UNESCO launches ResiliArt movement for artists and cultural professionals in the face of COVID-19

On 15 April 2020, World Art Day, UNESCO launched a global movement, ResiliArt, with an inaugural virtual debate in partnership with the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, CISAC. The Art Newspaper (French edition), was the event’s media partner.

“In these unstable and uncertain times, we need to look to the things that unite us – the things that show us the world in all of its variations – and for that, we need artists” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, in launching the ResiliArt movement and debate. “

ResiliArt aims to shed light on the far-reaching impact of COVID-19 on the cultural sector. As of 14 April, cultural institutions are closed in 128 countries and partially closed in 32 countries. The global film industry has recorded a revenue loss of US $7 billion. COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. It is also a dark cloud over not only music, but culture in general,” said Jean-Michel Jarre, composer, performer, CISAC President and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, in stressing the need to raise awareness on the situation of artists and creators and to take action.

This first ResiliArt debate covered pressing issues affecting the livelihoods of cultural professionals, including the social and economic rights of artists, copyright protection, digitization of content and freedom of expression. The need to ensure that these issues are given the place they deserve in the political and social discussions that will shape the world after the crisis was stressed by the Director-General.

While the impact of COVID-19 on the creative industries has become evident, panelists observed that policies and measures to alleviate the consequences have been slow to develop and underscored that government support for artists is essential. “Everybody is talking about opening the economy. We are part of the economy. The money we bring to the table is significant,” said singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo. “We have to rethink how we protect artists. We need to campaign also for developing countries to step up and protect their artists,” she added. Nina Obuljen-Koržinek, Minister of Culture of Croatia, noted that the challenges faced by governments in responding to the crisis were amplified because this crisis is unprecedented. “Suddenly within weeks, the whole environment in which the artists have been creating and in which we have been putting in measures to support the arts has been fundamentally changed,” she said.

The deterioration of the status of the artist was raised as a major concern, with Jarre noting that the situation “threatens to send generations of creators into poverty.” According to Deeyah Khan, a musician and documentary film director, noted that “Workers within this field do not, even under normal circumstances, enjoy the same level of protections and the same rights as many workers in other sectors. Today we are even more vulnerable, because our professions are not viewed as necessary.” The exchange underlined that culture and creativity are not a luxury, but in fact are necessary for the survival of societies.

Panelists underscored that the ramifications of the crisis will be felt long after it ends, and called for the protection of artists and for fair remuneration of their work both now and in the long term. The importance of vigilance and stronger regulation amidst the current push for digitization and platformization of cultural content was particularly stressed. The fact that so much is moving online and artists are sharing their work for free brings challenges as well. “In parallel to the positive example of how artists are providing support for their audiences during this difficult time with online content, we have to send a message that the protection of copyright and fair remuneration of artists who are creating art should be in the center of the discussion,” said Obuljen-Koržinek. “It is not the technology that creates. Art must remain human,” added Kidjo.

The debate reflected the need to reimagine the cultural sector as it adapts to the new normal brought about by the crisis. Luis Puenzo, film director and screenwriter, discussed the film industry and the increased role of streaming platforms. Many of his peers in Latin America’s film industry have lost their livelihoods, and are calling for creative employment solutions during and after the crisis. “We need open minds to reinvent and recreate our jobs. We must believe we can continue to be artists in another reality,” he said. Yasmina Khadra, an author, stressed the need to create new readers through education, and encouraged governments to take measures to encourage youths to read. “Books will save the world and help us access humanity” he said

The discussion emphasized the importance of solidarity for artists and creators. Social-distancing measures have disproportionately affected vulnerable segments of the society, including artists.

The two-hour discussion, which hosted a myriad of views, experiences and regions, was further enriched by over 600 comments and questions posted by the viewers around the world which numbered over 1,100. ResiliArt is a movement that belongs to artists, cultural institutions, and culture sector stakeholders. They are encouraged to start their own ResiliArt exchange using an institutional guide and a participation guide available on UNESCO’s ResiliArt website.

Alongside the launch of the ResiliArt movement, UNESCO also launched a weekly “Culture & COVID-19: Impact and Response Tracker. It provides an overview of the rapidly evolving situation and profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the culture sector.