Cultural policy post-COVID: How will European countries handle the recovery?

What vision should sector and policy create for art, culture and society after the crisis, in the short as well as longer term? What can we learn from other European countries?

When corona hit, the first reflex was one of acute crisis management: bridging loans, survival and reboot after lockdown. We now know that the hand we’ve been dealt is more complex than that. What’s more: simply “going back to the way things were” is not necessarily desirable. 

In fact, cracks were visible in the system long before COVID: unhealthy hyperactivity on the part of precarious artists and art workers, holes in the social safety nets, the contrast between society’s hypermobility and the restrictions placed on artists without the correct papers, the tension between the need to tour and the pressure that this places on our well-being and living environment. 

So we not only need to recover, we also have to ask ourselves: what type of recovery do we want? What output, what jobs, what working methods and organisational forms, what habits and implicit expectations? A number of other countries in Europe can offer inspiration.

Imagination, experimentation and innovation

While most countries initially limited themselves to emergency funds, Denmark immediately focused on innovation. The Danish Ministry launched a programme (“together for art”) already in May 2020 that supported 71 projects with a focus on new spaces (physical, digital), new formats, and new art experiences for new audiences. The programme is now being extended thanks to its success.

The Neustart Kultur programme was set up in Germany to help individual artists and art workers who often fall between the cracks of the social system. It focuses on artists, and operates in close consultation with artists’ associations. Sub-programmes revolve around innovation, development, mentoring and digital skills. 

The Mondriaan Fund in the Netherlands provides financial support to artists to continue working and to rethink their practice where necessary.

OCA in Norway and Frame in Finland are committed to digitising international network events for artists, promotional festivals and fairs. In addition to the opportunities that this offers, it helps the makers involved develop the digital skills needed for international networking.

In its advisory document “On the way to the day after tomorrow: Towards an agile and resilient cultural and creative sector” [‘Onderweg naar overmorgen: naar een wendbare en weerbare culturele en creatieve sector’], the Netherlands Council for Culture identifies challenges in the areas of art, technology, spatial planning, finance, society, social life and administration. The Council advises the minister to organise interdisciplinary field labs where experiments can be carried out with new working methods and alternative revenue models. A budget of 5 million euros has been proposed.

Sustainability and connectedness

The United Kingdom launched a recovery fund (with a budget of GBP 1.57 billion) to quickly return the cultural sector’s revenue to pre-crisis levels and enable further growth over time. The fund targets organisations that depend heavily on their own income, and takes an economic approach: the safeguarding of 322,000 culture jobs. 

In addition, there is the Arts Council’s ten-year plan Let’s Create (2020-2030) that focuses on the healing, social and deepening power of culture with the following motto: “A Country transformed by Culture. Bringing us together, happier, healthier. To excite, inspire, delight. To enrich our lives”. The plan was drafted before COVID, but is all the more meaningful today.

The UNESCO guide to resilient creative industries advocates structural change, highlighting the known systemic problems and new trends emerging as a result of the crisis. It advises policy-makers to give creative sectors a strong place within social and economic recovery plans.

The Culture Action Europe network (CAE) and the European Cultural Foundation advise the EU to develop a Cultural Deal that focuses on better and fair working conditions for artists and art workers, as well as on freedom of expression, cultural diversity and the relationships between art, culture and other sectors. The CAE argues for a structural increase in culture budgets to 2% of the government budget (in Flanders this is currently about 1%) and for more attention to culture within other budgets.

Quo vadis?

The question of how to organise the sector post-COVID is one that entails a policy vision, imagination and choices. In the coming months, Flanders Arts Institute will be keeping an eye on the vision for recovery that is being developed in Flanders and in Europe.