As the effects of COVID-19 continue to take hold, the world is being shaken in ways not seen in recent memory. The virus has affected practically all sectors of the economy and it was to expect that the culture would not be shielded from the fall out.
In Colombia, the first case of coronavirus was registered on March 6, 2020. At the time of writing, the country has recorded cases of 1579 infection and 46 dead. From March 25th, the government decreed mandatory preventive isolation, initially of 19 days, but in early April this period was extended by an additional week. Even prior to this change, other measures had been put in place. On March 12th, the President cancelled all public gatherings/events of more than 500 people and, less than week later, the government reduced this number still further – public and private events were no longer to exceed 50 attendees; all bars and clubs were closed.
In Colombia, massive events such as the country’s premier book fair (Filbo 2020), the largest private music festival (Estéreo Pícnic) and, the internationally renowned film festival (Ficci) were cancelled. Theatres and cinemas – alongside fairs and literature meetings – were closed. The restriction, which is – for now – somewhat optimistically scheduled to continue until the end of May, left 493 live music and 643 theater shows “in the air,” according to figures recorded by the Ministry of Culture. These measures undoubtedly affect the economy, including the night time economy comprising a wide range of activities ranging from concerts, theatre visits, dinner or a night out at a club, involving hotels, venues, restaurants, bars, chain stores and others that are estimated to generate about $3 billion annually across the country, alongside approximately 34,000 ‘regular’ jobs and another 30,000 weekend work opportunities in Bogotá alone.
To face this scenario on March 25th, the National Government signed Decree 475 which bringing into force “special measures related to the Culture sector in the state of Economic, Social and Ecological Emergency”. Enforcement of the decree means that it is estimated that more than 120,000 million pesos will be allocated to combat the effects of Covid-19.
However, these measures have caused discomfort in the sector; they are not novel and are only focused on the situation found in the capital, Bogotá, leaving the challenges faced in the rest of the country unaddressed. For example, the decree’s second article contemplates the transitory allocation of more than $40 billion from the para-fiscal contribution of public performances of the performing arts; in other words, modifications to the law on public spectacle. The $40 billion are in the hands of the municipalities that generate the resources for this law and can (ordinarily) only be used for cultural infrastructure but, the Ministry of Culture (2020) claims that in these moments of crisis, “we do not need to invest all resources in this purpose”. According with the Ministry of Culture (2020) the Decree is designed to make the use of these resources more flexible so that they can be deployed in projects and programs for training, production and virtual creation, in order to reach Colombian homes with a digital culture and across digital platforms. However, this is another challenge as the Colombian National Administrative Department for Statistics (DANE) reports that about half of Colombian households are connected to the internet.
Without doubt, this pandemic is changing our lives and the way we perceive the world. Unfortunately, in terms of connectivity, Colombia is far behind in comparison with other countries, and social isolation is not experienced by everyone equally. For now, the cultural and creative industries have reacted by offering their cultural products and services (i.e. virtual museum visits and books to download) online for free. However, not everyone has access to the internet, a privilege in a country like Colombia, which results in a situation where many citizens are denied their democratic right to benefit from culture.