COVID-19 and the World of Work

One voice: Supporting Fijian performing artists influence national COVID-19 recovery

On April 15th, the UN in the Pacific marked World Art Day by convening, for the first time, an interactive gathering with representatives from twenty-two Fijian Dance Companies and Groups.

News | 15 April 2021
Suva, Fiji
After a year of grappling with the devastating socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fiji had finally begun gathering the courage to hope once again early 2021. Whilst its borders were still closed to tourists and the 11:00pm – 4:00am curfew provided a cautionary daily reminder, a COVID-free community and the highly publicized national vaccination campaign, meant Fijians everywhere were daring to plan for a brighter future. Amongst these, perhaps none more so than those working within the creative and cultural industries [CCIs]. However, with what many have termed ‘Fiji’s second wave’ currently sweeping through the country, and COVID cases seemingly rising by the hour, the outlook is bleak for many.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and magnified the creative industries’ pre-existing volatility. Due to the complex nature of their work, artists and cultural professionals are particularly affected and lockdown measures around the world directly impact the entire creative value chain – creation, production, distribution and access. According to UNESCO reports, the CCIs contribute US$2.25 billion to the global economy (3% of GDP) and account for 29.5 million jobs worldwide.

In the tourism-dependent Pacific, the majority of CCIs fall within the informal employment sector, meaning a lack of social security, non-stable employment, job redundancy, and reduced livelihoods opportunities. Few policies or measures have addressed the underlying issue: the social and economic rights that artists and cultural professionals should enjoy, like so many other workers, including unemployment benefits, health insurance and social security.

Being a creative industry operator during COVID has been challenging to say the least. Vou currently employ forty-two artists and we do a range of contemporary and traditional dance work. Through the onset of the pandemic, it has been really hard. Especially in a crisis, you really need a formal association to be the voice of what its members need. We haven’t had that for dance artists – no support networks or channels of clear communication. A lot of artists, like myself, have been floundering and wondering how we were going to survive"

Sachiko Soro, Vou Dance Company

Creating opportunities of influence

On April 15th, the UN in the Pacific marked World Art Day by convening, for the first time, an interactive gathering with representatives from twenty-two Fijian Dance Companies and Groups. The first in a series of similarly planned workshops across Vanuatu, Tonga and Palau, the event was part of the UN’s Informal Economies Recovery Project; it was designed to explore concrete ways of increasing opportunity for informal sector enterprises and workers to influence national COVID-19 recovery policies and programmes - through a collective formalised voice.
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Fijian dancers and visual artists had, on several occasions, met to discuss the need for representation through a formal association. Formalizing the creative sector would allow for greater representation in decision making spaces that influence government policy; provide members with improved access to social safety nets like pension funds; and promote the development of the cultural and creative industries in Fiji.

Nisha, Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Office for the Pacific States, stressed that “artists too need financial, social, and mental assistance and require a holistic framework of support, so that they can sustain their creative activity. This project brings to the attention of policy makers the situation of the creative and cultural industries in the Pacific. It underlines a message that protecting artists and cultural goods producers means fostering the economy.”

This meeting here today was an extremely important continuation of a conversation we have been having for a long time – the formation of the Fiji Islands Dance Association [FIDA]. We had twenty-two dance companies represented here today – a huge number for Fiji. I think that really shows how much local performing artists want this to happen. There are so many issues that we face as a dance company in Fiji, and we don’t have anybody to go to and ask for help from "

Amit, Masti Arts & Dance Group

Strength in numbers

The International Labour Organization Director, Office for Pacific Island Countries, Matin Karimli, emphasized four key areas that he suggested the dance sector prioritize: “Firstly, it is crucial that a formal body, like an association, is set-up to represent the interests and defend the rights of Fijian dancers. Secondly, the ILO has continuously stressed the need for data to be collected – data is power as it puts you in a better position to talk to decision-makers. Third, it is important that dance companies educate themselves as much as possible on things like business models and develop strategic workplans – this improves your market-readiness and ensures your long-term sustainability. Finally, I would encourage you to market and advocate for yourselves collectively, under an association name for example – there is strength in numbers.”

At the end of the workshop, participants formally committed to the creation of the Fijian Islands Dance Association, and had selected an interim committee to steer the process forward, through the support of the ILO and UNESCO. Dance Company Owners will also go on to attend a series of skill-building sessions organized by the UN, to hone their business development capacity.