Actor Sello Maake KaNcube says SA needs a creative economy that will entrench its contribution to our country’s GDP, social cohesion, create shared value and continue as a unifying voice in times of crisis: Matthews Baloyi/African News Agency (ANA)
Actor Sello Maake KaNcube says SA needs a creative economy that will entrench its contribution to our country’s GDP, social cohesion, create shared value and continue as a unifying voice in times of crisis: Matthews Baloyi/African News Agency (ANA)

The creative economy post Covid-19

By Sello Maake KaNcube Time of article published May 8, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – Last week the OECD hosted a webinar which brought together a cross section of multi-disciplinary experts with active engagement in the Creative & Cultural Industries. The panel included representation from the EU, European Creative Business Network (ECBN), an Italian Science & Technology Park and Nesta.

The main agenda topics were informed by the current crisis brought on by the coronavirus and its impact on the creative, cultural and tourism industries. The challenge to panel members was to share their current experience and how it informs the design of interventions that not only provide relief but also install the foundations for a rebound.

What was encouraging to hear is that most OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries has designed and launched a response that includes relief funding as well as support instruments that can serve as an industry revitalisation catalyst. The experience in the EU points towards a funding response to deal with the anticipated budget shortfalls at museums, art galleries, theatres and cultural spaces.

The ECBN published a White Paper “Breaking out of the Covid-19 Crisis Restarting the Cultural Creative Industries is at the centre of an open and sustainable Europe” which outlines the impact of Covid-19 and some solutions for future sustainability. What is clear and a key lesson for others is that they are using an evidence-based data-driven decision-making frameworks to inform the structure and location of relief in the ecosystem. Notably the paper calls for an Ignition Fund and a more comprehensive Creative Ecosystem Study.

The former will be based on a digital voucher system implemented over a four week period post Covid-19 while the latter is to inform the structural changes and new strategies to facilitate a recovery and install the foundations for sustainability in the future. The paper also presents data of the current scenario based on a survey of ECBN members representing 94 cities and 36 countries. The numbers paint a very bleak picture with almost two-thirds reporting a 50 percent decline in sales and 15 percent expects a decline of 75 percent.

Further evidence suggest that balance sheet health in the form of extra liquidity points towards a financial survival period of 4-6 weeks for most larger companies while small companies, free lancers and micro-entrepreneurs are out of business almost immediately. The scenarios that are explored for a post Covid-19 Creative Industry revival all share a common architecture that is based on multi-disciplinary collaboration, digitalisation and ecosystem development.

In the midst of these enormous challenges there was acknowledgement for how important arts and culture is during the period of lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation. Arts and culture content is a key contributor towards the maintenance of good mental health and mental well-being during this period cannot be underestimated. At the same time, it introduces new opportunities for digital platform business models and a shift towards increased collaboration to address digital inclusivity and skills development. There are some lessons for South Africa that will allow us to curb the devastating economic impact on the local creative industry.

The Creative Academy - Post-Covid-19 Business Model

The Sello Maake kaNcube Foundation already made changes to accommodate digital delivery of the Creative Academy Youth Development Programme. The Creative Academy was launched in 2018 with a generous grant from the Department of Arts and Culture.

It was assigned project status to be aligned to the medium-term expenditure framework 2020/21 - 2022/23 after the delivery of a successful pilot programme in 2019. This allowed the Foundation to negotiate and secure future accommodation in the Tshimologong Precinct. We were also readying ourselves to kick-start a collaboration with the Digital Skills Development Academy as well as the Wits School of Arts - Film & Television. Our model was about access, a sprawling and efficient transport network, world-class infrastructure, access to a community and the ecosystem and the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in the country. The arrival of “Lockdown Conditions” brought an immediate halt to our implementation plan and it required us to think differently about programme delivery.

The inclusion of recommendations from the WEF Framework for enabling a Creative Economy (2016) in our initial design allowed us to quickly pivot towards digital delivery. Given that technology enablement was already a key pillar in our curriculum and the only capital expenditure budget assignment. Digitisation also presents the opportunity to expand our reach beyond the limitation of our physical location.

The Foundation was quick to respond to the request by the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to file our new funding proposals for Covid-19. We are hopeful that the department will see value in our approach which was embedded in our original model and can now be scaled to make a m ore impactful contribution. And while we are hopeful it might be useful for us to consider some of the key learnings from the Webinar that can serve as reference points for a Post Covid-19 Recovery.

A standout theme was the relentless focus and reference to data decision-making models where those who are in charge avoid politics and hone in on impact, response and recovery. It is crystal clear that the key decision makers lean heavily towards using data to understand the impact on the creative industry. This fundamental point of departure allows for the construction of a meaningful and comprehensive response that can eventually lead to a sustainable recovery.

The current evidence from the data points towards bankruptcies and job losses. Most governments in the EU designed a response that brings immediate relief for those who are the most vulnerable, SME’s and freelancers. The crisis also illuminates the plight of most industry workers who enjoy very little protection, no unemployment benefits and contractual conditions that are not at all fair.

In this time of crisis there is also global acknowledgment that arts and culture is what kept most people sane during lockdown conditions. It is the power of the arts and culture that once again illustrated its ability to serve as a unifier for humanity in the fight to defeat a common enemy! We’ve seen cross-continental virtual collaborations between artists including John Legend and Sam Smith, Andrea Borcelli, Cardi B and DJ iMarkkeyz to name a few. Alicia Keys also introduced a first, launching a song on an international news network, when she performed her new song “Good Job” on CNN, a song in honour of frontline workers.

On the local scene we also saw a number of efforts to spread messages of hope, courage and humour. One of the fastest responses was launched from the pen of David Kramer’s rewriting of “Welcome to Cape Town” with a very colourful Coronavirus message and he enlisted the help of a few other “Capies” to make the point and hastag. The speed of the project was impressive, and one cannot deny that the support of the sponsors must have played a significant role to pull it off. 

The humorous approach is also backed up soulful reflection as few of us can hold back the tears when listening to the original introduction to Nkosi sikelelel’Africa in the iThuba television advertisement in response to Covid-19. The WEF aptly refers to the current global response as “The arts world, from your couch” in a recent article that looked at the role of artist during Covid-19.

The local scene then needs some attention and perhaps some urgent preventative treatment to keep the industry from the emergency room. The PWC Entertainment & Media Outlook (2019) places a value of R138 billion on the South African industry in 2019 and forecasted growth of 6.9 percent saying it should reach R147bn in 2020. While this number is most certainly not even a remote possibility one can expect some form of growth momentum to be maintained in some sectors.

These include internet, music, podcast, TV, on- demand video and video games which could well be fueled by lockdown conditions. The stark reality is that very little economic benefits from these sectors will accrue to artist due to the nature of ownership structures of the major players in these sectors. It might therefor be useful to take a cue from our EU counterparts and consider post-Covid-19 business models that will revive our industry and create future sustainability.

While we do not for a moment want to suggest that we’ve got all the answers there is room to open a debate and invite contributions from the creative industry that will enhance our ability to respond in sync. We present a few ideas here that will hopefully inspire wide collaboration and creative intelligence to address the challenges in our industry;

- Evidence-based decision making is required to design an appropriate response for the Creative Industry to ensure we can implement interventions that are comprehensive and sustainable. The example from our European colleagues’ points towards an industry-wide survey that includes all key stakeholders and representative groups. Survey design points towards understanding the economic impact and potential business model shifts for recovery.

- Collaboration and innovation must be deepened through multi-disciplinary and cross-functional working groups to create funding mechanisms combine development finance, public sector and private sector finance to establish meaningful industry support

- The installation of Arts & Culture as a medium to educate, guide and share messaging for a healthy society post Covid-19 through different forms of performance and visual arts that appreciates cultural context and relevance.

- Positioning of the Creative Economy as a key economic and social development contributor and accommodation in economic development finance to support new business models, youth development programmes and create employment.

It is always easier to comment from the sidelines as an expert armchair critic while enjoying the comfort and convenience of the armchair without the experience of the situation on the field of play. This time we can ill afford such a luxury and the suggestions put forward here will require a frontline response. It will require multi-disciplinary collaboration that can mobilise our collective creative intelligence in support of building a sustainable creative economy. A creative economy that will entrench its contribution to our country’s GDP, social cohesion, create shared value and continue as a unifying voice in times of crisis, peace and prosperity, and the appreciation of the tapestry of our diverse cultures and languages.

The late Barney Simon, co-founder of the Market Theatre reminded us about the importance of storytelling and how crucial it is to look for, as well as understand the different narratives captured in the same story based on one’s individual interpretation or experience.

We are all experiencing different dimensions of hardship during this time and all industries will have stories to tell, stories of battle scars, market retraction, economic losses and sadly also job losses. Let us be reminded then about the contribution of the Creative Industry during this time of hardship and how equally important a Post-Covid-19 Recovery is for the creative economy. Important enough to be deserving of a Creative Industry Taskforce as a catalyst for collaboration between industry, academia and government.

The Sello Maake kaNcube Foundation is ready to make a contribution and work on the Post-Covid-19 Creative Industry Recovery. Thuma Mina!

Written on behalf of the Sello Maake kaNcube Foundation’s Creative Academy Youth Development Programme.


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