The cultural sector in 2020: analysis and forecasts by the Symbola Foundation

Credit: Falco Negenman

The ‘I am Culture 2021’ report, drawn up by the Symbola Foundation and Unioncamere, is now in its 11th edition, confirming once again that it is the main study at national level able to analyse the role and weight of culture and creativity for the Italian economy.

The productive sector of the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs) is analysed through a core dimension, which includes sectors such as publishing, videogames, performing arts, architecture and design, historical and artistic heritage, and a creative driven dimension, i.e. productive activities that incorporate cultural content and competences within their products and enterprises to enhance their symbolic and strategic value.

Credit: Fondazione Symbola

The report presents Italy affected by the pandemic as a country capable of facing new challenges by focusing on quality and beauty. Already after the Second World War, our country had shown that it was able to carve out a place for itself among the most advanced countries in the world, relying, according to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1983), on the ‘all-Italian ability to transmit culture and beauty in production’. This strategic approach can also prove successful in the new post-digital society, in which material resources abound, leading to consumption choices increasingly oriented towards those products that, by their nature and aesthetics, can contribute to shaping an individual’s social identity. Hence the primacy of ‘Made in Italy’, capable of seizing the potential of a cultural heritage naturally present at home to create products capable of communicating strong identity values.

Source: Unioncamere and Symbola Foundation, 2021

Therefore, Italian culture has always been an engine of development for the national economy, a strategic input that increases the competitive value of production and an activator for the innovation of other sectors. The data speak for themselves: the cultural and creative production system in 2020 is worth EUR 84.6 billion, corresponding to 5.7% of Italian added value. Moreover, the number of people employed in the sector amounts to 1.5 million, i.e. 5.9% of total employment. The cultural and creative supply chain has a multiplier capacity of 1.8 (i.e. for one euro produced, 1.8 is generated in the rest of the economy), but the details of the individual multipliers of ‘historical and artistic heritage’ and ‘creative industries’ show higher values, 2.0 and 2.2 respectively.

If this scenario seems reassuring, the forced halt of many cultural activities in fact has repercussions on the loss figures. Compared to the -7.2% of the national average, the reduction in the added value of the cultural and creative sector is -8.1%; while the decrease in employment stands at -3.5%, which is higher than the -2.1% of the national average. The data also show disparities between Northern and Southern Italy and between the different sectors: Lombardy, Latium and Piedmont are the three regions that produce the most wealth, contributing to award Milan the primacy of ‘culture’ city, followed in the ranking by Turin, Arezzo, Trieste, Florence and Bologna. It is not surprising that it is the core sectors that have suffered the greatest losses, with performing arts in first place – marking a 26.3% drop in turnover, followed by the -19.0% drop in the historical and artistic heritage sector (determined primarily by prolonged closures and a long period of inactivity). An initial general observation on the data thus inevitably leads to the emergence of questions that go beyond the immediate emergency perspective into a longitudinal perspective. In fact, there are several questions and issues that the Covid crisis has forcefully raised, the most important of which concerns the actual status of the cultural and creative sector before the post-pandemic crisis. So, are yesterday’s problems the same as today’s, but magnified by additional urgent critical issues? Or rather, have new issues emerged to be solved?

Source: Unioncamere and Symbola Foundation, 2021

There is no doubt that the weight and scope of this sector for the Italian economy could be much greater than it has been to date. The production chain and the companies themselves have long suffered from structural and organisational fragilities, to which is added the age-old and never resolved problem of human resources. In addition to the widespread precariousness of cultural workers, the crux of the matter lies in the type of skills that those employed in the sector possess. Are we still sure that profiles that have cultivated such sectoral and specialised training and work experience are sufficient and suitable? It is not uncommon to compartmentalise: the art historian, the economist, the computer scientist, the editor, the architect. Perhaps we are in a world where demand and expectations have changed, where there is more and more talk of transversal skills and continuous updating as the only way to cope with the enormous complexity of today’s society.

In other respects, however, the pandemic has also brought a breath of positive energy. The publishing and video game sectors, for example, testify to a positive increase, a trend that indeed reflects the habits of Italians over the past year and is set to consolidate further. Another positive consequence induced by Covid-19 was the acceleration in the transition to digital for the Italian cultural sector, an issue that has sparked numerous debates in recent years and on which concrete actions can perhaps finally be glimpsed. While on the one hand, digital media have been preferred as the only ones left available in a period of isolation and closures, on the other, the impression is that the pandemic has removed any alibi in the non-use of such tools. The first step has been taken: a generalised awareness of the potential offered by digital. Now the ambition is for this approach to be progressively integrated into cultural activities and nurtured through the skills of specialised human resources.

The report shows how and to what extent culture has been a ‘people-saver’, endowed with a communicative and attractive force capable of triggering good and new social and cultural practices despite distances. The most important of these is the contamination between the world of culture and other sectors. Think of the relationship between health and culture: many Italians and Italians, in fact, declared that their resilience was indebted above all to the cultural products available during the lockdown.

Inclusion is also a very topical issue and an area where culture has proven to be a strong glue. The tourism sector has turned its offer towards more sustainable proximity solutions, which enhance a unique feature of Italy: our territorial configuration of small, hard-to-reach villages, timeless places rich in authenticity.

From the picture outlined, it seems that in the last year ‘culture’ has become a modern Madonna of Mercy by Piero della Francesca, large and strong, capable of welcoming and protecting not only individuals, those who appreciate it, who strongly believe in it or see it as a shelter, but also all those spheres that make use of it and with which they hybridise.

Credit: Museo civico Sansepolcro

At this point, one can only wonder what the next challenges for the world of culture will be on this basis. The UN has declared 2021 the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. At the European level, an important signal was given by the European Commission with the launch of the New Bauhaus programme in September 2020. This is an ambitious project for which substantial resources have been allocated and which aims to exploit the contamination between architecture, new technologies and the cultural sector in order to build a future based on a sustainable, green and inclusive economy.

It is clear, therefore, that future prospects are full of hope and ambition, but also of the provision of substantial financial resources, a sign that investment in culture is still seen as fruitful, worthwhile and prolific. In spite of the difficulties and shortcomings of the cultural and creative sector, the Symbola Report sends out a signal of confidence for a future devoted to innovation that will take place by exploiting culture. The pandemic can therefore at least be credited with having given us precious time to reflect on our past, present and future. Our thoughts have had time to turn into convictions that from today, in the hope of reopening, can become concrete actions for our tomorrow.

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