Pandemic Preparedness in the Live Performing Arts: Lessons to Learn from COVID-19

This project examines the lessons learned from how governmental, charity, and informal support for organisations and workers in the performing arts across the G7, especially the UK, Germany, USA, and Canada, impacted the workforce, the type of outputs produced, and the resilience of the industry.
Project status

One of the sectors most affected by lockdowns and social distancing measures introduced during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic within the G7 has been the creative and cultural industry (CCI). UNESCO’s June 2021 report on ‘Cultural and Creative Industries in the Face of Covid-19’ notes CCI revenue falls of -30% in the UK; - 27% in North America and -23% in Germany. Meanwhile, a Statistics Canada report shows a drop of 63.9% in the operating revenue of for-profit performing arts companies in 2020. For Germany’s performing arts, the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Climate Action records a 90% drop between 2019 and 2020.

Despite the challenges in comparing these figures, across these countries the live performing arts clearly suffered disproportionate and sector-changing impacts. Barred from in-person performance indoors, organisations struggled to survive. In the UK, already precarious creative and cultural workers (CCWs) struggled to access support. Some dropped out of the workforce; others adapted rapidly to continue to work differently, whether by delivering local arts for health and wellbeing activities or by pivoting towards digital performance. Most organisations and CCWs (especially freelancers) became dependent on financial support from the state and charitable organisations. In the UK, formal and informal networks and resources became particularly important for maintaining the ‘resilience’ of cultural organisations and CCWs.

Our objective is to provide evidence-based policy recommendations that will enable industry professionals and support structures to move from the reactive mode they adopted during the lockdown years to a proactive mode that anticipates future shocks and renders the industry more resilient. Key to achieving this is identifying what worked best, where, and why, and sifting the available literature to base comparisons on high-quality research and comparable data to identify gaps and areas for further research. That, in turn, will rely on our establishing the comparability and reliability of data published in separate reports that were compiled at speed in different time frames and using different methodologies and scopes. We furthermore aim to embed this granular analysis in a broader account encompassing the remaining G7 countries.

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Research team: Professor Pascale Aebischer, University of Exeter; Dr Karen Gray, University of Bristol; Dr Kelsey Jacobson, Queen's University, Canada; Professor Barbara Fuchs, University of California, Los Angeles - UCLA; Dr Heidi Lucja Liedke Goethe-University, Frankfurt

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