Not even in our wildest imaginations could we have foreseen the year we are all living through right now. In the world of culture, 2020 has seen festivals cancelled, theatres and clubs closed, and many thousands of jobs lost, as a trillion-dollar global creative industry has been turned upside down. But here we are.
Culture across the globe has been devastated by the pandemic and the only thing we know for sure is that things will never be the same again.
It would be easy to see culture as an optional extra in the midst of the vast challenges cities around the world are facing. But that would be a grave mistake. Why? Because culture is the oxygen of cities - their life and their soul. It also creates jobs, boosts the economy and tourism, supports our mental health and, frankly, it’s how we define our cities – our culture is our story.
Through this pandemic, we have seen culture provide solace and connection as well as entertainment. We’ve seen choirs on balconies, people painting in living rooms and disco dancing in kitchens.
But the fact remains culture is at risk, not just in London but all around the world. A recent survey of global cities revealed just how worried they are. 84 per cent of cities are concerned about the loss of cultural tourists, 77 per cent worried about the permanent closure of venues, and 69 per cent concerned by freelance artists and creative professionals leaving the industry or their city. All the vital elements of the equation are at risk – the creatives, the cultural spaces, as well as the audiences.
In London last year, our creative industries powered our economy, generating £58 billion and providing one in every six jobs. In 2019, over 21 million international tourists visited London, and we know that four out of five tourists say culture is the reason they visit.
So, it would be an understatement to say we have our work cut out, but what is crystal clear is that cities all around the world are on the case. This week, I chaired the World Cities Culture Forum’s first-ever digital conference. Over a long but incredibly uplifting day, 40 cities came together over 12 time zones to share the challenges they are facing and to work together in designing solutions to protect culture.
However you chose to frame it – building back better, renewal or reset – what is clear is that all major cities see culture as key to both their economic and social recovery.
We awarded 18 cities funds to collaborate on specific projects to help culture get back on its feet. Thanks to Bloomberg Philanthropies and Google Arts and Culture, across the world there will be collaborations between Amsterdam, Austin, Barcelona, Chengdu, Lagos, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, Milan, Montreal, New York, Paris, Stockholm, Sydney, Vienna, Warsaw and Zurich.
The day ended with a conversation of mayors from London, Stockholm and Warsaw. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan spoke about the work we have been doing to help the industry. Our £2.3m Culture at Risk emergency grants have helped grassroots venues, artist studios and independent cinemas. He declared that “culture is London’s DNA” and shared his vision for it to be at the heart of London’s recovery.
Anna Konig Jerlmyr, the Mayor of Stockholm, said culture will help her city recover faster from the pandemic and is central to a lively and democratic society. The Mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, said the pandemic had reminded us all about what really matters in life – friends, family and culture.
What is clear is that city leaders all around the world know that culture matters to people and it matters to the success of cities. There’s no doubt the road ahead will be challenging. It won’t be linear either: there will be steps forward, back, around and back again. We have to be flexible, optimistic and collaborative but by working closely together as world cities we know we will find our way through this pandemic, and we know that creativity is a life force that will not be extinguished.
Justine Simons OBE is the Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries in London and the Chair of the World Cities Culture Forum
In need of some at-home inspiration? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for skincare and self-care, the latest cultural hits to read and download, and the little luxuries that make staying in so much more satisfying.
You Might Also Like