Portal de la Cultura de América Latina y el Caribe
Faced with the COVID-19 crisis, artists reinvent the future of culture
3 September 2020/ UNESCO Havana

For Cuban singer-songwriter Eme Alfonso, 2020 promised to be a year of glory. In 2019, she had worked hard to prepare what should have been a time to reap the fruit of months of effort.

"I was going to do a lot of live concerts, lots of tours, festivals! Then, overnight, after investing so much time and effort, COVID-19 arrived. No concerts, no tours, no travel, no work. I had no plan B."

Alfonso, one of the leading voices of World Music in Cuba, considered that the effects went beyond the strictly professional level.

"It was hard to understand what was happening, that it was going to last much longer than expected and that it was much more serious than people thought"

A problem of global impact

As with Eme, the arrival of COVID-19 dealt a severe blow to artists across the world. Its impact on the production, distribution and consumption of cultural goods has affected the creative economy and revealed the real value of culture for humanity.

"people need culture now more than ever. Culture makes us resilient, gives us hope," stated Ernesto Ottone, Assistant Director-General for Culture of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of the United Nations (UNESCO) in April of this year.

However, the effects of COVID-19 on culture transcend the symbolic value. To cite two examples, the losses registered in the film industry until May amounted to US$ 10 billion, while its impact on the tourism sector is no less. It is estimated that 40% of tourism revenues in the world correspond to cultural tourism, according to figures published in the UNESCO weekly Culture and COVID-19.

The pandemic caused by the disease also shakes the foundations of culture. In the Dominican Republic, the death of Jess Minier, one of the main bearers of the traditions of the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit of the Congos of Villa Mella, raised alarm over the physical loss of elders from native groups and brotherhoods as a result of the disease.

The effects have reached the entire pyramid of cultural production. To address the crisis, artists have turned to their arsenal of resilience and creativity.

Cooperation and innovation obtain answers from culture

Months of confinement have shown the power of culture to heal and calm anxiety. Creators and the public have found alternatives to continue to be in contact even in the midst of this situation.

In mid-July, the followers on social networks of the Havana World Music Festival (HWM) participated, from their homes, in the 6th edition of the Primera Base music contest dedicated to emerging artists, sponsored by this Festival, created and organized by Eme Alfonso.

A few days later, world famous Cuban singer Dayme Arocena dedicated her monthly radio show on Worlwide FM to the winning bands and DJs in the contest.

Cooperation between artists through online platforms has been precisely one of the ways found to reinvent the creation and diffusion of artistic production.

Speaking at an online meeting of Ministers of Culture, convened by UNESCO in April of this year, the Cuban Minister assured that >"we are witnessing a true renaissance of creation and solidary participation", when referring to the cooperation networks being formed. He highlighted online concerts, poetry recitals on the Internet and book donations to hospitals and isolation centres, among other initiatives undertaken to address the need to access artistic creation and ensure the vitality of culture.

The ResiliArt Movement in the future: artists and their works

On 15 April 2020, UNESCO launched the ResiliArt movement, a series of online debates that have brought together professionals of the culture sector from all over the world to reflect on the responses that have emerged in order to keep culture alive in a sustainable manner.

"The impact of COVID-19 throughout the cultural value chain will have a long-lasting effect on the creative economy UNESCO affirms and the ResiliArt movement aims to ensure that the conversations, data sharing and awareness-raising efforts will continue beyond the pandemic."

In line with this purpose, the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, based in Havana, organized the first debate of this type in the Caribbean. In alliance with the Transcultura Programme: Integrating Cuba, the Caribbean and the European Union through Culture and Creativity, funded by the European Union, the ResiliArt-Transcultura debate brought together ten artists from the Caribbean region, including Cubans Eme Alfonso and Yosvany Terry.

After seeking alternatives for a world impacted by COVID-19, the artists proposed that the responses implemented by countries should take into account the generalized application of the UNESCO 1980 Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist, a document that urges Member States to create policies and strategies so that artists >"can work and organize themselves fruitfully in an enabling environment".

Months after this first virtual meeting, a debate took place between Dominican and Haitian artists, organized together with the UNESCO Office in Port-au-Prince in the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent. The meeting showed that some of the resilient initiatives developed, such as the creation of green theatres, born of the need to perform outside closed venues, could form part of the future of culture.

ResiliArt debates across the world have revealed that today, as never before, it is essential to protect and safeguard the diversity of cultural expressions, with the support of governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, with measures adapted to each context, for shaping the new normality in a post-COVID-19 world.

For Eme, the future of creation will necessarily pass through those networks born and consolidated during confinement. In the case of concerts, there will be a return to less massive, more intimate spaces. Tomorrow will be characterized by a closer connection between her and her followers, with two-way messages that nurture creation and life, with the undeniable healing power of culture.

  Related Link(s): Art, Cultural Diversity, Intercultural Dialogue, Cultural Policies, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development , Culture and Development
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