The creative economy spans various sectors, including audiovisual and performing arts, publishing, design, video games, fashion, architecture, advertising, software, and television and radio, among others, and is comprised of both formal and informal workers. In the Americas, the Organization of American States recognizes more than 38 sectors that make up the cultural and creative economy, including publishing, film, advertising, music, art, video games, and theater. During the Covid-19 pandemic, sectors like the performing arts have had to adjust to a virtual reality and find new ways to keep audiences engaged, while sectors that were already part of the digital infrastructure, like video games, have been able to grow and thrive. In the Western Hemisphere, Guatemala, Haiti, and Colombia all have thriving creative economies and are known worldwide for their cultural contributions. In East Asia, Taiwan has made significant strides in growing its creative economy and becoming an economic success story. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, there are significant opportunities for the creative and cultural economies of Guatemala, Haiti, and Colombia, taking into consideration lessons from Taiwan.
Taiwan and Latin America
Taiwan is a thriving democracy and a cultural powerhouse with growing influence in the Western Hemisphere. It ranks as the sixth largest visual arts market in the world and is home to over 10,000 publishing houses. During a recent event hosted by CSIS, Ambassador Tah-Ray Yui, the director-general of the Latin American Department of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that a democratic society leads to a variety of ideas and an openness to creativity. In the coming months, as the Western Hemisphere reconstructs its creative economy post pandemic, Taiwan is well positioned to be a strong ally to the region, especially Colombia, Guatemala, and Haiti.
The creative economy contributes directly to cultural development—nationally, regionally, and globally—and its stability is crucial for ensuring the continuity of a cultural identity. In the past five years, Colombia, Guatemala, and Haiti have all received support from the United Nations for initiatives that boost the creative economy, indicating international recognition of the importance of creative and cultural industries in these three countries. The Covid-19 pandemic served as a great disruptor and accelerated efforts to promote these industries throughout the region, with governments in Latin America and the Caribbean taking steps toward expanding access to cultural resources, creating new digital content-sharing platforms, and improving the collection of data on the sector.
Colombia has emerged as a leader in the cultural and creative economy in good part thanks to the leadership of President Iván Duque and Vice Minister of Creativity and the Orange Economy Felipe Buitrago. 3 percent of the Colombian GDP can be attributed to creative industries, a number that is projected to grow to 6 percent by 2022. Its main creative industries include the arts, audiovisual production, film, and music, which together contribute 1.7 percent to the GDP annually. Creative urban projects have also contributed to the Colombian peace process, with homicide rates in Medellín dropping 80 percent as a result of projects targeting social and economic inequalities.
Colombia has been hit hard by Covid-19, with 1.44 million cases and 39,356 deaths; it is the eleventh most affected country in the world, and the third most affected in Latin America. By April 2020, the Colombian creative economy had shrunk by 34.7 percent and by November it had lost 61,000 jobs. Recognizing the vitality of the cultural and creative economy, Colombia has implemented measures to support its industries and their employees. As of November 2020, the government has implemented six economic relief plans to provide relief for lost wages and improved access to resources, especially for those working informally; these programs are estimated to have benefitted 65,000 cultural and creative sector employees. The Ministry of Culture is also implementing a program called ReactivArte, which seeks to recuperate the sector’s growth by increasing access to financing and incentivizing investment in these industries.
Colombia’s recovery efforts still have a long way to go before the cultural and creative economy returns to pre-pandemic levels, but other countries in the region can take note of Colombia’s swift action and recognition of the importance of these industries. While countries often see creative and cultural sectors as recreational and a luxury, Colombia has advertised the growing economic and social value of these industries, emphasizing them in recovery initiatives. However, there are opportunities to further these efforts. While Taiwan and Colombia do not share a formal diplomatic relationship, the two countries have long maintained a commercial relationship and collaborate on cultural themes and education. For example, many Colombian students have been granted scholarships to study technology and architecture in Taiwan. Taiwanese officials have described the relationship between the two countries as “timid,” explaining that Colombia could benefit from exporting more goods to Taiwan, such as coffee and avocados. Furthermore, the two countries, both known for placing a strong emphasis on the cultural and creative economy, could benefit from further collaboration in these industries. Not only would this collaboration be beneficial to rebuilding the industries, but it could foster further diplomatic ties. While Colombia has suffered greatly from Covid-19, both economically and societally, the pandemic could also give Colombia the chance to reassess how resilient the cultural and creative industries are and explore future opportunities to work with countries like Taiwan.
Guatemala is the youngest country in Latin America, with almost half of its population age 19 or younger. This young population is strongly represented in the creative and cultural industries, with people aged 18 to 34 accounting for 60 percent of the sector’s employment. Creative sectors in Guatemala contribute less than 1 percent to the country’s GDP but have seen exponential growth, increasing from contributions of $40.7 million in 2003 to $153.3 million in 2012. The largest creative industry in Guatemala is the audiovisual sector.
Guatemala has recorded over 131,000 cases of Covid-19 and 4,551 deaths. Cases have dropped since hitting record highs in July, but the country is still struggling to contain the virus. As of early December, many theaters, bars, gyms, national parks, and tourist sites have reopened, yet restrictive measures and limits on capacity remain in areas where the virus has high levels of transmission, such as Guatemala City. Schools in the country remain closed. Guatemala was already struggling with the economic and societal effects of Covid-19 and was further ravaged by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in November 2020, which destroyed much of the necessary infrastructure and made it harder for Guatemalans to access vital resources like food and water.
Covid-19 and the hurricanes have disrupted the cultural and creative economy in Guatemala. Tourism, which contributes to the cultural and creative economy through events, museums, and heritage sites, has dropped 90 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. The Guatemalan Association of Exporters (AGEXPORT) hosted a forum in October addressing the needs of creative industries and the challenges facing them, such as the need for the government to attract foreign investment. The government has also instituted five different economic relief initiatives to benefit families, private sector employees, and micro, small, and medium enterprises, although these initiatives are not specific to the cultural and creative industries.
Like many countries in the region, Guatemala has boundless creative potential but often lacks the connectivity and opportunities to share its creative products with the rest of the world. As one of the few countries that formally recognizes Taiwan, the two countries already cooperate on issues such as infrastructure, medicine and health, education, commerce, and technology. While Covid-19 and the two most recent hurricanes have temporarily halted progress in Guatemala’s cultural and creative economy, they emphasize the need for improved digital infrastructure throughout Guatemala, as well as the need to connect Guatemala to larger international creative markets. Partnering with Taiwan on these goals could support Guatemala’s economic and social development and utilize the creative potential of its young population.
Like Guatemala, Haiti’s young population and rich culture give it enormous potential to grow the cultural and creative economy. Following the 2010 earthquake, UNESCO emphasized rebuilding the cultural and creative sectors; its International Fund for Creative Diversity (IFCD) gave $100,000 to strengthen minority-language publishing industries and $85,000 to map the Haitian music industry.
As of mid-December 2020, Haiti has over 9,600 recorded cases of Covid-19 and has registered 234 deaths, although it is believed that the actual numbers are much higher. One of the largest challenges that has accompanied the pandemic in Haiti is the spread of false information paired with a distrust of institutions in the country. Additionally, with 59 percent of Haitians living in poverty prior to the pandemic, the health crisis has made many Haitians even more vulnerable, affecting their food supplies, education, social networks, and household incomes. While the national government response has been relatively disjointed, the international response to Covid-19 in Haiti has been robust, with organizations like Doctors Without Borders, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund providing both economic and medical support. Still, the Haitian economy is expected to contract by about 3.5 percent this year.
To establish a resilient cultural and creative economy in Haiti, there is a strong need to invest in and develop human capital in these sectors. Industries would benefit from sharing information and best practices and developing training programs to prepare individuals looking to work in these sectors. Furthermore, development projects related to economic opportunity and education could also boost the creative sectors, as limited purchasing power and low literacy rates prevent many Haitians from being able to engage with these industries.
Haiti, like Guatemala, does have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and the two have collaborated on several agriculture-related projects. Furthermore, Taiwan offered $150 million to Haiti in 2018 to be used for the development of rural power grids, although this effort was stalled due to political uprisings. As Haiti looks to expand its cultural and creative economy, digital infrastructure and access to electricity will be vital. Not only will this access increase the number of creative sectors that exist in Haiti, but it would also give Haitian creative and cultural industries access to a larger global market. As countries begin to look toward a post-pandemic world, Taiwan can continue to be a strong ally for Haiti, contributing to strengthen the intersection of development and the cultural and creative economy.
Covid-19 without a doubt has been both the great disruptor and accelerator of the creative economy in the Americas. As Colombia, Guatemala, and Haiti continue to battle Covid-19 and look to recover and strengthen their cultural and creative economies, it may be sensible to follow the lead of Taiwan, a country that has successfully fostered this sector and has growing influence in Latin America. As a cultural powerhouse and strong democratic country, Taiwan can collaborate with Latin American countries in moving from content consumers to content producers.
Keeping this economic sector afloat is crucial to the development of society. It is critical that the international community, as well as the governments of Colombia, Guatemala, and Haiti, retain or even increase funding for creative organizations to support the continuity of cultural development despite the global pandemic. The cultural and creative economy is not only a vital part of the global economy but enriches and gives meaning to our lives. These industries contribute to both good public policy and holistic human development. While the cultural and creative sector has faced great disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic, there is hope that these challenges will turn into opportunities and accelerate the sector’s growth and resilience.
This commentary was made possible thanks to a generous contribution of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO).
Originally published on csis.org.