The Effects of COVID 19 on the Cultural Sector, a View from Colombia

The Effects of COVID 19 on the Cultural Sector, a View from Colombia

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.





Doctoral Student Launches Street Library in Colombia

Doctoral Student Launches Street Library in Colombia

A doctoral student and research associate at UWS Greis Cifuentes has also found the time to launch a Street Library program – “Libros a la Calle” – in Ibagué, Colombia. The program seeks to facilitate social cohesion alongside the appropriation of public spaces. It is the first time that a program of this nature has been located in the city.

Greis is a founding member and leader of a citizen group Por Ibagué which works to promote a sense of belonging to the city through culture. Libros a la Calle is one of the initiatives developed to progress this aim.  Libros a la Calle is based on trust, anyone is free to take, read and return the available books. Over time, 30 libraries will be installed in public parks around Ibagué, financial support for the initiative is provided by private companies and individuals. Currently, there are 6 books donation points around the city and more than 500 books have been given to for the project. Libros a la Calle has had a positive impact in the city. It has not only guaranteed access to culture as a right and expanded the cultural offer in place but, the project has also succeeded in promoting coexistence, contributing to the formation and development of the individual and society in a city where, typically, people read fewer than 3 books per year.


Besides her academic work and citizen activism, Greis has recently accepted a new position as General Coordinator at the Fundación Nacional Batuta in Colombia. Batuta is a non-profit organisation created in 1991. The work that the Foundation undertakes focuses on the improvement of citizens’ quality of life, the construction of social fabric, generation of spaces for reconciliation and coexistence to benefit the children, adolescents and youth of Colombia who have been victims of the armed conflict or, who live in extreme poverty. Through a quality musical education, focused on collective practice, from a perspective of social inclusion, rights and cultural diversity, it has been possible to guarantee children and young people access to the arts and its benefits. Currently, Batuta serves more than 40,000 young people annually across all regions of Columbia. Gries’s work is fully aligned with her thesis topic which examines the role of arts and culture in the Colombian peacebuilding process.

Thanks to her participation in radio programs as Punto de Encuentro Tolima (97.5 FM) in Caracol Radio, work as a columnist for the El Olfato, newspaper and, membership of the editorial board for the Observatory of Peace and Human Rights of the Universidad Tolima, Greis has being invited to present at a number of conferences. In this way she has managed to put the value and importance of arts and culture on the public agenda, being able to discussed issues that were not openly discussed before.


CulturaTV: link
Caracol Radio: link
Punto de Encuentro: link
Por Ibagué: link
El Olfato: link

For more information: I Instragram: @PorIbague I Facebook: Por Ibagué
@greiscifuentes  I