South African Cultural Observatory

Executive Direction September 2020

BY 29.09.20

Earlier in September, Stats SA released the GDP figures for the second quarter of the year showing severe economic contraction. The GDP fell by just over 16%. The fall is largely attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic. In all probabilities, no sector of our economy has been spared. 

From the various research reports that the SA Cultural Observatory has  produced over the years, we know that the cultural and creative industries are particularly vulnerable to the economic cycles. This time is no exception as our Covid-19 Impact report showed. The sector is probably one of those that received the biggest blows, with the resultant loss of jobs and incomes.

Understanding this should spare us into action to save and revive the industry. President Ramaphosa has also called upon everyone to put their hands on deck to contribute towards the economic recovery. For our industry, this will require a new way of thinking and collaboration. It also offers the sector an opportunity to re-imagine and rethink the way most of us approach our work. It is evident that the old way of working will not be sufficient to reverse the negative impact Covid-19 pandemic on the sector. At least not if we want speedy recovery.

Most of the sector only realistically resumed some level of normal functioning after the country moved to level 1 of lockdown. Throughout the various phases of lockdown, many public and private providers in the sector moved their content on-line, most of it for free to keep audiences engaged and satisfy the sharply increased demand for cultural content. The only snag in our country though is that the majority of citizens have severely limited access to online resources and would thus largely be excluded.

Notwithstanding these limitations, the sector will benefit a great deal with massive digitalisation coupled with emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented realities. These allow for creation of new forms of cultural experience and dissemination of our products and services to more audiences, and perhaps cost effectively. The international success of the Jerusalem song is the best case to demonstrate this potential. It has the potential to assist in building new business models with market potential. The provision of free and digitally mediated cultural content is not sustainable over time but has opens the door to future innovations that the industry can exploit to the benefit of both the providers and consumers.

To capitalise on them, there is a need to address the digital skills shortages within the sector and improve digital access beyond large metropolitan areas, with the additional consideration that digital access does not replace a live cultural experience or all the jobs that go with it. All stakeholders need to take a keen interest in investing both capital and time resources towards building the digital infrastructure that can amplify advances in cultural and creative sectors. The pandemic has also shown that with collaborative efforts, various industries can achieve more. There is a lot more that the creative and cultural industries will benefit by close collaboration with the ICT sector.         

Until then,

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