Creatives have helped us cope during the pandemic, but how are we helping creatives?

Published September 25, 2021, 3:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

By Melanie Sison

BE NATURAL, BE YOU Artists Niya B of UK and Bunny Cadag of the Philippines explore themes of gender variance, LGBTQ+ rights, precolonial cultural traditions, and the relationship with nature through their virtual performance called ‘Intimate Threads’

Photos and videos of people singing from their balconies in Italy are some of the most haunting visuals that came out at the start of the pandemic, but this somehow set the tone for how people would be using creativity as an outlet to cope during this trying period. 

According to researchers, acts of creativity, whether through actual creation or consuming creative content, serve as an adaptive response to make and find meaning during the pandemic.

Some institutions have found ways to deliver or exercise creativity. For instance, while as many as 90 percent of museums across the globe closed, some have been inviting guests to take virtual tours. Artists, including musicians such as Miley Cyrus and Maroon 5, and illustrators such as Carson Ellis, are conducting virtual performances/exhibitions to help themselves—and their audiences—cope during these times.  

In the Philippines, artists and organizations have taken direct steps to provide support. Creative micro, small, and medium enterprises in Cebu City while heavily affected by the pandemic, stepped up to produce protective equipment and conduct fundraising and capacity-building activities to help the fight. 

Promoting advocacies during the pandemic

MODEL NATURE A program in DisPOSE involves designs presented in a virtual runway to showcase how sustainability and fashion come together through international collaboration

Other Filipinos, in partnership with creatives from overseas, have found that the pandemic’s impact of hastening the shift to digitalization opened new opportunities for them, including promoting their advocacies to a wider audience.

The “Connections through Culture” arts grant program of the British Council enabled artists and cultural and arts professionals from the Philippines and UK to develop cross-cultural and inter-country collaborations amid the pandemic.

A video performance that tackled gender, cultural, and environmental issues was the result of Bunny Cadag and Niya B’s collaboration through a digital residency. This is a different take on the conventional residency program, which usually allows artists to physically explore new places and cultures to help hone their craft. The shift from physical to digital projects is one of the British Council’s strategies in order to continue supporting artists despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic.

The experience was novel for Bunny, who was used to performing in physical instead of digital spaces. Nonetheless, she saw that going online allowed her to reach a wider audience. The resulting video of their collaboration, posted online, caught the attention of queer communities around the world, some of whom have reached out to her.  

Meanwhile, MATIC Hub, an eclectic group that works with the government, academe, and local creatives, and Creative Dundee, a social enterprise that supports the creative sector in Dundee, Scotland, collaborated to promote sustainable practices by designers and artisans to a wider audience. Their project saw 40 to 50 indigenous materials added to an online database. They hope to make the information more accessible to artisans to educate them about the resources they are using in their work. Through this online database, they have so far reached 5,177 people.

UNDER THE VEIL ‘Intimate Threads’ was developed from a digital residency supported by the British Council’s Connections Through Culture Programme

The partnership of Everything Green, a creative enterprise that works with farmers, women, and persons with disabilities to develop green products, and Ericka Santiago, an independent fashion designer from the UK, advocated for sustainability from a different angle. Their collaboration saw creatives from the Philippines and the UK working together to produce 20 different fashion and homeware items, such as footwear, earrings, and pots from agricultural waste.

The initiative by Everything Green provided economic opportunities for Filipino artisans, a boon considering that the Philippines saw a 55 per cent decline in employment in the cultural and creative industries during the pandemic.  

Limited support for Filipino creatives

Despite these bright spots, the Philippines, which was one of the 81 countries that backed the UN resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, still struggles with providing support to the creative and cultural sector.

A recent UNESCO study on the creative sector in Southeast Asia revealed that Philippine-based respondents had limited awareness and information about government support to the industry even before COVID-19. Another report from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs showed that freelancers were unable to access social services at the start of the pandemic. This is because they are considered part of the informal economy, despite making up a large portion of the creative industry in the Philippines. The same survey revealed that 80 per cent of the respondents did not receive government assistance during this period.

RESPONSIBLE FASHION With project DisPOSE, Everything Green hosted a series of hackathons for Filipino artisans and UK designers to design footwears, homewares, and accessories made from local agricultural waste

Statista reported that the industry revenue of creative, arts, and entertainment activities in the Philippines dropped from £19.09 million in 2019 to £11.68 million in 2020. This is expected to drop further this year to £11.48 million. While there’s a projected increase between 2022 and 2024, it will not reach pre-2019 revenues. Given this grim outlook, it is clear that the creative and cultural industry in the Philippines needs support, especially at this time.

The Philippines was one of the 81 countries that backed the UN resolution declaring 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development, but it still struggles with providing support to the creative and cultural sector.

Protecting the future of creatives

What, however, can be done to protect an industry that is often undervalued not just in the Philippines but across the world?

Policies. Policies need to be put in place to protect creatives and their businesses. In October 2020, UNESCO released a policy guide to aid policymakers understand better how they can provide support, including financial, technical, and even health and safety measures, to the industry, which is valued at $2.25 billion in revenues and provides jobs to 30 million across the world.  

Financing. Financing is critical to help creatives get back on their feet. The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) offers small business and freelancers in the creative industry grants amounting to £5,000-10,000 for the former and £1,000-3,000 for the latter. These grants are intended to support “creative projects that support recovery and resilience” from the impact of the pandemic. Similar arrangements may be offered and can even be designed to go beyond supporting creatives’ COVID-19 recovery for long-term impact.

Capacity building. Capacity building is also needed to prepare creatives not only to adjust to the impacts of COVID-19 but also to prepare for the post-pandemic era. As Economics Observatory pointed out, COVID-19 has led to the digitization of both the production and consumption of creative goods and services. The results of a survey conducted by Sheffield City revealed that freelancers working in the creative and cultural sector corroborate this: 24 percent of the respondents expressed their interest in receiving training on online work. It is thus critical for those involved in the creative and cultural sector to become capacitated in digital skills to enable them to maximize the platforms available to them.

Cross-cultural collaborations. Collaborations such as “Connections through Culture” should also be encouraged to explore and expand business opportunities of creatives. Furthermore, encouraging cross-cultural conversations can be a source of soft power.

The social value brought by the cultural and creative industry should no longer be ignored. A piece published by Social Sciences & Humanities Open pointed out COVID-19 has thrust culture’s role into the spotlight and forced people to confront the reality that culture, arts, and heritage have prominent roles to play. Nations’ attempts to build back better post-pandemic provides the opportunity to do just that.