South African Cultural Observatory

Executive Direction June 2020

BY 29.06.20

As we all know and have somewhat even become accustomed to it, due to social distancing measures put in place to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, since March 26, we have all not able to travel to any venue to consume any form of arts and culture products. Libraries, archives, museums, films and television productions, theatre and orchestra performances, fashion shows, concert tours, zoos as well as music and arts festivals have all been closed or come to a complete halt. Could this signal a death knell for the sector? The answer has to be a Big No, at least not if we can help it as consumers and key stakeholders of the cultural and creative industries.

Our various research reports, including the latest Mapping Study and Covid-19 Impact reports, show how critical and a serious contributor the sector is. Our Mapping Study shows the sector’s direct contribution to the SA’s economy to be about R75 billion while the Covid-19 Impact study shows that Covid-19’s impact on the industry will be as high a negative R54 billion. In the real world this translates into loss of real economic value. More than anything, it also translates in harsh and debilitating impact on real lives, real jobs and real people who depend on the sector for their livelihoods.

There is perhaps no better time than now when the industry and society at large has to demonstrate genuine and tangible solidarity to save and support the industry to ensure that it finds a way to survive the pandemic. Dates for re-opening and expectations for when cultural organisations can fully "return to normal" have remained undetermined here and in most countries across the world.

Fortunately, a lot of players in the industry have decided to ‘take the bull by its horns’ and face the pandemic head-on without compromising theirs or their clients’ health. A sizable number has gone virtual, are streamlining or making their products and services digitally available. They have decided to embrace the new normal. This is important because research indicates that even after regulations are relaxed, to allow people to attend events, many people will not be willing to attend events or participate in activities that are held in confined spaces for fear of the virus, at least until such time a proven vaccine is found.

Several South African artists have been live-streaming their performances. Many sites have lists of online cultural activities. One such event is the National Arts Festival, staged in Makhanda every year which was about to go live virtually as we were producing this newsletter. Tickets for virtual participation were also available online. But, none of this will help the industry without the support of the arts and culture consumers. For all the virtual, digital and streamlined activities to have any meaningful impact, they require critical mass support of the arts and culture consumers. We need to purchase tickets and ‘attend’ the various events and activities from the comfort of our homes. Only when we give meaningful support, will we ensure the longevity and survival of the industry, and with that help save jobs, and perhaps even, create new ones.

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