The pandemic split the world into two categories: essential and non-essential services. Whereas it is understandable that restrictions were needed to control the spread of the virus and basic services were vital for communities to source their daily needs, this division continued to reinforce the perception that the arts are essentially, non-essential.
Professionals in the cultural and creative sectors are used to being asked if they hold a ‘real job’ or told that their studies are of less value than of other professions. They are also used to demands to perform for free in exchange for exposure and when remunerated, probably under precarious employment conditions.
In their childhood, some were lucky enough to be encouraged by their parents to pursue a career in arts and entertainment. Others had to defy all odds to pursue their passion and master their craft without any support.
Essentially, they have embraced their life as a commitment towards their craft without any support. Essentially, they have embraced their life as a commitment towards their art and their audiences, even if this meant working in a gig economy, moving from one project to another.
This year, as the realities and challenges were exacerbated, artists still continued to take care of Malta’s mental wellbeing as shows, music albums, books and movies became an essential daily need to reduce stress and anxiety during a lockdown. Yet, some still had the audacity to call the arts non-essential.
The Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association, created during the pandemic as a voluntary organisation, was established to challenge these perceptions and provide a collective voice for professionals in the arts and entertainment industry.
Since August 2020, the association has been working tirelessly round the clock to support its members during these challenging times and lobbying to secure a voice for the sectors. It was clear that the arts and entertainment industries were the first to close and will be the last to reopen.
A year into the pandemic, artists, producers, technical crew, event organisers and supplies continue to struggle with their livelihood. Whereas the Covid wage supplement scheme became a lifesaver for most professionals in the field, the measure is a temporary solution. The overall sense of fatigue and despair in the sector is palpable and direct Covid support for the arts remains too little, too late.
Research has shown how clarity on the reopening of the sector increases confidence for creative businesses to operate. This confidence can be achieved if the authorities provide a reopening plan for venues and events together with the short-term and long-term recovery plans for the sectors.
If Malta wants to reopen the tourism industry on 1st June, which events can visitors attend if private promoters, producers and organisers do not know when or how they can operate?
Unlike shops or restaurants, events cannot reopen within 48 hours since months of preparations are required. So far, tourism incentives are available for hotels, sports, conferences and diving, but none for arts and entertainment. In addition, what financial risks can producers take if no cancellation or insurance subsidies are in place should restrictions be reintroduced?
Lack of clarity and planning continues to disrupt the whole production cycle, leading to increased insecurity and creative brain drain. Recovery is indeed possible even if the journey is going to be long and painful. However, the public authorities, especially those politically responsible for our sectors, must take immediate, tangible and credible action with and for the industry.
Leaders in the public sector have the authority and resources at their disposal to eradicate this ‘non-essential’ narrative and instil confidence during the pandemic. The sectors can bounce back but resilience is reaching breaking point. We are united to get through this crisis but cannot bounce forward alone. If the government truly believes that culture matters, now is the time to prove it cares.
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