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By Toni Attard, Culture Venture

The emergency situation caused by COVID-19 is once again highlighting the precarious employment conditions of various artists and their right to earn a living wage. It has been reported that at least 170,000 jobs were lost in the film industry in Hollywood and the UK due to the coronavirus. Met opera has laid off all its musicians and chorus and Cirque du Soleil has laid off 95% of its staff. If it’s hitting hard for large scale cultural institutions with contracts and unions that may offer some form of protection, then how are freelance artists and small creative businesses, perhaps unrepresented or underrepresented by unions or lobby groups, reaching out for support at a time when their livelihood is at stake?

As front liners in the health sector across the world put their own lives at risk to save lives and help us get out of this safely, policymakers, culture leaders and cultural practitioners must unite to support the front liners of our soul – the artists. Artistic work is helping people to stay safe and sane at a time of global physical distancing. Whether reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, viewing a museum online or painting your own message to your community, this is also a moment to reflect on the value of the arts, artists and their work. More than ever, this is an occasion to understand why the arts are also needed to save the world.

As soon as the emergency situation hit Malta, numerous artists shared their concerns on how the situation is going to impact them. As industry-led associations opened up conversations with Government to discuss financial measures it was evident that the absence of an equivalent industry-led organisation in Malta for the arts meant that the opportunity for a collective sector-led voice was close to none.

Anecdote by an artist participating in the surveyThis experience has made me realise just what a vulnerable sector we work in and how not well represented we are.

As various governments, including the Maltese Government, start to roll-out financial measures to address the financial impact of COVID-19, such measures need to ensure protection and support for the self-employed including freelance artists. Numerous artists operate within a freelance ‘gig economy’, often moving from one gig or project to another so measuring financial losses may not always match the criteria of the new measures. It is for this reason that arts councils and cultural agencies across the globe, including Arts Council Malta, are monitoring the situation to respond as effectively as possible to the needs of the sector.

In order to support the arts in Malta measure the impact COVID-19 is having on artists, Culture Venture launched on an opt-in online survey on Sunday 14th March 2020. The survey was closed on Saturday 21st March. The survey received 346 responses of which 167 respondents earn an income exclusively from the arts and 138 partially earn and income from the arts. 41 respondents claim that they do not earn an income from the arts and therefore the total valid responses for the scope of the survey is 305.

52.8% of the activities providing artists with a source of income were cancelled.Public artistic events, such as performances, exhibitions and concerts are the main source for lost income.67.2% already suffered financial losses. 25.9% say it’s too early.32.5% lost most of their income for this period, 28.2% lost all income.41% claim that their family is dependent on their income from the arts.Generating income, future work and receiving payments are the three major concerns.A weekly financial loss of between €250 to €500 per artist is forecast.

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