Covid-19 and the global cultural and creative sector

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Covid-19 and the global cultural and creative sector

Image shows the inside of a white cupboard space. Inside on the right hand side is a seated person in dark clothes wearing a gas mark. They are bent over as it's a confined space. At the front of the image is an aerosol can. To the left hand side is a small pot plant.
© Theater in Quarantine - Mask Study 1, created by Jon Levin, Katie Rose McLaughlin and Joshua William Gelb; April 1, 2020 Pictured: Joshua William Gelb

By Anthony Sargent


This report offers a truly global overview of research into the impacts and responses to the Covid-19 crisis. As report author Anthony Sargent argues:

“as always – amongst the loss and damage there has been invaluable learning of new kinds of thinking, new ways of doing things. We need to identify all those new learnings around the world, then build on those new foundations rather than just reassembling the broken pieces from the past.”

It is in this spirit of positivity and creative intent that we are co-publishing this report alongside our own ongoing Covid-19 research. We hope that it acts not only as a definitive global account of what happened, when and where, but also as a call to action to rebuild a fairer and more sustainable cultural sector.

Summary by Anthony Sargent

In the eighteen months since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, the world’s cultural and creative sector has been impacted more traumatically than by any other crisis in living memory.  The damage has been spread more universally than in previous crises, the effects compounding one another in the depth and breadth of the fallout they caused. The endless cycles of enforced business closures, lockdowns, travel bans, distancing measures, quarantine and working-from-home regimes together led to the longest disruption to the sector in living memory, causing extensive business and organisational failure and severing essential professional and supply chain connectivity.

Many studies have tried to hit the moving target of quantifying the multiple global impacts of Covid-19.  This is not another of those studies, since until the pandemic is substantially behind us it won’t be possible to measure its true global, long-term consequences for the sector. This study aims to do something different – something more action-oriented.  It aims to extract from all the pandemic’s miseries and casualties some larger lessons for the future of the sector, showing how the harrowing experience of 2020/2021 can point us to new, better kinds of thinking for a different kind of future.

Internally, there are lessons for how we rebuild inclusive company cultures, for leadership styles, for the operational importance of mainlining nimble improvisation, and for the importance of escaping from the claustrophobic grip of organisational silos.  The world of online and digital culture has been transformed in the past eighteen months. We now need to understand the possibility that offers of an exciting new world of hybrid cultural experiences.

Looking outward, there are lessons about the value of generous-spirited collaboration in addressing adversity, the critical need to form a more rational kind of relationship with risk, the need to think afresh about the whole industry of touring, and about how to remedy what we have learned to be governments’ damagingly uneven comprehension of the cultural sector.  There are also complex lessons around how we will recover and re-incentivise audiences after this unprecedentedly long winter of frozen inactivity, connecting with our communities in new ways and offering them fresh, deeper kinds of relationships.

These kinds of issues are the core content of this international study.  Together they hold the key to whether or not we will harvest the true lessons of the pandemic for the future of the world’s cultural and creative sector.

Published: 2021
Resource type: Research