Survey highlights importance of performing arts to UAE’s post-coronavirus recovery

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The coronavirus pandemic has been a major hit to the UAE’s performing arts and creative industries, but they are now starting to experience the first steps of recovery, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by the Dubai-based Dan Bolton Creative Management Agency, highlighted the industry’s contribution to the UAE and explored strategies for recovery.

It found that 97 percent freelancers and small businesses in the creative industries alone reported a negative impact on their revenue, with a staggering 85 percent reporting no revenue since March this year at the start of the pandemic.

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Dan Bolton, the agency’s founder, pointed to the importance of the industry for broader economic recovery.

“If there is anything good to come from this pandemic, it has highlighted that the performing arts industry and live events as a whole are a vital part of our economies and wider society and that more needs to be done to protect the industry from future disruption,” he said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Dubai Tourism issues guidelines for entertainers at areas within hotels

Before coronavirus, the UAE tourism industry made an estimated annual contribution to the economy in excess of $43 billion (160 billion dirhams), a significant annual GDP contribution of 12.1 percent.

Events at the Dubai World Trade Centre alone account for 23 billion dirhams with a high 13.1 billion dirhams retained in the local economy.

This retained revenue supports the event industry eco-system and supply chain that includes event production agencies, travel companies, staffing, entertainment, and everything in between.

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The larger picture is that over 80 percent of the UAE based-economy is made up of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and many are struggling to cope under the financial burdens imposed under the COVID 19 lockdown measures.

These facts have come to light thanks to Bolton, whose agency was founded in 2015 and currently represents over 800 performance artists across the world, including 400 based in the UAE.

The independent survey sought answers from around 150 people across the entertainment scene how their industry had been affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and what the industry could do to bounce back.

The results indicated that two-thirds of industry professionals would be willing to perform immediately with the necessary safety measures put in place.

And one in five in the entertainment industry have already put in place procedures using information from local authorities.

Despite those advances, however, the outlook is far from certain for the creative industries in the UAE. The survey shows most respondents believe it will take at least three months for opportunities to return. And when they do return, restrictions will remain in place.

Just under half of those surveyed believe that physical distancing will have an impact on their on-stage performances. And a quarter of respondents believe the quality of their performances will be affected by physical distancing measures.

First steps of recovery

Bolton spoke to Al Arabiya English on the economic fallout as a result of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry and the way forward, along with solutions being considered.

According to him, those in the industry are “seeing a strong desire now from most Emirates and countries within the Gulf to start the first steps towards a resumption of some form of event /business activity.”

“As the industry starts to reopen, we are seeing clients and brands hesitant to be the first out of the blocks and announce their events. However, we are pleased to announce that this week we secured approval and hosted a COVID-secure festival event on November 6 at Rove Downtown called Breakout DXB.”

He said that “this is a great opportunity to now put into action all the hard work done over the shutdown period and show audiences and clients we have the ability to create events once more with the wellbeing of everyone at its core.”

“It also means that we can finally take steps to get creatives back into paid opportunities. There is a lot of work still to be done but we are taking small steps back to recovery.”

“If you look around the world, the performing arts industry is suffering globally and it seems we have been forgotten about by many governments. I often wonder if it’s because to some, the performing arts industry is still perceived as a hobby or a luxury rather than a necessity or in some instances, not even a real job.”

Bolton, who has spent 21 years in live events in the entertainment and performance, predicted that arts will be called upon to help reinvigorate the economy and drive tourism.

“... As the world starts to reopen, it will be the creative industries and performing arts, in particular, that will be called upon to help reinvigorate economies, drive visitor numbers and inbound tourism as well as generally entertain populations that have been prohibited from having any type of fun and tangible human interaction for over six months now,” he said.

“The performing arts industries are vital for any society and economy to thrive and prosper.”

Painful exodus of talent

Bolton told Al Arabiya English that the exodus of talented performers has been vast and difficult to come to terms with.

“I arrived in 2008 when it’s safe to say we did not have the pool of talent or infrastructure available that we had pre-lockdown. Many people within our industry have spent decades building the foundations of the UAE performing arts industry and overnight a lot of that hard work was undone.”

However, he said there was some hope that the art and events industry in the UAE, and Dubai in particular, will bounce back faster than most places in the world.

“So as long as we can generate business opportunities, maintain a high level of standards and fair performance rates as well as the ability to host events safely, I believe we may have an opportunity to attract back not only those people which may have had to leave in the months since March but also a new generation of talent that might want to make the region their home.”

“In all honesty, we have a lot of work to do to rebuild the industry not only how it was when we left it back in March, but even better for the next decade and beyond.”

Dan and his agency have been doing their utmost to reach out to the various authorities and stakeholders to raise awareness about the crucial role that the entertainment and live performance industry represents in driving the UAE’s positioning as a global tourist and leisure center in the MENASA region.

“The reality is that the authorities and people within organizations that are central to building the opportunities within the region know how important entertainment and live performance are to the UAE’s positioning as a global tourist hub. We could see that before the pandemic with the investment in infrastructure projects like La Perle, Coca-Cola Arena, Yas Arena, etc.”

“I think the one thing that the pandemic has highlighted is that there does need to be a greater emphasis on the homegrown aspect of our industry. The people who have contributed a vast amount of time, energy, and resources into building a career, business, or home are within the UAE. We need to shift the perception that performers within the industry are a commodity to be easily imported from overseas.”