Last week, our partner in Timisoara held the first round of their fourth Local Learning Labs (LLL4). Using the ‘World Cafe‘ method, participants shared their thoughts on the topic “Cultural and creative sector in Timisoara and its region, impacts of COVID-19, and ways to develop the sector in the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) mega-event preparation, title and legacy years”.

Read the announcement of the event on the regional newspaper Ziua de Vest (in Romanian).

Effects of COVID-19 on the Cultural and Creative Industry

The Cultural and Creative Industry (CCI) was and still is severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a future full of unknowns. The core values of the sector have been relentlessly reconfigured for the past six months. Cultural operators are now more aware of their projects’ socio-cultural impacts. What seemed relevant as a cultural initiative may now appear to be superficial because it does not serve to solve the urgent gruelling topics posed by COVID-19.

CCI resilience is still very much tested as we speak, in many facets beyond logistic arrangements of cultural events. Funding is limited, production costs have exploded, restrictions imposed by the pandemic have led to the closure of premises, and therefore the cancellation of public events.

Despite these hindrances and setbacks, the participants of the events still managed to come up with new ways of making things better, to reinvent ourselves – and inherently our projects and culture, to "rewrite" culture together.

Current situation in the CCI:

  • Municipality of Timisoara

- Cancellations of publics events, with several festivals organised online (Children's music contest, Photo contest).
- Redirection of funds to hospitals for purchase of Personal Protective Equipment.
- New measures for the publics to access open-air cultural events, with limited number of audiences, seating arrangements complied with safety measures, advanced reservations.

  • West Regional Development Agency

- A platform ‘EEN Ro-Boost‘ and a campaign ‘EEN can help!’ were developed, through which Romanian companies were put in contact with businesses from abroad for new collaboration opportunities.

  • Tourism

- Majority of events reduced or cancelled.
- Adaptive solutions: cycling, outdoor brunches, virtual tours with VR, local transformative one day trips in the region, etc.
- Although many reservations were cancelled, people have become more understanding.

New initiatives arise

The “new normal” gave birth to new solutions. Most of the entrepreneurs went online – launching websites and online shops – to diversify their business. Some opened new businesses to answer new market demands, such as bike delivery of food or small goods around the city. Others utilised the lockdown months to renovate their shops, restaurants and venues, and explored creative means of keeping their businesses open during and after lockdown.

New projects were developed in the cultural sector. An example the project ‘Neighborhood Scene‘, funded under the EEA Grants, which invited 30 independent musicians to perform in local concerts, and initiated the discussions on how to revitalise the severely-affected local music industry.

Additionally, navigating through the lockdown and accompanying uncertainties and newly emerged needs, the local community supported itself through experimental, innovative initiatives, such as:

  • Production of COVID-19 safety equipment: AntiCovidTM (visors), VentilatorTM (3D-printing ventilators), EducaTM and CovidTM (protective masks).
  • AntiCovidTM Index.
  • Grants for SMEs for technical unemployment.
  • Large businesses that support other businesses: Prospero, a bakery chain, in collaboration with Atelier Bobar, a fashion design start-up, sells masks in bakery shops all over the city.
  • Charity concert organised by Banatul Philharmonic, which used the money from the entrance tickets to buy water bottles for hospitals.

Towards a sustainable future post COVID-19

These initiatives can become sustainable if they overcome today's survival responses and have the vision of tomorrow's needs through:

  • Designing a strategic and systemic approach, supported by both the community and authorities.
  • Allocating a part of non-reimbursable funds to initiatives that produce measurable urban impacts.
  • Continuous funding.
  • Communicating such initiatives to the public.
  • Shaping coherent regulations that support the artistic activities even in these periods.
  • Facilitating a more active connection between the Timisoara 2021 Association and the private sector, by creating a post COVID-19 bucket list online and maintaining a database of active artists, both domestic and international.

Should the CCI learn to take advantage of the online channels, it can address the public’s needs in new, innovative ways. For instance, through the creation of digital arts, artists will be able to communicate – and sell – to the public at a great geographical distance.