The EU cultural sector is bouncing back from the pandemic. Here’s how

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Writer, Formative Content, Ian Shine, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • The share of people employed in the EU’s cultural sector increased in 14 member states in 2021 compared with 2019.
  • Cultural enterprises generate billions of euros each year, but also boost well-being and social cohesion, Eurostat says.
  • Initiatives like the Global Shapers Community are encouraging young people to unite on projects that promote artistic and cultural participation.

When was the last time you went to a theatre, listened to live music or attended another type of cultural event IRL (in real life)?

COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions on socializing prevented many audiences taking their seats and hit the culture sector hard, but the industry is bouncing back in Europe and many other parts of the world.

The number of people employed in the EU’s cultural sector reached 7.36 million in 2021. That’s a slight increase on the pre-pandemic total of 7.35 million, and represents 3.7% of the total EU workforce.

A graph showing cultural employment changes by country in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019.

The share of people employed in the cultural sector increased in 14 EU member states last year from 2019. Image: Eurostat.

There were rises in the share of people working in the culture sector in 14 EU member states. Latvia and France each recorded a 13% spike in cultural employment in 2021 compared with 2019, closely followed by Portugal with 12% growth.

However, 13 EU member states saw a reduction in jobs in culture. Romania recorded an 18% drop, Malta an 11% fall and Luxembourg a 10% decline.

The rise in culture sector jobs began in 2020 and continued into 2021 for Latvia, France, Portugal, Czechia and Lithuania. But numbers have fallen progressively in Estonia, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Malta and Romania.

Culture boosts more than economies

As well as offering employment to millions of people, the 1.2 million cultural enterprises in the EU in 2019 generated €158 billion of added value (that is their gross income from operating activities after adjusting for subsidies and indirect taxes).

Share of cultural enterprises in the total number of enterprises in the non-financial business economy, 2019

There were 1.2 million cultural enterprises in the EU in 2019. Image: Eurostat

“The cultural and creative sectors are increasingly viewed as being drivers of economic growth, especially as a source for job creation,” Eurostat said in the 2019 edition of its Cultural Statics report – the last one published in the pre-COVID era.

Culture can also “play an important role in making the EU stronger and more democratic, bonding European citizens by providing a sense of identity, while contributing to individual well-being, social cohesion and inclusion,” the report says.

Cultural employment, 2021

There were 7.36 million people in cultural employment across the EU last year – 3.7% of total employment. Image: Eurostat

Various studies have shown that cultural activities can boost health and happiness. Research carried out in Norway showed that museum visits can reduce anxiety and depression.

Doctors at the Brugmann Hospital in Brussels, one of the Belgian capital’s largest health centres, are currently prescribing cultural visits to boost patients’ mental health. This is part of a six-month trial in partnership with five of the city’s museums.

“Now’s the time to do this,” Brussels’ Alderwoman of Culture, Delphine Houba, told Politico. “The coronavirus reminded us that culture is essential for mental health.”


What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

EU culture sector support

The culture sector and creative industries are receiving support from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility. This is a €723.8 billion ($726.6 billion) plan to reduce the economic and social impact of the pandemic on various parts of the economy.

Roughly €10 billion ($10.4bn) is going into the culture industry, and will help with both reforms and investments.

This includes:

  • Funding to help people develop digital skills and boost the digitization of cultural content
  • Financing the production of cultural content and promotion of cultural offerings to boost tourism
  • Enhancing access to culture and promoting it as a way to improve social cohesion and well-being
  • Renovations to increase the energy efficiency of cultural heritage buildings
  • Incentives for green and climate-friendly projects.

Global Shapers arts and culture projects

The Global Shapers Community encourages young people to unite on projects that promote artistic and cultural participation. It emphasizes the importance of culture projects in helping to shape how people interpret the world and their perceptions.

Community hub projects range from encouraging at-risk youths to paint street murals in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to creating giant board games like chess and ludo in public spaces in Lahore, Pakistan, as recreation for residents.

Initiatives like these are helping artistic and cultural events thrive in the post-pandemic world, encouraging audiences to retake their seats.

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