COVID-19 is Destroying the Creative Economy

A report titled 'Taking the Temperature' surveys the impact of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown on the creative economy. The results are not heartening, but possible solutions are at hand.

As India continues to reel under COVID-19 and the economic downturn that has been exacerbated in its wake, the British Council, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and The Art X Company have come up with a report titled ‘Taking the Temperature’ which analyses the impact of COVID-19 on India’s creative economy. The creative economy encompasses art, architecture, cinema, literature, the performing arts, heritage and a wide gamut of creative industries employing large numbers of people. The report is based on two surveys conducted by the British Council and The Art X Company. Here are key takeaways. 

The British Council Survey: 318 Responses

- 70% of organisations had to cancel upto 7 events. 22% had to cancel more than 10 events. This indicates clearly the disruption in the business continuity and income due to the lockdown since March 2020.

- Between March-July 2020, 53% of EEMA (Events and Entertainment Management Association) companies saw 90% of their business cancelled. 63.1% of EEMA companies - around 107 companies - have suffered a revenue loss of up to Rs 1 Crore.

- 32% of organisations are expected to lose more than 50% of their annual income. 10% of these have lost more than Rs 20 Lakh due to the pandemic and its aftermath.

- In terms of sources of lost income, business vendors and service providers made up 21%, professional fees (artist, teaching, workshop and consulting fees) and commissions, 20%. These areas - accounting for 43% of the sources of lost income - form a large part of revenue streams for individuals and micro enterprises. It is a given that this lost income poses a serious threat to livelihood as well as a major body blow to the sector.

- 41% of organisations have temporarily stopped operating during the lockdown. Organisations which have been working in the sector for the past 0 to 3 years have been the worst hit, with 44% of them having to cease business temporarily.

- 24% of organisations have been impacted by cancelled events and 16% by lost business or service contracts.

- 41% of organisations have substantially reduced and cut their programmes.

- To deal with the effect of COVID-19, 36% of organisations have dug into their reserves and reduced overheads, 20% have sold off assets, 19% have shut down their businesses (temporarily) and 18% have laid off or furloughed employees. 15% have moved to online sales platforms.

- 58% of organisations have said that they would need 6 months for business recovery post COVID-19. (However according to another CINAR Survey, 61% of respondents expect a recovery in the next 12 months.)

The Art X Company Survey: 50 Responses

- 38% of respondents had to cancel 4-7 projects which they had till October 2020 with 36% having to cancel less than 0-3 projects which they had till October 2020 due to the pandemic.

- 52% of respondents lost gross revenue of less than Rs 5 lakhs. 12% lost gross revenue of more than Rs 20 lakhs.

- 14% of respondents faced a loss of between 50-75% of their annual revenue.

- 14% of respondents faced a loss of more than 75% of their annual revenue.

- In terms of sources of lost income and revenue 30% was attributable to lost artist fees, 25% to lost professional fees and 25% to lost revenue from teaching.

- 48% of the respondents said that the impact on their business due to the pandemic has been due to the cancellation of events. Other reasons listed, for the remaining percentage, are (in equal measure): loss of business service/contracts, cancellation of tours and business travel.

The Worst Hit: Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises

- MSMEs make up 88% of the creative sector. They are akin to a freelance workforce working with the large companies. 32% are expected to lose 50% of annual income in the first quarter.

- 53% of the events and entertainment management sector saw 90% of its business cancelled between March-July 2020.

- 41% of the creative sector has stopped functioning during the lockdown.

- 61% of organisations established within the previous 4 to 10 years have stopped functioning during the lockdown.

Medium to Long Term Impact

- 88% of the sector fear social distancing impacting the creative economy over the long term.

- 67% of those surveyed were extremely concerned about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

- The creative sector is made up of innovators who are resilient, adaptable and inventive. Eg. India Craft Week, the JLF Brave New World and NH7 Weekender which find new ways for artists and organisations to continue to connect, and create. However, the medium to long term impact of such initiatives and the extent to which they will be able to counter the short term impact of COVID-19 and its aftermath remains to be seen.


- Short term financial relief can be used to keep freelancers and organisations viable. 80% of these would use financial support towards lost income, staff costs and immediate business needs.

- State interventions such as those by the Kerala Government and creative sector self-help programmes like STAYin aLIVE provide examples of strategic support and collective action.

- The cultural sector in India to self-organise and advocate for its growth and support.

- Creation of country-wide associations and membership based organisations that support varied groups (technicians, musicians, artists, art managers, etc) within the cultural sector.

- Putting out whitepapers in the public domain, outlining policy based support and relief for the cultural sector.

- More data and research on the impact of Covid-19 on the cultural sector in order to get a comprehensive view of the issues faced by the sector.

- Availability of information on all available funding sources and support possibilities for the culture sector from state governments and the Ministry of Culture in New Delhi.

- Publicly accessible resources on how to build an association, and develop and disburse grants.

You can read the entire report here -

Here is a webinar on the Taking The Temperature Report, with Barbara Wickam (OBE, Country Director, India, British Council), Dilip Chenoy (Secretary-General, FICCI), Jonathan Kennedy (Director Arts India, British Council), Rashmi Dhanwani (Founder Director, The Art X Company), Sanjoy Roy (Co-chair, FICCI Art & Culture Committee) and Indian Policy Collective’s Pragya Tiwari.

Update 1: Recommendations on the Creative Economy, Submitted from FICCI to the Government

Here are recommendations submitted by FICCI to the Ministry of Culture, that can help save the creative economy.

Guiding Principles:

1. That the right to participation and art and culture form an essential aspect of human existence, and be put alongside other essential requirements for life, and not subsequent to it. (The Right to Life, on its own, is not good enough. There has to be life, liberty and happiness. There is little point living if all you can be is wretched.)

2. That art and culture are humanizing forces that have the great potential to foster community, collaboration, empathy and amity amongst our citizens and as such must be actively encouraged, and allowed freedom of expression and interpretation, in order to make our citizens aware, sensitive, and capable of resisting forces of polarisation and extremism in all their forms.

3. That on the international stage, art and culture form a huge part of diplomatic policy under the concept of “soft power” and should not be underestimated, in its ability to ensure good relations and proactive positive relationships amongst countries regardless of other separations between them due to other geopolitical forces at play.

Immediate Reliefs:

1. Instant release of Repertory grants for 2017, 2018, 2019; pending Fellowships, Research Grants, Production Grants for the last year which have already been approved.

2. In the current situation, there are no exhibitions and performances are taking place. Neither will there be for the next few months. The Ministry could consider utilizing the fund for planned cultural festivals, conferences and exhibitions for the calendar year and provide support to the needy artists of different genres across the nation. Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCC’s) can be used to identify the names from their existing database.

3. To list Cultural activities as part of CSR spend as per Ministry of Corporate Affairs guidelines on what is supportable under CSR. A clause could be inserted that CSR’s ambit should be extended to include funding Cultural Institutions.

4. There should be a moratorium on GST for a year for cultural events.

5. Activate online portals for:

a. Online festivals - planned performing arts festivals can become online festivals. Digital versions of the shows from the archives of SNA, ZCCs, Akademis can be streamed. Artists are paid for the same including technicians.

b. Seminars can go online.

c. Training programs - summer workshops, lecture-demonstrations and masterclasses - can go online between artists and participants. Artists are paid for these.

All of these are regular activities with pre-allocated budgets.

6. Over the last decades, the art galleries have created an infrastructure that has helped propel artists to an international level. Art galleries which typically qualify as small businesses also need support to be able to dial through this period. Some ways can be: leniency on GST, long term loan schemes and support in online partnering to take our work forward.

7. To set up a scheme, Kalakar Kalyan Kosh, including all the government museums, cultural institutions and conduct a series of online classes, competitions and provide monetary awards to the deserving artists.

8. Government should cover artists, rural and semi-urban, under Ayushman Bharat or, in Urban area clusters, under CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme).

Update 2: Recommendations from FICCI to the Government on the Opening Up of Cultural Spaces and Events

Here are recommendations submitted from FICCI to the Ministry of Culture for the opening up of cultural spaces and events.

Staff Safety:

1. A detailed planning of activity, where we need to identify which employees really need to come to work, even after lockdown 3.0. Others can continue to work from home.

2. Temperature checking twice, daily, for all staff, once on arrival and a second time at 2 pm, the results of which should be recorded. If a temperature of more than 37.5 degrees centigrade is recorded, then the staff member should be sent home with instructions to see a doctor, with a report of the diagnosis recorded in the office.

3. All staff should wear masks.

4. Remind all staff, performers, and participants to practice social responsibility and to monitor their own health conditions, avoiding attendance of events if they are unwell.

5. Cleaning the venue at regular intervals and ensuring artists’ spaces and equipment are also sterilised.

6. Provide hand sanitizers to staff, especially front-of-house staff who handle cash and other payment devices and are unable to wash their hands frequently.

7. Consider implementing flexible working arrangements, with each department divided into two or three teams. Implement a system so that those coming into the workplace are managed through rotation, while others work from home to ensure business continuity.

8. Ensuring that all event personnel dealing with the public use medical gloves to conduct any activity.

9. Putting in place insurance cover for colleagues and workers, should they be affected.

Visitor Safety:

1. Implement thermal screening of all visitors. People having body temperature must be turned away and encouraged to seek medical attention.

2. Implement visitor registration and contact tracing measures at the entrances and admission points to events and venues, such as obtaining the contact details of visitors and participants (names, phone numbers, and email addresses).

3. Consider obtaining visitors’ and participants’ travel and health declarations and turning away visitors and participants who have been to red zone containment areas in the last 14 days.

4. Ensure all visitors and participants wear a mask.

5. Start doing events with the participation of upto 100 pax (persons) in attendance at any one time, although this may be dependent on local advisories of containment).

6. Suspend programs and events targeted at senior citizens and other vulnerable groups.

7. Suspend all guided tours.

8. Provision of warm water for all delegates/ workers/ guests at venue.

9. For events, the following precautionary measures should be implemented:

a) Ensuring adequate physical distance between visitors and participants by maintaining a minimum 1-meter distance between each visitor and participant. Some ways of achieving this include:

- Limiting the number of visitors (in accordance with the size of the venue or event space) at any one time.

- Staggering visiting periods.

- Limiting the duration of visits.

b) Spacing out visitors and participants through such measures as:

- Using floor markers (or other forms of barricades) to guide visitors and maintain a distance of 1-meter between each individual (for events and scenarios where visitors would normally stand in-place or move around, such as entrance queues for venues and events).

- Having individual visitors and participants (or groups of visitors/participants) sit on alternate seats and on alternate rows, i.e. chequerboard seating (for seated events and dining establishments within venues). Likewise, the minimum distance separating visitors and participants should be 1-meter.

c) Making available surgical masks at venues should people with a cough or a cold wish to avail of the same.

d) Encourage visitors and participants not to visit in large groups (except where visitors and participants are from the same household).

e) Identify areas where visitors and participants are likely to bunch up and put in place measures to disperse them (e.g. stationing staff at these points to usher them along).

f) To reduce congestion of visitors and participants, pre- or post-event receptions, networking sessions, tea breaks etc., should also be avoided and F&B should not be served at events, although bottled drinks may be served.

g) Setting up appropriate cordoning measures (e.g. barricades), especially for outdoor and open-air venues or events, to limit access of visitors and participants and having event MCs to remind visitors and participants to maintain adequate physical distance from each other.

h) If it is not possible to limit the number of participants and ensure adequate spacing-out of participants, such events or programs should be deferred or cancelled.

Facility Management:

1. Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection of premises, especially frequently-touched surfaces and items, removing all handleable objects where possible. In addition, suspend use of audio guides and close off play areas, etc., if these items/areas cannot be sufficiently cleaned and disinfected.

2. Place hand sanitizers in easily accessible locations, so that participants and staff may disinfect their hands (e.g. after touching door handles).

3. Encourage online and mobile purchase of tickets to events/venues and adopting e-payments to minimize the handling of cash.

Public Communication:

1. Proactively communicate the precautions in place in terms of social distancing, visitor registration, and temperature screening etc. Pre-empt and manage the expectations of visitors, participants, and partners by informing them that.

2. Place notices and posters in prominent places to remind hosts/staff to comply with relevant prevention and control measures (eg. avoid shaking hands with other event participants and practice good personal hygiene).

3. Appeal to visitors, participants, and partners to cooperate by practicing good hygiene, monitoring their health, and staying away from venues and events should they feel unwell (and see a doctor as soon as possible), and, finally, maintaining a physical distance of 1-meter from one another.

4. Encourage visitors, participants, and partners to acquaint themselves with the facts of the outbreak and its spread, sharing them with the community to avoid COVID-19 related stigmatization or discrimination.

Lastly, self-regulation is a must to be able to stymie some of the effects of the coronavirus.

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(Image: McKay Savage - CC BY-SA 3.0)