Culture and Cities in Times of Crisis
With the outbreak of Covid-19, we are facing a global crisis, where the decisions taken by people and governments in these weeks will shape the future not just of our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture.
Governments are reacting to the contagion with measures of confinement and lockdown. Such limitations are a necessary act of care towards their communities, and especially for the most vulnerable ones: among others, children, the elderly, the homeless, inmates, persons who live in violent domestic environments and precarious housing conditions.
Even though we acknowledge that the limitations of individual and collective freedoms are justified by the state of necessity, these restrictions ought not to become everyday practice after the emergency.
Also the cultural and creative sectors have been severely hit by the crisis. As we have seen all over Europe, cultural workers struggle for surviving, with the suspension of theatre, cinema, music and other cultural activities, thus revealing the already precarious conditions of many cultural workers.
Commons and Creative Spaces are Acting as Important Places for Solidarity
In these times of crisis, we can observe different forms of solidarity appearing all over Europe:
- makers and makerspaces are building open source low-cost medical supplies;
- people are self-producing masks and disinfectants;
- open source programs and community servers are providing answer to daily needs, without asking for money or data in exchange;
- solidal purchasing groups and local associations are ensuring home service, and connection with local producers;
- Even people’s houses have transformed in nodes of commoning and solidarity networks.
- Spontaneous and creative forms of self-expression in forms of balcony concerts, window-exhibitions, making music in front of elderly houses, online concerts and theatre streaming,…
Culture is surviving as the base of our communities, as a way to create empathy, give voice to the voiceless, overcome social distance and emptiness of public spaces. Concerts, performances, workshops, etc., are made available through digital means or in creative ways that respect conditions of safety; public and private cultural institutions are publishing their archives in open format.
Cultural workers and operators building alliances with other workers to vindicate social protection: with precarious and freelancers who lose their income, those who require the closing of productive activities, those who risk everyday in essential public and private services.
Supportive Institutions Can be Decisive in the Crisis
We can also observe that governments are facing huge economic efforts to reinforce public services, by increasing public spending and requisitioning private structures.
States, in- and outside of the EU, are providing international help, by receiving foreign patients and providing medical personnel and supplies abroad. A lot of support aid and responses are published or in the making by national governments and philanthropy to support especially freelancers and artists whose work has been significantly hampered by the Covid-19 epidemics.
EU institutions are considering measures to loosen the burdens of budget balance and support public spending, in order to overcome the emergency. These are very necessary measures, mainly on the short term, but no certainties on the long run. During the previous economic crisis in 2007 communities and cultural operators have shown – especially in Southern Europe – their resilience and ability to self-organise and mutualise resources to answer the needs of the most vulnerable ones. However, horizontal solidarity is not enough, and public social spending was needed, with clear and structural policy perspectives.
What Can be Done in the Long Run?
This crisis will have far more reaching implications and weight than the previous one, and more drastic actions are needed. So, overcoming this emergency does not mean to go “back to normal”, since this crisis has shown that cultural workers – exactly like many other sectors – were already experiencing uncertain and precarious conditions: often working based on freelance contracts, with minimum wages, or having no contract at all.
Institutions have the opportunity to support the community initiatives of solidarity, like the ones that are stemming during the emergency. But they shall primarily fulfill their social duties. For example, this epidemic has shown that public services are needed more than ever, all over Europe: Covid-19 can only be fought if everyone can afford care and prevention. Now, is an harmonisation possible? What social role for the EU? Will a budget balance be rethought to allow public expenditure for reconstruction?
And, as for the cultural sector: how to support cultural workers? Can we come up with community solutions supported by governments? Ensuring basic income for cultural workers? What other experiments or responses? How will the cultural work be supported in the long run, as the effects of the epidemic will be rolled over far into 2020?
What Can CCSC Do?
CCSC might also need to rethink itself, as its core elements (events and exchanges) need to be restructured in the following months. Maybe we also need to change our way of doing things. This can also be an occasion for the project, because of its focus on topics which are crucial today more than ever: culture, cultural spaces, social inclusion and participation.
- The Urban Labs: mapping and potentially matching solidarity initiatives; mapping the obstacles cultural workers are facing and documenting their needs and vindications. TEH launched an idea bank on initiatives for its members and gathering local/city initiatives. Also ECF is launching a call for a European Culture of Solidarity. Timelab initiated AdamMasks, to make masks (3D printed + textile) for healthcare.
- Peer learning and exchanges on these local initiatives among the Urban Labs during urban explorations: urban explorations of solutions and communities (in short, mid and long term). Often, the authorities have to invest energies and resources in health care, especially in States with heavier budget limitations. Therefore, our principles of commoning and co-creation should be applied as solution thinking strategies to not let anyone behind, and not take from the focus of healthcare and saving lives. We need creative ideas to activate networks of mutualism and suggest solutions to authorities.
- Researchers: focus on policy events on highlighting these initiatives, reflecting together on networks of solidarity and on policy proposals for the EU to support cultural workers in the long run.
- Policy recommendations on Creative Europe: not only response packages in the short term but a structural shift in Creative Europe program (its bureaucracy, accessibility, funding, goals). One, that would support and fund culture and solidarity networks, and distance itself from excessive bureaucracy and control over local realities.