It was to the arts that many people turned to for comfort during the lockdown phase as COVID-19 preventive measures kicked in across the globe. Virtual performances and walks through cultural institutions helped people across the globe overcome the trauma of staying put at home. Although there have been some easing of the situation, the cultural community is still faced with plenty of challenges, including loss of income. Wide-scale performances, exhibitions and fairs, workshops, etc. are still largely on hold or restricted at best.
According to a report by the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), published a little over a year ago, the culture sector, which employs more than 30 million people globally, has been hit much harder than expected and it was important to target policies and actions to help artists weather the crisis.
Although individual artists and forums have been trying to find ways to get around the crisis, it has been proved beyond doubt that governments have a key role to play in uplifting the culture community.
Recently, the news that the Irish government is planning to support artists with a basic income has been widely hailed among the culture community. Like other places across the world, arts and entertainment venues across the Republic of Ireland have largely remained closed owing the pandemic restrictions.
According to media reports, the government is likely to pay a basic income for the next three years to nearly 2,000 artists, actors, musicians, and other performers. They will be paid a weekly remuneration so that they can pursue their creative works.
The plan for the pilot Basic Income for the Arts evolved from a recommendation made by the Arts and Culture taskforce set up by the Irish minister for tourism, culture, arts, Gaeltacht, sports and media, Catherine Martin, who were asked to suggest ways in which the arts could be supported to recover from the pandemic damage.
The minister said, &ldquoOur culture and the arts are a fundamental expression of who we are as a nation. Our rich cultural heritage is one of our greatest assets, and our artists weave a sense of identity, creativity and belonging into the fabric of our communities. The intrinsic societal value of culture and the arts was particularly evident during the pandemic, where it provided colour, light and hope in uncertain times.&rdquo
According to reports, the government has opened an online consultation on how the Basic Income for the Arts scheme will run. A basic payment of &euro10.50 (£8.75) an hour has been suggested in the consultation, though the overall income is yet to be decided, the BBC said. The consultation (open till January 27 this year) will also look into areas such as objectives of the scheme, eligibility of beneficiaries, selection and pay among other things. The consultation will also consider what steps to take if there are more beneficiaries than positions under the scheme.
In March last year, a similar scheme called Guaranteed Income Pilot Program for San Francisco Artists was launched for the city&rsquos cultural community wherein 130 artists hardest hit by the pandemic were to receive a monthly income for six months. The city had partnered with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) to administer the program.
Although considering India&rsquos large culture and artist community, government aid has remained inadequate, the central government as well as many of the state governments too have been offering relief packages and support to the community through various schemes. According to a media release from early August last year issued by the central government, several steps, including virtual programs to honorarium distribution, have been undertaken by the central Ministry of Culture to help artists with failing income. They organised 881 virtual programs which benefitted 22,070 artists, while Rs 2.82 crore were distributed as honorarium during first lockdown, the release said.
Culture and performances is an integral part of the travel and tourism industry, which in turn is severely hit by the pandemic. Therefore uplifting the cultural community would be one of the ways to boost the flagging travel industry. Hopefully, more governments and administrative bodies will follow in the footsteps of the Irish government and the City of San Francisco.