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  • Mar 31, 2020

Bailouts for Cultural Workers Across Asia-Pacific

Exterior view of Xinzhuang Joint Office Tower in New Taipei City, where Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture is located. Image via

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, theaters, concerts, festivals, exhibitions, as well as educational programs and workshops are being postponed or shut down, leaving many workers in a state of uncertainty. To alleviate the impact, many governments around Asia have provided relief packages for cultural organizations and artists.

In mid-February, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, one of the earliest to respond, announced a relief package of TWD 1.5 billion (USD 49.5 million) for the arts and culture sector, TWD 1.1 billion (USD 36.3 million) of which will be used during the crisis, with the rest for boosting the industry after the pandemic. The grants are structured for both individual artists and organizations in creative fields including art, publications, performances, film and music, as well as museums and cultural heritage organizations. A review of incoming applications is currently underway, with the first batch of subsidies expected to go out in early April.

The Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) was another actor, launching the “Support Scheme for Arts and Cultural Sector” in January, with aid for small and medium-sized art organizations prior to the onset of Covid-19 in the city. The government then set up the HKD 30 billion (USD 3.9 billion) Anti-Epidemic Fund on February 21, promising HKD 150 million (USD 19 million) for the arts sector. But some have questioned the effectiveness of the scheme. As reported by Stand News, many local art practitioners who teach and host workshops are not eligible for the monthly maximum of HKD 7,500 (USD 970) in subsidy for individual art practitioners, even with the cancellation of classes, as it is, according to the application form, “relatively difficult at the moment to identify the target arts educators with needs.”

In Singapore, where all entertainment venues have been closed since March 26 by mandate until April 30, the government has promised the cultural sector with SGD 55 million (USD 39 million) in support, on top of the previous SGD 1.6 million (USD 1.1 million) allocated, to help “safeguard jobs and retain capabilities . . . in the local arts ecosystem,” according to The Straits Times. Meanwhile, freelance art practitioners and artists can receive up to SGD 1,000 (USD 700) in monthly subsidies for nine months under a separate Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, which totals SGD 1.2 billion (USD 840 million).

Exterior view of the former building of Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in 2010, in Tokyo. Image via

Japan and South Korea have both announced financial assistance bundles amid the coronavirus outbreak, with the former offering two packages totaling JPY 1 trillion (USD 9 billion) for businesses, and the latter releasing an “emergency disaster relief payment” of up to KRW 1 million (USD 817) for each family, but neither has specified anything for cultural sectors. In Japan, the head of Ministry of Culture published a letter of encouragement, stating “we will not diminish the light of arts and culture,” while not mentioning any financial support.

Installation view of Art Dubai, 2019. Courtesy Art Dubai and Photo Solutions.

In the United Arab Emirates, following the cancellation of Art Dubai, the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs purchased more than USD 400,000 worth of local art. The minister of state, Zaki Nusseibeh, told The National that the acquisitions are to show support to Emirati artists, as “it is a message that demonstrates our deep appreciation and support for the local arts, and acknowledging that they are a critical part of the national identity.” Works purchased as part of the ongoing initiative, known informally as Artists in Embassies, will be displayed within the UAE’s embassies worldwide.

On March 26, Australia Council for the Arts (ACA) announced its “response package,” to provide financial support to artists, art practitioners, groups and organizations, including the repurposing of all available uncommitted funds for new programs. Adjustments will also be made to prioritize helping members of the sector throughout the coronavirus crisis over other current investments. The list of the package also includes aid in online learning, First Nations support, digital support, and research and analysis on the immediate and long-term impact of Covid-19 on the country’s cultural sector.

Covid-19, which has ravaged regions in Asia since January, continues to increase in severity and spread across the globe, with Europe and, more recently, the United States becoming new epicenters. The United States's National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will also be distributing funds of USD 75 million from the USD 2 trillion economic bailout package—representing just 0.00375 percent of the government's massive stimulus, or approximately USD 0.23 per resident nationwide.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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