Supporting creative industries in times of Covid-19: what cities can do

Dr. Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse

By Dr. Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, on April 22nd, 2020

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Since the 1990s, urban cultural sectors have been more and more focused on events as drivers of media interest, visibility and tourism. Events such as the Olympic Games or the European Capital of Culture, to name the two largest examples, have also become frameworks and justifications for creating funding for creative and cultural industries (CCI) and engaging in large-scale infrastructure and real estate development.

These shifts have also led to changes in the wider economy, ripple effects which have incentivized the growth of event rental companies, tourist infrastructure, Instagram-ready pop-up stores, and the CCI gig economy at large. The growth of the “festivalisation” of urban change in the attention economy has gone hand in hand with the simultaneous growth of city branding and marketing. Cities rely on thriving creative sectors and filled stadiums and open air venues to drive a large portion of the modern urban economy, from hotels and gastronomy to boutique shopping and nightlife.


So what can cities do when festivals are forbidden and audience sizes in traditional cultural venues have to be severely reduced? How can cities support their creative sectors when public health demands that their traditional business models be laid still? The situation has been developing rapidly across the globe, but at the time of writing in April 2020, it looks like these challenges are going to be with us for the mid- to long-term. So how can we go from immediate help to sustainable new models?


In addition to coming up with their own ideas for supporting creative sectors, cities can and should also take the role of facilitators and use municipal infrastructure to gather, scale up, and magnify the impact of good ideas from civil society. This can take the form of hackathons, idea competitions or seed funds to incentivise the quick development and piloting of innovative ideas such as a pop-up restaurant in a vacant hotel in the Swedish city of Lidköping. To promote the collaboration process, cities can also act as moderators, bringing together various co-affected sectors (such as restaurants and hotels) in emergency roundtables. Creating a single contact point in the municipality for collaborations with civil society and the private sector – such as Bologna’s program Collaborare è Bologna (Collaboration is Bologna) – is also a great starting point for harnessing residents’ creativity in challenging times.


From the perspective of the creative sector, collectivisation can help buffer many of the challenges that come with working in these branches. In addition to offering municipal actors a single contact point for public-private collaborations, collectivisation can also lead to new forms of solidary funding. One such example is Berlin’s Club Commission’s live streaming platform, where live DJ and other live music sets are streamed from a different empty club each night. This NGO mobilised quickly to team up with the publicly-funded channel ARTE and are collecting donations for an emergency solidarity fund to help cover venues’ fixed costs during the Corona lockdown. In cities which do not have a dedicated NGO of this type, the municipality can step up to assist in this process through publicly funded positions and institutions for supporting the creative sector such as Berlin’s studio commissioner.


Covid-19 presents a range of challenges for the creative industries, in particular those related to live events; however it provides a lot of opportunities as well. In rethinking current business models, formats and funding streams, we also have the chance to rethink the value of culture in a market economy affected by a public health crisis.

  1. How can we creatively, holistically and sustainably adapt to blend in-person and digital formats, and solidary and public funding?
  2. How can we create new structures that increase the resilience of the creative sectors and help to reverse the trend toward precarious gig labour?
  3. And how can we use the rapidly changing situation to develop new ways of sharing creativity across greater distances?

Amid all the other pressing questions right now, it’s critical to think about how Covid-19 will change our society in the long-term. Reflecting on these three questions will help cities build a more robust creative economy which can survive beyond the lockdown.



The URBACT Secretariat encourages exchanges of information and ideas in times of Covid 19. The views expressed here are those of the author and the content of this blog should be understood in the context of information available on 22 April 2020.

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