Unesco to Support Cultural Sector Hit by COVID-19

11 April 2020

Apr 10 2020 (IPS-Partners)

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced it is “launching initiatives” to support cultural industries and cultural heritage, sectors hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has put many intangible cultural heritage practices, including rituals and ceremonies, on hold, impacting communities everywhere,” the organization stated April 9. “It has also cost many jobs, and across the globe, artists … are now unable to make ends meet.”

UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay. Credit: UNESCO/Calix

Governments ordered the lockdown of museums, theatres, cinemas and other cultural institutions (along with schools) as infections from the new coronavirus spread around the world in March and April – resulting in 95,000 deaths as of April 9. (The victims have included cultural icons such as playwright Terrence McNally and musicians Manu Dibango, Ellis Marsalis Jr, and John Prine.)

Many arts businesses will find it economically difficult to recover, officials have acknowledged. Bookshops too have had to close their doors, while publishers have largely postponed the publication of books. Numerous international visual-art, literary and music events have been cancelled as well, including the UNESCO-sponsored International Jazz Day main concerts, which were scheduled to take place in South Africa April 30.

The UN had already launched measures to assist the estimated 1.5 billion students affected by school closures, but this is the first time its cultural agency has directly addressed the impact on the arts.

“UNESCO is committed to leading a global discussion on how best to support artists and cultural institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and ensuring everyone can stay in touch with the heritage and culture that connects them to their humanity,” stated UNESO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay on Thursday.

The agency (whose headquarters in Paris remain closed, in line with French lockdown rules) will convene a virtual meeting of the world’s culture ministers on April 22, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 in their countries and to “identify remedial policy measures appropriate to their various national contexts”.

UNESCO’s Paris headquarters are closed during France’s lockdown. Credit: SWAN

This follows an emergency online meeting of education ministers hosted on March 10, and a meeting of science ministries’ representatives on March 30. Earlier this month, the organization introduced a “CodeTheCurve” Hackathon to “support young innovators, data scientists and designers across the world to develop digital solutions to counter the COVID-19 pandemic”. The Hackathon will run until April 30, in partnership with IBM and SAP, UNESCO said.

For culture, the organization said it was launching an international social media campaign, #ShareOurHeritage and initiating an online exhibition of “dozens of heritage properties across the globe”, with technical support from Google Arts & Culture.

It will give information via its website and social media on the impact of COVID-19 on World Heritage sites, which are partly or fully closed to visitors in most countries because of the pandemic.

Children around the world will be invited to share drawings of World Heritage properties, giving them the chance to “express their creativity and their connection to heritage”, UNESCO added.

On World Art Day, 15 April 2020, the organization will partner with musician and Goodwill Ambassador Jean Michel Jarre to host an online debate and social media campaign, the “ResiliArt Debate”. This will bring together “artists and key industry actors to sound the alarm on the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of artists and cultural professionals”, UNESCO said.

The Eiffel Tower is one of many World Heritage sites closed to the public during the pandemic. Credit: SWAN

It remains to be seen how these initiatives will help the cultural and creative sectors, which provide some 30 million jobs worldwide. Many artists have reported dire circumstances, but many are also using their creativity to deal with the situation.

Since the health crisis started, artists have been providing online concerts, sharing artwork digitally and taking other steps to reach out to audiences, as “billions of people around the world turn to culture for comfort and to overcome social isolation”, to use UNESCO’s words.

“Now, more than ever, people need culture,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, assistant UNESCO director-general for the sector.

“Culture makes us resilient. It gives us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone,” he added.

For an earlier article on the impact of COVID-19 on cultural and creative industries, please see: http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/03/arts-culture-trying-keep-lights-amid-covid-19/

Follow SWAN’s founder on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

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