Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 June 2020

'We must join forces to return to normal life': World leaders discuss 'cultural crisis' amid pandemic

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, represented the UAE during the online conference on the Unesco website

World leaders gathered to discuss the cultural crisis on the Unesco website
World leaders gathered to discuss the cultural crisis on the Unesco website

Ministers of Culture from across the world gathered virtually on Wednesday to discuss the "cultural crisis" brought upon the creative industry by the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting, held on Zoom, involved more than 200 participants from 140 countries and was live-streamed on the Unesco website.

Audrey Azoulay, director-general of Unesco, and Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, assistant director-general for culture at Unesco, convened the meeting.

We must make a very strong case to protect the individuals and companies who work in the creative sector

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development

"We need a global response to this crisis," Ramirez said.

"It's the culture sector in particular that is affected ... and the shockwave will affect us in years to come."

Over the session, which was scheduled to take two hours but went for over six, ministers spoke passionately about the need for global co-operation to ensure the creative sector survived the pandemic, as they shared their own country's experiences and how they were dealing with the closure of museums and cultural institutions, a lack of tourism and artists largely out of work. Many spoke of a crucial pivot to online operations for the cultural industry, which could now be a permanent fixture for many institutions.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, represented the UAE during the online conference.

In her speech, Al Kaabi took the opportunity to call for a "creative and bold" response to the issues faced in the creative industry around the world.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, represented the UAE.
Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, represented the UAE.

She said the UAE closed museums and cultural organisations immediately in the face of the pandemic, which "rapidly took their events online like everywhere else", with extra funds and financial help available to those in the sector.

Al Kaabi then outlined the work of the Cultural and Creative Industries Council, which held a "remote and urgent" meeting earlier this month to discuss the funding of the sector. A "collective action plan" was then agreed upon.

The minister also spoke about the national survey launched last week in a bid to further understand the operational and economic challenges facing the cultural industry. The results from this will be available next week, and used to provide support.

"We must make a very strong case to protect the individuals and companies who work in the creative sector," Al Kaabi said.

She also called on Unesco to provide a manual to explain the policies that were required in "times like these".

Yeong Woo Oh, South Korea's Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, speaking during the conference.
Yeong Woo Oh, South Korea's Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, speaking during the conference.

Yeong Woo Oh, South Korea's Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, pledged a willingness to share policies and information with other nations navigating the pandemic, as they had experienced it early.

"It is imperative that our countries join forces so we can return to normal life," Oh said. South Korea had been quick to migrate its operations online, setting up tax relief, employment opportunities and access to funds to help workers in need and ensure the continuation of creative work throughout the pandemic.

Cinemas would receive additional funds and tax exemptions.

Zhang Xu, China's Vice Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said the country had "paid special attention to the cultural sector" and developed new business models to help it survive the pandemic.

This included tax exemptions and cost-reducing measures.

Lilja Dogg Alfredsdottir, Iceland's Minister of Education, Science and Culture.
Lilja Dogg Alfredsdottir, Iceland's Minister of Education, Science and Culture.

Koichi Hagiuda, Japan's Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, outlined the measures they had taken since a state of emergency was declared on April 16, and reiterated the country's determination to host the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Lilja Dogg Alfredsdottir, Iceland's Minister of Education, Science and Culture, said the country had been "focusing on education".

This meant creating special funds for the creative sector, increasing salaries for artists and introducing nationwide initiatives, such as one focused on reading.

Throughout the pandemic, Iceland has kept its pre-schools and schools open, with restrictions in place.

Iceland has so far recorded 1,778 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, spoke of the country's tourism and cultural industry and the fact that it was self-sustainable before Covid-19.

Sri Lanka "depends heavily on the cultural and tourism sectors", and in 2018, the tourism sector brought in $4 billion (Dh14.69bn).

He said going forward, it would require support from both the government and international bodies.

Updated: April 23, 2020 09:53 AM

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