Culture and COVID-19

Dougal Perman, executive chair of the Scottish Music Industry Association, looks at the impact of the COVID-19 virus and how the SMIA are working to provide resources and information to artists, venues and promoters

C OVID-19 makes culture vital and fragile. We are experiencing increasing restrictions on travel and human interaction; some as a result of UK and Scottish Government policies plus people practicing social distancing.

Public health and the lives of those in high-risk categories are of prime concern. Economic vulnerability is equally worrying. We are anxious about jobs. What began in a wet market has hit the stock market. Stocks are abstract; poverty is absolute.

Scottish Music Industry Association members tell us how COVID-19 affects them. Shortly after global governments’ policy announcements, losses from member anecdotes exceeded £250,000 from a combination of cancellations suffered by a booking agency, music manager and music media producer; music festivals poised to postpone; and all imminent events cancelled for an AV supplier. In music, artists may be hit hardest. Scotland’s independent sector relies heavily on live performance income. Gone for the foreseeable future, many are in a perilous position. We are also extremely concerned about promoters, venues, bands, orchestras, studios and teachers. Reduced earnings lead to job losses and the deficit cascades throughout the cultural economy. Other industries are similarly fragile. Transport, tourism and hospitality are on their knees. Losses will be massive.

Companies that can are working remotely. Virologists and epidemiologists recommend social distancing as one of the most effective ways of slowing the infection rate. Some

creative industries sectors may continue to trade with relative stability. In music, composers, producers, record labels, distributors, media and platforms can feasibly run close to business as usual. Some event managers and marketing agencies are already considering how they can repurpose activities online. Pivoting from live events to digital alternatives could help salvage some income for artists, promoters and venues. Content monetisation is difficult normally, but these are not normal times. The SMIA is studying the feasibility of alternative revenue models.

Emergent neighbourly community movements will help people locally. Business can do likewise. Along with financial help from UK and Scottish Governments, charities like Help Musicians and public agencies, if any money is made from alternative trading practices during the crisis, then I advocate allocating a percentage of profits to a hardship and sustainability fund for individuals and small businesses facing substantial financial loss. We are talking with our members, other industry bodies, public agencies and Government about how we can pool resources to help. The SMIA is compiling resources, help and information on our website at uk/coronavirus. Culture will be vital to keep our spirits up as we deal with this crisis. It will need all of us to help ensure the people that provide it can keep going.

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10 THE LIST 1 Apr–31 May 2020