Culture, the arts, and the Covid-19 pandemic: Five cultural capitals in search of solutions

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the culture and arts sector, with many venues closed and events postponed or cancelled. This 2021 report investigates the cultural policy responses to the pandemic in five major cultural capitals: Berlin, London, New York, Paris, and Toronto, pulling out common challenges, responses, and implications. Lessons about creating more effective and resilient urban cultural ecosystems are provided.

Date added 17 February 2021
Last updated 17 February 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on arts and culture; as the authors of this report explain (p.4):

The current COVID-19 pandemic poses severe challenges to culture and the arts in cities around the world. In some places, it threatens the very survival of local cultural infrastructures and the careers of many artists and cultural workers. Social distancing measures, and the resulting closure of art institutions and the suspension of cultural events, have impacted the sector in profound ways... The COVID-19 pandemic changed the social fabric of cities... with profound implications for the cultural system.

The report investigates how the cultural policies of five internationally-recognised cultural hubs - Berlin, London, New York, Paris, and Toronto – were adapted in order to build resilience and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. The researchers sought to understand what measures were taken, when, by whom and for what purpose? What have been the results so far and what main challenges lie ahead? And what best practice lessons can be drawn from the five cities about building resilience to future crises? To answer these questions, the case study locations are contrasted in terms of their governance capacity for recovery, drawing on the below framework (p.7):

  1. Analytical capacity- knowledge and expertise informing decision-making.
  2. Regulatory capacity - capacity to sanction through prohibiting, permitting, incentivising and disincentivising.
  3. Delivery capacity - capability and legitimacy to make things happen.
  4. Coordination capacity - negotiating and mediating between multiple stakeholders.

Drawing on media reports, policy briefs, public statements, social media platforms, and expert opinion, five city case studies are presented, covering: that city’s governance and general policy approach; cultural policy trajectories; responses to Covid-19; an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the governance capacities; and cultural policy recommendations for that city.

The report concludes by pulling out common threads and lessons across the five case studies for building future resilience into the cultural ecosystem, as summarised below.

Case study learnings, insights, recommendations

  • Common challenges faced revolve around uncertainty, governance and economy.
  • All cities adapted in some way to the pandemic, but with differing governance capacities, arrangements, and levels of preparedness to crises.
  • Key issues facing the cultural ecosystems studied include discontinuities, precarious work, digital consumption and inequalities, and disruptions to cultural exchange.
  • Coordination capacities are often applied inefficiently, meaning that cultural task forces may be useful going forwards.
  • It is important to consider how cultural policies integrate into wider urban planning and spatial development, and how resilience for the entire cultural ecosystem can be built.
  • The creation of strategic plans for cultural and urban recovery are essential.