Culture in the time of Covid-19

Culture in the time of Covid-19

Andrea Chung

Sunday, March 22, 2020

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If you are anything like me, your inbox is flooded with cancellation and postponement notices right now. This is a time of high stress and its precisely now that arts and culture are needed the most. Culture heals, soothes anxieties and brings joy, but at the same time, the reality is that the creative sector will be one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic.


Artists are of course susceptible to the virus, but as 'solopreneurs' that sell in stores, at markets or perform face-to-face, they would be hardest hit financially by this new era of social distancing.

At a recent National Honour Awards event, the person receiving the lifetime award was one of the most revered musicians in Jamaica and was almost 90 years old. He slowly made his way to centrestage and in his acceptance speech said that while his career had been rewarding beyond belief, financially, he was just “surviving”. It was a sobering moment.

Before Covid-19, many of the people that create the music, art, dance and other cultural and creative goods that have made Jamaica a global brand were already living a performance-to-performance, or sale-to-sale existence.

A few months may seem like a short time on paper, but the future consequences of missed revenue, cancelled events, closed galleries and employees being affected is high. As these public events and festivals are halted, many artists and creative entrepreneurs who are dependent on these earnings will be at risk if they do not find a way to adapt and create new income streams.


The pandemic calls on artists themselves to become more resilient and to innovate. Of all the creatives, the writers would appear to be the most insulated from the effects of Covid-19, as they were forced in the early 2000's to shift abruptly to a digital model. As a result, it is commonplace now for every book to have an e-book or electronic version. It took some disruption and adaptation in the industry but now it pays off.

Bookstores can move to a delivery model, and writers can expect to see a shift to online revenue through many online retail platforms like Amazon.

The online space is also great for literary marketing as book readings and book clubs, Goodreads, Bookstagram and Facebook are all used by writers to promote their products.

But what can other creatives do? Kesi Gardner, marketer and PR strategist from Love Not Likes, gives the following advice: “There's so much you can do! Live Painting, virtual gallery, performance art, Facebook watch party (show reruns of past performances), artuist talks on IG Live. Now is the time to amp up your online presence to keep top of mind during this down time.”

On how to make online activities generate revenue, Ingrid Riley, tech evangelist and digital strategist, explains:

“You can get paid in three ways; 1. Approach brands to sponsor live streams. Move some of that unspent in-person event budget online. It costs less, goes further. They can brand the artist, do product placement or co-branding of the live stream, contests, etc. 2. Set up a Paypal, Patreon or paid Webinar account. Listeners or viewers can pay there. 3. Set up an online merchandise store and sell branded items...T-shirts, phone stickers, posters. And so many other things can be done. Ideas abound.”


What lessons can artists take from the global arts community as they respond to Covid-19? There are some real opportunities to rethink the way that we do business in the creative economy.

1) Focus on arts curators

The book world has a well-developed system of curation which enables the consumer to know which books to buy and which writers to support. There are longlists, shortlists and bestseller lists, where trusted organisations guide readers toward the best books and encourage sales.

The National Library of Jamaica Poet Laureate prize is one local example.

Regionally, the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature just announced its longlist of nine books and hey presto — those artists are then more visible and that drives sales. Arts organisations and industry groups can seek to translate this into the world of dance, music, fashion and film by selecting and promoting the 'best of' and being messengers for the practitioners in their sector.

Right now, keeping the artists visible and easily accessible in the digital space is key.

2) Launch Online Sales and Delivery Options

For creatives that have tangible products like paintings, crafts, jewellery or clothing, online sales are key. All artisans should be thinking of advertising their products for sale online and moving quickly to e-commerce. Check out eBay, Amazon, Shopify or local e-commerce platforms like and They can start preparing for ecommerce by photographing their goods on a clean uncluttered background in good light and working out your delivery included price.

Even without an e-commerce store, you can use your Facebook or Instagram account to advertise products and pricing with a contact number or e-mail, and then use a bearer to deliver orders that you receive. Where delivery was once a convenience, now it is a necessity.

3) Offer Virtual Events

Don't be afraid to live stream, even the very traditional New York Metropolitan opera is now livestreaming music. Use Instagram, Vimeo, Zoom to deliver engaging live streaming events or demonstrations to your audience.

You can invite the private sector to brand your livestream and become sponsors. You can monetise directly from the audience too. Dance Fyah CEO Careen Walters announced that their dance classes would now be hosted on Zoom. The customer gets the code/URL when they send the class fee to the Paypal account.

The minimum requirement is a smartphone, so any arts practitioner can start live-streaming today. Tools like IGTV and Facebook Live are very useful and free.


Much has been made of our “global superpower” level talent in sports and music, and with the onset of the coronavirus, we should strive to protect this national asset. The Government can look at offering small grants to the most vulnerable cultural practitioners, on a fair and transparent basis. Industry depends on a strong small and mededium enterprise (SME)and creative sector, and the tourism sector also depends on healthy cultural offerings. It is in Jamaica's national interests to protect the culture.

Several countries have already responded with safety nets and emergency relief funds for artists and creative businesses. A local artist relief fund with small grants to individuals that can be used for medical and other emergencies and a creative enterprise relief fund which could allow businesses to keep their staff in employment would ensure that local artists, small arts-related businesses and arts and cultural organisations survive this period.


Yes, the coronavirus is here and we also face issues of tech inequality and poverty that more developed nations do not. But it is not all doom and gloom; as they say, the show must go on, and every crisis has an upside.

Don't just cancel those events — start telling people how they can find you online, where they can browse your products and how they can donate to offer support, pay online for products, watch your live stream or call you for delivery.

Artists and arts organisations should use this as an opportunity to use technology to expand their audience and reach a new customer base across the world.

Why go back to having the most amazing arts event that only 30 people experience? Live streaming events should become a standard part of events even after the restrictions are eased and we should get used to sharing our cultural events with the world.

Recording events is important too as people will pay to see that content at a later date, creating yet another revenue stream. Same for the international online payment platforms, set them up now and use them even after this challenge has passed, as an additional way to generate online sales from a wider audience.


There is no shame in learning from others, this is what smart, connected communities do. Some institutions to follow for information and inspiration on how they are handling the crisis are:

- Arts Professional @ArtsPro, the UK's leading arts management magazine

- Arts Council England @ace_national, national development agency for creativity and culture

- Creative Capital @creativecap a NY-based funding and advisory service for creatives

- National Endowment for the Arts @NEArts, US federal government agency that supports artistic excellence, creativity and innovation

Be well - and send your stories of how the Coronavirus is impacting the cultural and creative sector to

Andrea Dempster Chung is the executive director of Kingston Creative. Send your questions and comments to:

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