To address the profound impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the culture sector, UNESCO has launched a weekly “Culture & COVID-19: Impact and Response Tracker” to provide an overview of the rapidly evolving situation. It explores both the immediate impact of the health crisis and examples of how countries around the world are adapting to the situation. This is one of several initiatives by the Organization to respond to the impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector worldwide.
Empty UNESCO World Heritage sites, cultural events cancelled, cultural institutions closed, community cultural practices suspended, heightened risk of looting of cultural sites and poaching at natural sites, artists unable to make ends meet and the cultural tourism sector greatly affected… The impact of the COVID-19 on the cultural sector is being felt around the world. This impact is social, economic and political – it affects the fundamental right of access to culture, the social rights of artists and creative professionals.....
Data from the World Health Organization shows that COVID- 19 now has a firm grip on every continent, with governments putting in place wide- spread confinement or mobility restrictions on an unprecedented scale. 128 countries have now entirely closed down their cultural institutions. In these circumstances, billions of people are turning to culture as a source of comfort, well-being and connection.
The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports that 96% of all worldwide destinations have introduced full or partial restrictions since the end of January. The World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that up to 75 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector are under immediate threat, equating to a loss of US$2 .1 trillion GDP in 2020.
According to the International Council on Museums (ICOM), 95 % of the estimated 60, 000 museums worldwide are closed due to the COVID- 19 pandemic. In the immediate term, the closure of museums poses great challenges in terms of access to culture. Whilst many museums around the world have been able to adapt through online solutions such as virtual tours or engaging the public through social media challenges, this is not possible for all museums across the world due to limited capacities or digital infrastructure. For example, the world’s most visited museum (9.3 million visitors annually), the Louvre (France) has seen a four- fold increase in virtual connections, to 400,000 per day, whilst hundreds of people have recreated famous works of art using ordinary household objects.
The closures of cultural institutions, archaeological sites and heritage sites, have led to reports of increased insecurity for cultural property and sites around the world. Particularly in countries experiencing conflict or post- conflict, the pandemic is exacerbating an already fragile security situation. The closures of sites that rely heavily on tourism to maintain their budgets could make longer term management of the site and working conditions more precarious. In some instances, it could also negatively impact conservation and research work done at the sites, unless emergency measures are put in place.
As some countries – particularly in Asia and Europe - begin to reopen their cultural institutions, other countries remain in lockdown. In almost every country, cultural life has taken a hit in one way or another, in terms of both social and economic impact. The pandemic has exposed some structural vulnerabilities and inequalities within and between countries. Within countries, the pandemic has further revealed inequalities facing vulnerable groups, in particular women, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, and LGBTI groups, including in access to culture.
Many museums, galleries, heritage sites and cultural venues are beginning to open up again around the world. This week, for example, an estimated 46% of countries have opened or partially opened their World Heritage sites. Yet, following several weeks of closures, many cultural institutions and heritage sites around the world are worried about their future survival.
Biological diversity is intimately linked to cultural diversity, as humans have always adapted to the particular environment they found themselves in, leading to the flourishing of societies, cultures and languages that have developed throughout human history. In the coming week, World Environment Day and World Oceans Day will be celebrated against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has further highlighted the strong linkages between humans and nature. At the same time, the health crisis and lockdown of countries is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% this year, according to the International Energy Agency. UNESCO is also currently revising and updating its Policy Document on the Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage properties.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve at a different pace in different parts of the world, with some countries combatting the first wave of infections whilst other countries have eased their confinement measures albeit with changes to daily life. In mid-April, the OECD estimated that spending on “recreation, culture, hotels and restaurants” had declined by 75% in G7 countries. However, the complex and rapidly changing situation makes it is extremely difficult to fully quantify the exact magnitude of the impact on economies around the world, including on the cultural sector. The pandemic also poses questions about how cultural institutions and World Heritage sites can adapt in the medium term to the new realities.
Numbering at least 370-500 million, indigenous peoples represent the greater part of the world’ s cultural diversity, and speak the major share of the world’ s almost 7000 languages – more than 4000. Numbering approximately 5% of the world’s population, indigenous people are guardians of some 20% of the world’ s territory, playing a vital role in the protection of biodiversity and natural cultural heritage, as well as the management of natural resources and the fight against climate change. The protection of indigenous peoples is not only a human rights issue but also one of preserving cultural diversity and ancestral wisdom.
The tourism industry worldwide ground to a halt in March 2020 when all international borders were closed due to the pandemic. UN World Tourism Organization ( UNWTO) project a 60- 80% decline in international arrivals for 2020 ( in comparison to a 4 % decrease in international arrivals following the 2008 economic crisis). Given that tourism is a major source of growth, employment and income for many countries, especially in developing countries and Small Island Developing States, restarting this sector is a major concern for governments around the world. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council ( WTTC), in 2019, 1 . 5 billion people crossed international borders with tourism accounted for 29% of the world' s services exports. I t is also estimated that 1 in 10 jobs, with migrant workers, young people and women making up a significant proportion of this workforce.
The COVID- 19 pandemic that continues to circulate around the globe is affecting almost every aspect of daily l i fe, including the very human need to connect to culture. With many World Heritage sites closed, our connection to our heritage has been weakened. With concerts, theatre performances and community cultural practices interrupted or cancelled, our connection with each other has been weakened. The fundamental r ight to access to culture has been curtailed, due to the confinement measures imposed by Member States to tackle the health crisis. Within the cultural sector, the crisis has also starkly exposed the pre- existing vulnerabilities of the sector, including the precarious l ivelihoods of artists and cultural workers, as well as the t ight budgets of many cultural institutions. I t is clear that the full extent of the economic contribution of the cultural sector has hitherto been underestimated. This is the case for both the direct contribution to the economy through the cultural and creative industries, as well as indirectly through the tourism sector.