Most have focused on the developed countries, who dominate the creative economy, though a higher proportion of people work in culture in the global South, and most of them are very vulnerable to even small changes in the demand for their work.

Last year, I was asked by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to think with them about responses to this crisis. SDC has always had an important place for culture, with programmes in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and South East Asia, as well as Eastern Europe. I’ve worked with many of the hugely experienced and committed people who make this happen, often in difficult situations, and I have huge admiration for the projects and artists they support. I wrote about some of that in a series of reflection papers that were published on this site last year. This latest, short paper brings that work up to date, and is based partly on an intense two day online seminar held last summer with SDC’s across the world, and in Switzerland.

Reflection papers on culture and development: The impact of the pandemic