Having access to policy and decision makers is a major challenge for owners of micro and small enterprises, including those in the informal sector. COVID-19 has not reduced the accessibility barriers but in fact has made it even more critical to have their challenges and issues heard and considered by policy makers. The recently announced stringent protocols for COVID Safe Business Operations in Fiji makes it even more challenging for creative sector micro and small enterprises to comply for permits to operate, including risking being prosecuted for any breach of the protocols.
To mark World Art Day on 15th April 2021, the ILO and UNESCO in collaboration with the Pacific Community (SPC) and Fiji Islands Dance Association (FIDA), organised an interactive dialogue with influencers. The influences from the UN included Mr Sanaka Samarasinha the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nisha the UNESCO Director and Representative to Pacific States, Mr Matin Karimli the ILO Director for Pacific Islands Countries and Ms Frances Koya Vaka’uta, team Leader –Culture for Development, SPC.
The dialogue session was moderated by Pacific writer and documentary/film maker, Mr Larry Thomas. The dialogue focused on where the COVID-19 recovery policy discussions where held and decisions were being made and how artists and owners of creative enterprises can influences these policy spaces.
“It is important that you act as a collective and present your key policy issues in forums such as national budget submissions”, said Mr Samarasinha. He added that this is where government plans and allocates its resources to support areas such as MSME’s and employment.
Mr Amit Chand of Masti Arts and Dance challenged influencers to advocate for the creative sector and the specific challenges they were facing due to COVID-19.
Mr Karimli encouraged the artists and owners of creative enterprises to use data and evidence to present and back-up their key policy recommendations to decision makers. He added that the projects aim to establish a Creative Council under the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation (FCEF) was a strategic move. “This will allow you to use the national employers and private sector platform to get direct access to government policy makers and development partners.
Ms Shobna Chanel of Shobna Chanel Dance Group highlighted that data was not easy to generate or find. She raised questions on who should be collecting this data and where should we source them from. Ms Sachiko Soro of VOU Fiji expressed her concern on the creative sector being bulked in the Entertainment Sector and there was no targeted assesmeent or support for workers and entrepreneurs in the creative industries.
Ms Vaka’uta is from a family of creatives and is herself an artist. She drew from her many year of experience in the industry and emphasised how people only focus on that 15-20 minutes of stage performance. “At the back of that performance is hours of rehearsals, booking of venue, costume, transportation, backstage staff, artists, etc that cost money and many only have this as a source of income”, Ms Vaka’uta added.
Informal sector enterprises, particularly those linked to the tourism industry and trade, including the creative industries are experiencing many challenges to sustain their enterprises, not only as a result of the global pandemic but also recent and on-going regional/national disasters. For those in the creative sector, effects have been widespread as a direct result of a highly impacted tourism sector, not likely to resume to its 2019 levels prior to 2022, in the most optimistic scenario.
Ms Nisha the UNESCO Director and Representative to Pacific States said ,“UNESCO as a partner of the Informal Economy Recovery project supports the integration of culture as a strategic dimension in national sustainable development policies, and aims to facilitate dialogues between civil society and policymakers on areas covering the creative economy.”
UNESCO supports the Cultural and Creative Industries through normative frameworks that include the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005). This Convention defines the regulatory frame of the cultural and creative industries, including laws, strategies, policies and measures that contribute to an enabling environment for the sector. UNESCO adopted in 1980 the Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist that calls for improved professional, social and economic status of artists through the implementation of policies and measures related to training, social security, employment, income and tax conditions, mobility and freedom of expression. It also recognizes the right of artists to be organized in trade unions or professional organisations that can represent and defend the interests of their members.