Driving Social Good through Arts and Culture in the Post-Pandemic World

As the global health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic persist, industry players are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility to support marginalized communities. Since before the pandemic, companies had already embarked on various initiatives, including CSR, showcasing their commitment to issues such as inclusivity, gender, poverty, sustainability and education. However, the field of arts and culture has had its value overshadowed, and has not been given the level of recognition it deserves.

The pandemic raised fundamental questions about the meaning of arts and culture in our society. With intensified focus on subsistence and the idea of essential work, art was deemed low priority or as a luxury. As a result, COVID-19 had a dire impact on the arts and culture industry. In Japan, 40% of people involved in create industries reported that income from art production has completely evaporated between March and August 2020, according to a survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. According to research by the Tokyo National Institute for Cultural Properties, over 4,000 traditional performances—such as kabuki and noh—were canceled or postponed, and the estimated loss of revenue was approximately $155.8 million. Movie industry box office revenue was halved in 2020 compared to 2019, due to states of emergency and shortening hours of operation for movie theaters. Overall, there was a severe psychological impact on those in the creative industries. A survey by “Save our Space,” a project that supports musicians, showed that 30% of respondents contemplated suicide since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, arts and culture enrich our lives, adding vibrancy and beauty to the world that surrounds us. As many struggled under the weight of mental health issues during the pandemic, it was art, movies, literature, music and all kinds of cultural products that helped us stay in good spirits. The shared experience of art evokes a sense of togetherness, community, and unity–feelings that have become invaluable in this peculiar time of self-isolation and solitude. Without art, the very fabric of our society would unravel. Therefore, supporting arts and culture is about supporting humanity.

Additionally, there is a strong economic case for supporting and endowing the arts. In 2016, arts and culture accounted for 10.443 trillion yen, equivalent to 1.9% of the Japan’s GDP, according to a report by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Recognizing the field’s potential for growth and innovation, the Japanese government set a goal to expand the scale of the arts and culture industry to 18 trillion yen by 2025. Within this context, there is growing opportunity for industry players to take part in promoting arts and culture.

How companies can incorporate arts and culture in business commitments

Executives and prominent industry figures with a particular interest in art have already made efforts to support it. These activities include operating company galleries, such as the Suntory Museum of Art and POLA Museum. However, while these initiatives largely stem from the founders’ or leaders’ personal passions, companies can also support the arts by acknowledging its link to their broader business areas and principles. It is an effective communications and branding position to align activities benefitting the social good with a company’s core business strategy. Also, by positioning these initiatives as a commitment by the whole organization, they become conducive to long-term, sustainable operations and progress.

Policy frameworks such as the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become the core guiding principles for Japanese companies to develop activities for CSR and social good. Therefore, building the link between art and existing policy frameworks make it easy for corporations to integrate these activities into their business commitments.

For instance, Asahi Group Holdings, a leading Japanese manufacturer of beverages known for its iconic Asahi beer, has held art festivals and events such as the “Sumida River Art Project,” collaborating with local NPOs, artists, and residents, and operates the Asahi Group Arts Foundation. Their website clearly states that such efforts aim to “augment human connections” through shared experiences, creativity and fun, aligning with their core business principles of serving products of high entertainment value. They also state their intention to contribute to the SDGs for “Sustainable Cities and Communities” and “Partnerships for the Goals” through their art-related initiatives.

Companies can also link products, services, and ongoing CSR commitments to art. Tohoku Electric Power partnered with teamLab, a prolific art collective working with interactive digital technology, and held the “Learn & Play! teamLab Future Park.” The event allowed children to make their own artwork, which was then converted into digital art. The initiative was part of Tohoku Electric’s ongoing efforts to educate children about science, electricity and energy.

In 2014, Amtrak, the U.S. railway company, held the #AmtrakResidency program, giving aspiring writers the opportunity to travel on long-distance trains, immersing themselves in a unique environment to develop literary works.

Such case studies demonstrate that companies in all kinds of fields can explore the intersections of creativity, art, policy, and their business principles. This allows firms to position themselves as responsible corporate citizens who care about the most human aspects of our society, allowing customers to connect with them on a deeper level.

As we envisage a more inclusive, peaceful and abundant future, we must give due recognition to art. While COVID-19’s impact on art has been devastating, it also offered a silver lining for us to realize its true value. Although painful news and uncertainty surround our lives, art allows us to enter a new dimension and experience reality in a different way. It is only natural for members of our society, including companies, to consider art as an avenue to lift people up throughout the world.

APCO Alumna Moeka Iida coauthored this post. 

ArtsCulturePost COVID-19 WorldSocial Impact