Virtually all economic sectors have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, but some factors make it particularly hard for the creative industries. Calling on creatives is sometimes seen as an “extra” that can be cut down when times get hard, and the sector is characterised by a high number of self-employed, freelancers and people working on short-term contracts. “The creative industries are very much part of the ‘gig economy’ and COVID-19 has decimated much of that,” confirmed Martin Charter, professor of innovation and sustainability and senior associate at the University for the Creative Arts in the UK and one of the speakers at the webinar “Quo vadis Creative Industries?” organised on 5 May 2020.

Navigating through the crisis

Christophe Billebaud, co-executive director for programmes and innovation at Canadian incubator La Piscine, painted a similar picture from his community. “44% are freelancers, and they are the first in line to get everything straight in the face. At the same time, they are very resilient,” he pointed out. The different levels of government in Canada were also quick to react and provide grants and subsidies.

Human resources issues are also on top of the agenda.

Supporting creatives throughout the crisis is now La Piscine’s first priority. “Our main purpose is to help them understand what is going on in order to plan the way forward. Human resources issues are also on top of the agenda. Some entrepreneurs feel an enormous amount of guilt when they have to let staff members go and need help to handle this. The question is also whether smaller players will be able to reemploy their staff when things return to the ‘new normal’ and they will have to compete with big companies.”

Jürgen Enninger, head of the excellence team to promote the culture and creative industries at the City of Munich, said that his service had to reorganise itself very quickly when the pandemic broke out. “We were doing a lot of personal consulting, but now we had to set up a hotline to help with the most difficult issues and provide information about subsidies. “Continuing to promote the sector is also crucial. “We can never stop saying that our sector is really innovative and creative. It is very important to say this now, and to say it loud and clear,” he emphasised.

Value versus money

With the lockdown, a huge number of cultural events, festivals and so on have been cancelled, while the demand for entertainment that people can enjoy from their homes is extremely high. Many creatives have turned to the internet to disseminate their work via videos and streaming. This brings a different dilemma, as people are avid consumers of online content but used to it being available for free. “Working for free is a difficult place to recover from,” Marc Lis, manager of the Creative Industries Cluster at Luxinnovation pointed out, and asked the speakers for their advice.

Defining business models that bring a financial return is key. “Creatives have to say loudly that they are professionals with knowledge that has a value,” said Mr Billebaud. “In our coaching sessions, we work a lot on how to communicate with clients in different situations. It is important to find ways to communicate that things that are offered for free during the crisis will have a price when things go back to normal.”

Working for free is a difficult place to recover from.

Putting a price on digital products is one way forward, and Mr Enninger gave the example of the documentary film festival in Munich that is now selling passes and access codes to this year’s online event. He also spoke of the responsibility of public organisations to help monetise artistic work. “We don’t sponsor any creative projects without taking this into account. Support is only available if the artists are paid.”

New opportunities for creatives

So will the crisis create any new opportunities for creatives? “Some start-ups and entrepreneurs are creating professional or semi-professional opportunities out of the current experimentation with video conferencing technology and so on,” said Professor Charter. “As new business is slow at the moment, this can also be a good time to do market research or focus on R&D.”

Humans want to go outside and do things together. Technology could support the reengagement of communities.

In a recent study of the development of the creative industries, Professor Charter’s team saw significant growth in the fashion industry and the “createch” field, with many technology companies starting to work in the various verticals of the creative sector. He predicted that the growth of createch will continue, a conclusion that was supported by Mr Billebaud: “Humans want to go outside and do things together. Technology could support the reengagement of communities, connect people with new creative offerings and be useful for monitoring people flows in restricted spaces.”

The crisis has made many people more focused on their own country and local community, but the international perspective is still crucial for creatives. “The two levels are closely interconnected: artists exhibit at their local gallery as well as at international art fairs, for example,” Mr Enninger said. “A strong local network can be a good base for going international.”

La Piscine is looking at how the “glocal” concept could be used for creatives. “We are talking about how to develop local business models that could be duplicated internationally with partners in other countries,” explained Mr Billebaud. “Now is a good opportunity to see how this could work.”

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