• Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Linkedin
  • Share by email

"What was already a precarious situation for many artists has become unsustainable," UNESCO boss says, mooting labour law changes to protect the sector.

UNESCO has called for greater job security for creatives

Ars Electronica

Ten million cultural and creative jobs were lost globally in 2020, UNESCO says, warning big structural changes are needed.

A new report from the UN agency calls for better labour protections for cultural workers - especially freelancers - to protect the sector from further damage.

Culture is one of the "youngest and fastest growing economic sectors in the world", the research says, doubling its value over the 15 years to 2019, providing 3% of global GDP and more than 6% of jobs worldwide.


But the pandemic has exacerbated artists' and arts workers' insecure employment conditions. Creators lost more than €1bn in 2020 - a tenth of their income.

The report says arts workers "might deserve special attention" in the UN's Common Agenda, which commits to a new era of income security.

"What was already a precarious situation for many artists has become unsustainable, threatening creative diversity," UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.

Azoulay said there is a need for "regulations which provide artists with some degree of security... and fair remuneration of creators by the main digital platforms".

"Today, we must secure culture’s rightful place in our recovery plans in order to overcome the crisis, but we also need long-term policies in order to respond to the structural challenges highlighted by the crisis."

Pay and funding

Covid-19 has accelerated interest in a universal basic income or minimum wage for cultural workers, the report said.

Like the UK, many countries that provided income support during lockdowns missed out creative freelancers.

Women bore the brunt of the pandemic, the report suggests. Despite making up 48% of the global cultural workforce, they have less access to public funds than men and remain underrepresented in positions of leadership, making gender equality "a distant prospect". 

About half of UN nations have introduced measures since 2017 to protect and promote the status of the artist, giving arts professionals social and economic rights. But legislation is slow, developing countries lag behind, and only a few countries provide income protection and career transition schemes.

When it comes to freedom of expression, "there remains a worrying disconnect between protective law and practice". Attacks on artistic freedom of expression continued to rise in 2020, UNESCO found.

Public funding too has declined over the past decade. "Rather limited" opportunities for cultural organisations to co-create policy with public authorities should be expanded, the report says.

Digital divide

Growth in digital arts during Covid has made it harder for creatives to earn a living.

UNESCO found big multinational companies were able to consolidate their position during 2020. Few countries had solid regulatory frameworks to address this, reinforcing exisiting inequalities and limiting diversity in the digital creative economy.

Cultural services account for less than 2% of global trade yet their value is ballooning: music and video in particular have grown by 70%. 

But this trade "has shown no sign of opening up to cultural services from developing countries", which has stagnated over the past three years.

It's important countries achieve a "balanced flow" of cultural goods and services, including artist mobility, the report said.