FunCulturalColombia: without culture the crisis could be eternal (II)

Colombia: without culture the crisis could be eternal (II)

We present a report that talks about the numbers of the cultural sector after a year of the pandemic. The data show the companies closed, created and the intention of spending on culture by Colombians.

Who will be to blame for the crisis in the cultural sector in Colombia: the citizens? The Government? The same sector? And what would be achieved by finding the culprit if, apparently, there is not just one: it is a shared responsibility that, if we do not assume urgently, we will have to pay at very high prices. The living conditions of artists in Colombia are not improving.

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In the last version of this text it was evidenced, according to DANE figures, that although in January and February 2020 the consumption of culture was maintained, March of the same year showed that the economic suspension of the first two weeks due to the quarantine, taken in account for the GDP report, hit the sector hard. “The figure was thrown by the monthly line: 1.1% in January, 1.4% in February and -11.6% in March. It will be a very hard blow, “said Juan Daniel Oviedo, DANE director, in May last year.

For this time, the records of the Integrated Contribution Settlement Worksheet (PILA) and those of labor relations were consulted, which will give an account of what happened with the formal “orange activities” within the framework of the pandemic. These figures are based on the records of the RUT, the DIAN, the Single Business Registry of the chambers of commerce and the classification of economic activities that allow establishing what the orange economy is.

The inventory of orange economic units is measured among the natural and legal persons that are registered. There are some full inclusion (the ones that are completely orange) and the partial ones (they have shades), but they all add up. For example, and only taking into account the data up to the previous year, in 2019 10,616 total inclusion companies were created and in 2020 the figure was 8,666 of the same type: almost two thousand companies less. If we talk about partial inclusion, 87 thousand were created in 2019 and 65 thousand in 2020. “It is not that they have been affected by being orange activities, but because people could not go to restaurants, theaters, cultural or entertainment venues,” added Oviedo.

How are these numbers measured? Natural and legal persons must renew their registrations, so the voids are seen in the unsubscribes. By 2021, orange companies were mostly fewer than 10 workers and suffered the most damage (cuts and shutdowns). Another of the conclusions that this report threw is that many people who were in the condition of dependents started to quote as independent due to the closure of the companies that employed them, it was also evidenced that the cultural sector is mostly masculinized (57% of men vs. 43% women), and centralized: most of the projects are located in Bogotá and Medellín.

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For a more general conclusion, the decrease in creative, artistic and entertainment activities registered in GDP in the last quarter of 2020 was -79.7%, mainly due to the suspension of scheduled events, which affects hiring, production and presentation of shows and concerts.

According to figures from Raddar Consumer Knowledge Group, a company focused on analyzing and understanding consumer behavior, the magazine El Malpensante and the Vice Ministry of Creativity and the Orange Economy, in measuring the 2021 figures, there is a mess: the comparison March of this year against March 2020 shows an unprecedented growth in spending on cultural goods and services: 138%.

Camilo Herrera, economist and founder of Raddar, warned about the care that must be taken when reviewing these numbers, since it should only be compared against the comparable: growth cannot be read without taking into account inflation and some openings of bookstores, theaters and even the relative ease of mobility. In other words, last year we were so bad that this year and according to these figures, it seems that we are improving to unexpected levels, but no: this increase is due to the fact that goods have risen in price and there are still not a large number of open cultural venues. , so people made decisions regarding their entertainment that are mainly concentrated on streaming platforms.

“The fall that the industry had in March 2020 was so great that when compared to this year it has a ridiculous growth, something that is happening with all spending categories. If one compares March of this year against March of last year, chaos is created. The important thing is to compare them almost compared to 2019 and, doing so, we would be talking about a 30% drop in expenses related to culture, ”Herrera added.

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Among the cultural goods and services that Raddar measures are books, magazines, newspapers, handicrafts, televisions, sound equipment, closed television and tourism, in addition to expenses related to entertainment, music, theater and cinema. To better understand the image of what we invested in these activities, the numbers were like this: in March 2019, Colombians spent $ 38,872 on culture, in March 2020 we dropped to $ 15,650 and in the same month of 2021, we went up to $ 34,953 (again , this figure cannot be read without taking into account inflation and the context of the previous year).

You say that you have to compare against the comparable. Against which year could current household spending on cultural goods be compared?

Yes, you have to take inflation into account: things go up in price. Looking at it in volumes, we are buying the same number of units we were buying in 2017.


In other words, the setback could be measured in almost four years.

Last year the artists spoke out of confusion and, of course, fear, but in their voices, complaints and even projections their intentions to continue looking for the future stood out, even if it was diluted. A year later their testimonies are in worrying hopelessness. John Naranjo, director of the Rey Naranjo publishing house, told this newspaper that the second year of the pandemic looked “terrifying.” This publishing house closed 2020 “scraping”: its sales in bookstores fell by 60%, but they managed to make up the deficit with other types of businesses. The first months of 2021 have darkened the aspirations of Naranjo and his work team: consumption fell and he is about to be convinced that if before in Colombia more culture was not consumed by distance, lack of habits or low purchasing power, this year it was the decision not to consume out of conviction, “because for what”.

The position of Nicolás Romero, from the production company Arbol Naranja, is not very different from that of Naranjo. He says that “the issue” with the banks has never improved: “Every day they call me to tell me that I owe money and to ask me what to do with myself. I always tell them to do what they have to do: there is no work ”. Despite the fact that in digital terms they achieved some respite that they gave them to, at least, pay rent, it has not been enough. They won a scholarship, but he says that “no one lives on scholarships,” and that he would not want to accept it, but what he and his colleagues are now going through is a period of despair: “I don’t see any roads. I can’t even sell all the equipment: who is going to buy it from me? I am even in a spiritual block, ”concluded Romero, who despite the uneasiness of his testimony closed the talk making it clear that Orange Tree is working on some possibility of returning to live events, but that it is urgent that the vaccination be accelerated .

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Last year, Juan Pablo Fernández, an economic analyst close to the theater sector, told this newspaper that he was convinced that art was capable of generating hobbies and that it was necessary to find a way to train audiences so that national production would be more valued. A year later, Fernández regrets that, according to him, the best tool was wasted to alleviate “the public health problem that the country is experiencing in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic,” that is, the mental health problem. According to him, entertainment is what governs the spending intention of Colombians, which he also understands, since as he mentioned in May 2020, the opportunity to create irreversible demands for art that Colombians did not have and continue to pass was missed. without having, in addition to adding that the wear and tear of the artists is notorious: “The creative capacity is zero, it is as if they were slow.”

For its part, the Ministry of Culture told El Espectador that during the second semester of 2020, more than $ 3.5 billion were mobilized, between loans and investments, and that a recovery of activities was achieved in which “digitization and the protocols have allowed a safe reactivation ”. Despite this, they added that the recurrence of waves of contagion together with the uncertainty due to the effects of the strikes maintain the restrictions for cultural activities that depend on encounter processes for their reopening.

Gonzalo Castellanos, advisor on cultural policies in Latin America, writer and columnist, assured that disorientation has been a characteristic of governments to face the social and economic ravages of the pandemic, and this in terms of cultural issues has not been the exception. Although he highlighted that some emergency instruments used by the National Government have been useful, he spoke of how problematic it is to use the word “beneficiaries” to refer to people who have accessed some incentives from the Mincultura: “In a political concept of contemporary culture, it is not the grace of the sovereign that helps, but there is an obligation of social investment for a sector with great social and human impacts (not simply economic) ”. Castellanos maintains that although it has been promised to strengthen the creative agenda, the digital divide affects about 50% of the population, not to mention that the country exceeds a 42% poverty rate. “This is why I consider it unusual that about ten measures were included in the tax reform project that affected the audiovisual and literary sectors, public libraries and the leasing of spaces for cultural activities. Although it has already been withdrawn, no one explains who added these points to the text and why ”.

Fabio Rubiano, founder of the Petra Theater, spoke of an absolute need to be present. His position with regard to crowds does not differ from those of the authorities: he agrees that this is not the time, but emphasizes that in theaters and cultural spaces there are no such. “We insist on being present because of the need for the community to come together. It’s not even for the theater, which is also an excuse to get together. Cultural spaces are vital because they are safe, and even if they are not enabled, people will continue to gather: clandestine parties, bars, etc. That need is not going to go away ”. Regarding the Petra Theater, he spoke of a closing of 2020 with many difficulties, but with the hope that 2021 would be better, a matter in which, like Naranjo and Romero, he was wrong: “These months have been very hard, very uncertain. You get up from the blow of the weekend closings and then the curfew comes out, the limited capacity and the stoppages (which are necessary and which we support), but the relationship we have with the community does not allow us to stop. Our commitment to the people will never run out ”, he concluded.

What would you say to the sector? What do you think about this hopelessness and despair that is taking over artists at this moment?

If we artists get desperate, what can the rest of the people expect. Our job is the opposite. We can complain, but stop, never. We are not happy, we are having a hard time, but our job is to work for hope, to continue.