Initial Findings and Reactions: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Cultural and Creative Sectors in Malta

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Cultural and Creative Sectors in Malta

Initial Findings and Reactions


ARC Research and Consultancy has carried out a first survey entitled ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on the Cultural and Creative Sectors in Malta’ in order to measure the impact of the pandemic on these sectors in Malta to date, to give visibility to this impact, and to propose measures by which local authorities can assist and support. The survey targeted all those working in and/or with the cultural and creative sectors including artists as well as cultural operators and/or service providers working in or with the sectors.


The method of participation in the survey was an opt-in online and it was answered by 184 pax. The survey was published on 15th March 2020 and closed on 25th March 2020. It was disseminated through word-of-mouth (mostly using online means); a press release to local media which was published on newsbook.com.mt and the Sunday Times of Malta; sponsored posts on social media which specifically targeted individuals working in the creative and cultural sectors; as well as targeted mailshots to public cultural organisations, voluntary organisations and non-governmental organisations operating within the sector.


Another relevant study carried out alongside this one was an artists/arts-focused survey by Culture Venture, the results and recommendations of which were published online: http://cultureventure.org/2020/03/21/the-impact-of-covid-19-on-artists-in-malta/


A day before closing the survey to respondents, on the 24th March 2020, the Government of Malta acknowledged the Creative Arts as a sector eligible for immediate financial assistance. Our focus of analysis for this survey is on introducing and supporting further and more targeted measures for the sector. A defining factor of this research is that it is not conclusive, but rather aims to use the data from this survey in order to initiate a collective discussion on the realities of the cultural and creative sectors in Malta. As a number of respondents pointed out, some of these have actually always been a daily reality for individuals operating within the sectors,and this pandemic has thus created an opportunity to evaluate and discuss a way forward on how the sectors operate on a long-term basis. We will be encouraging active participation from respondents and anyone that wishes to be included in upcoming discussions which will be announced in the coming days.




The initial observations from the survey are outlined below. When asked about their employment status, 44.9% of respondents identified themselves as ‘registered self-employed in the cultural and creative sectors’ while 21.6% are ‘full-time employed in the cultural and creative sectors’.


The majority of respondents (38.4%) regard the performing arts as their main discipline while the second largest group (33.5%) form part of the film and media group. Respondents from the performing arts were seen to be the majority of respondents throughout and efforts were made to reach out to other groups, with the Malta Producers Association having shown great interest in disseminating this survey amongst their members and peers.




Respondents were also asked about their mode of engagement for work that had to be paused/stopped by third-parties as a result of the pandemic. The majority of respondents (44.3%) claimed that they did not have a legally-binding agreement for work that has been paused/stopped.






EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC ON THE RESPONDENTS’ ENGAGEMENTS

A sense of uncertainty and financial loss (be it temporary or permanent) seem to have been among the primary effects of the pandemic on the sectors to date. 58.8% of respondents stated that work has been postponed but an emphasis was noted in that it is still early stages and a concrete way forward has not yet been communicated to them. The second most quoted effect was work cancellation which individuals will not be paid for, with 29.9% of respondents being in this situation.




IMPACTS OF THE PANDEMIC ON THE RESPONDENTS


The majority of respondents said to be fully dependent on income from the cultural and creative sectors. When provided with five main impacts, 148 out of 184 respondents identified ‘difficulty of making plans during uncertain times’ as the main impact of the pandemic, with the second and third most identified impacts being ‘postponed work’ and ‘cancelled work’.

104 out of 184 respondents identified ‘general loss of income (temporary)’ as the biggest economical effect, with the second most selected option being ‘lack of income to sustain household’, selected by 62 out of 184 respondents.



When asked whether they had incurred additional costs in order to cope with the pandemic, the majority of respondents did not answer the questions or stated that they had not incurred any costs. The minority which replied otherwise, identified technological costs related to the online shift as their primary cost.




When asked whether they had incurred loss of investment in order to cope with the pandemic, the majority of respondents did not answer the questions or did not specify the amount spent. Respondents who did quote loss of investment identified the time invested in planning and preparatory work for jobs that they will not be seeing through or remunerated for.



SENTIMENT ON GENERAL SUPPORT RECEIVED TO DATE


The majority of respondents (65.4%) claimed that they did not feel supported by government, local authorities and/or individuals/organisations/companies engaging them. When asked to outline why they had answered in the negative, 52.9% of respondents did not provide a reason for their answer and the majority of those who did, provided an answer that fell within the ‘lack of support / guidance / representation’ classification.



When asked about the professional support most needed at this time, the majority (133 out of 184) respondents identified ‘financial support’ and when asked to choose which measure would be most helpful for their work at this time, 61.9% of respondents selected ‘emergency relief fund to help those whose sources of income have been cancelled’.



ADDITIONAL TESTIMONIALS FROM RESPONDENTS


Respondents were encouraged to communicate suggestions on how the sectors can be better supported in light of the pandemic. Extracts from the testimonials of individuals who granted permission to make these public have been categorised and are outlined below.


Calls and suggestions were made for immediate actions and initiatives, particularly as the country turns to technology and shifts to online means:


  • “Set up (ideally paid) initiatives that can be executed and presented remotely.

  • “Advance payment for work to be created.”

  • “Offer ways and support on how to go online and increase in studios for small teams to meet up and work. Working from home on partnered work is hard.”

  • “Giving us access to software that allows us to engage with audiences from our homes. Giving us software tools that help us to pursue our work online.”


The need for better representation in the sectors as well as a general sentiment of unity at this time were voiced:


  • “Having an Artists' Union might also be a good idea.” and “A union for film workers it's needed, we need to have a common ground on which we can stand. We need a clear national contract for the film industry with assigned minimum rates and maximum hours that have to match European standards.”

  • “I would say unity, unfortunately there is not one collective of all communities fighting for working rights.”

  • “Public Cultural Organisations should step in to help the independent sector - I believe so far attempts have been weak.”


The above was further emphasised by individuals who proposed ways of creating platforms which will further allow a collective discussion on the sectors’ methods of operation:


  • “Possibly engaging in talks with the artists to reschedule the work rather than cancelling it.”

  • Keeping everyone informed: a timeline of initiatives based on how things could go. A plan, or strategy, essentially, in lieu of the current silence, vagueness.”

  • “Coming up with a 'side-effect' manifesto that is reachable to all people out there to see how artists are effected.”

  • “An online conference discussing ideas involving PCOs and practitioners.”


The opportunity to look at the bigger picture was outlined and encouraged:


  • Overdue payments to us by the public sector namely PBS, Festivals Malta, Arts Council, ministries etc. should be settled as soon as possible.”

  • “Although it's important to provide urgent aid to those in need, there also need to be plans for a long-term strategy providing the means for creatives and entrepreneurs in the sector to have the necessary support systems to cope and recover from such scenarios.”

  • “Speaking up about this issue and teaching people the value of creative services is needed too. Self employed artists on this island have always faced a struggle of late payments and a very low pay.”

  • “Unfortunately with lack of policy in place it is very difficult to know. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from this.”


Further to these initial findings, ARC Research & Consultancy will be encouraging active participation from respondents and anyone that wishes to be included in upcoming discussions which will be announced in the coming days. Individuals who wish to reach out with further suggestions and/or feedback are invited to do so via e-mail on info.arcrc@gmail.com.


A digital copy of the survey can be downloaded here.