Creative Cardiff Advisory group member Dr Francesca Sobande, who is a lecturer in Digital Media Studies at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Culture, has written a thought piece about creative work at this time.

For many, March 2020 has been a month of unanticipated challenges, uncertainty, stress, and lost paid work as a result of COVID-19 and different industry, institutional and societal reactions to it. In response, creative communities are coming together and continuing to source and share invaluable peer-to-peer knowledge, advice and aid. However, there remains a need for robust structural measures to support creative workers, ensure their financial stability, and care for their health and wellbeing.

From theatres and galleries, to museums and archives—arts and cultural organisations have made the difficult but necessary decision to close their doors for the foreseeable future. Amid the anxiety of adjusting to life in this current climate, creative workers are having to quickly figure out how to continue their work in a way that is financially sustainable and not as dependent on certain physical spaces, audience footfall, and in-person events than it usually is.

Even individuals whose work is closely tied to digital sites, social media, and online outlets, are likely to be impacted by current circumstances to such an extent that they are required to re-evaluate their plans for the rest of the year. Although some vloggers and online influencers may be able to create content during this time, their typical content creation processes may involve access to other people and places that, for now, are out of reach.

Initially, YouTube prohibited the monetisation of content that includes mention of “coronavirus” but reversed this decision with the announcement of policy changes earlier this month. Vloggers and other influencers may find that the focus of their content shifts in response to COVID-19, and that new strategies are required to avoid producing content that may be interpreted as distastefully trivialising what is happening right now. Partly to avoid this and to avoid inadvertently circulating misinformation about COVID-19, some vloggers and influencers may choose to adopt a more cautious and stripped back approach to their digital presence than normal.

Other vloggers and influencers may choose to use their profile to share informative content that may benefit people in this moment, or to produce and post entertaining material that provides light relief and expands their audience. Put briefly, vlogger/influencer culture is experiencing some changes in response to COVID-19 but there is still potential for vloggers and influencers to source income, while being mindful of fluctuating monetisation restrictions in place.

The present need for “social distancing” and “self-isolating” may seem to splinter a sense of physical connection within the creative and cultural industries—including connections between workers, and in some cases, their craft and practice. Yet, far from there being an absence of creative community, creative workers in Cardiff and elsewhere in Britain are collaboratively forging paths together against a constantly shifting national and global landscape.

The many ways that people have come together—including online and across digital spheres—is testament to how creativity continues in times of crisis, but often as a result of grassroots organising and collective care. Whether it is peer-to-peer advice shared among freelance writers, or the efforts of artists and curators to make exhibitions entirely virtual, creative workers in Britain are trying to adapt arts and cultural activity in response to this rapidly changing time.

In order to pay bills and mitigate the negative effects of lost paid work, many creative workers face an intense pressure to be pursuing and achieving a level of productivity that is not possible for many reasons—such as financial ones and connected reasons related to physical and mental health. Even though the strength of creative community is vital at this moment, many creative workers need forms of structural support. Accordingly, the Creative Industries Federation, and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed are calling on the government to provide a Temporary Income Protection Fund for freelancers. In addition, a £330,000 Authors’ Emergency Fund has been announced.

Creative community is persisting during a time of unprecedented difficulties and heightened precariousness. While I am thankful for such immeasurably important community-based efforts, I emphatically echo calls for the implementation of sustainable structural support to ensure that creative workers are cared for and assisted during a time of crisis that will impact all for months to come.

If you'd like to hear more about digital workers from Dr Francesca Sobande, you can hear her on the first Creative Cardiff podcast episode, The Rise of the Influencers.