Towards 2021 in the creative economy – Toni Attard

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In 2019, the United Nations declared 2021 as International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. Whereas the creative economy has no single definition it is widely accepted that it covers the knowledge-based economic activities upon which the ‘creative industries’ are based. According to UNCTAD these include advertising, architecture, arts and crafts, design, fashion, film, video, photography, music, performing arts, publishing, research and development, software, computer games, electronic publishing, and TV/radio. Its significant 3% contribution to global gross domestic product (GDP) makes it a powerful emerging economic sector that is being strengthened by a surge in digitalization and services.

Globally, the creative economy generates  €1.9 trillion in revenues and creates 30 million jobs. In Malta, the creative industries account for 7.9% of total GVA, exceeding the direct contribution of the construction and civil engineering sector and the accommodation and food services sector. They also create 12,000 jobs and play a key role in propelling the sustainable development goals by incorporating people-centred values and sustainability across their economic, social and environmental objectives. 

The International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development recognises the global need to promote the creative economy for sustained and inclusive economic growth, to foster innovation and to provide opportunities, benefits and empowerment for all.

As the world will hopefully start to emerge from a crisis like no other, then 2021 as the year of creative economy is more significant than when it was first announced. It is no longer just a political symbol but an opportunity to demonstrate global economic, social and creative resilience. Above all, it is another opportunity to address some of the numerous challenges cultural and creative sectors face, especially in these unprecedented times. From the trade imbalances to challenges in intellectual property and copyright, our sectors require stronger global action.

On home ground, the creative economy requires a deeper understanding by other sectors, stronger political commitment and serious investment to ensure that the sectors are able to bounce back to pre-2020 levels. With sectors that mainly operate through the gig economy – temporary, flexible work by freelancers – the global pandemic highlighted even further the precarious conditions of creative workers. Creative freelancers and small enterprises are the backbone of Malta’s creative economy. The sustainability of a whole economy sector depends on their skills, talents and investments. It also depends on the agility of political leaders to respond effectively and forecast patterns in a fast-changing environment.

As Malta’s representative body for the arts and entertainment industries, MEIA proposed a wide-ranging recovery plan and our lobbying will continue until the plan is published and rolled-out by government.

If we want to engage in a global conversation on the creative economy and sustainability, then we cannot exit 2020 with a creative sector in Malta that is struggling to survive in the aftermath of a pandemic. Political lip service will neither save jobs nor will it inject the confidence and investment the sectors need right now.

The sectors have been waiting since March 2020 for a definitive, significant and robust plan to reboot the creative economy to address the unprecedented disruption in Malta’s arts and entertainment sectors.  

As a sector that was first to shut down and the last to open, we reiterate our call for the cultural and creative industries to be a priority in wage supplement revision, for support towards the safe reopening of arts and entertainment venues, for investment in digitalization and e-commerce, for guarantee facilities to reduce risk and for seed funding to develop new projects and creative enterprises. 

50% of MEIA members consider quitting the sector should the situation remain unchanged by June 2021. That mid-year survey result is slowly reaching the precipice for when creative practitioners and enterprises take a responsible decision on whether 2021 is their year of departure from the sector or a year of new opportunities within their own creative profession.

A sustainable tourism industry needs a diverse creative economy to grow. A livable nation needs the creative economy for its wellbeing. A diversified economy needs the creative economy to innovate. A thriving community needs the creative economy to evolve. A creative economy needs to be back on the agenda, now. 

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