On Thursday 25 February, at 5pm, Jeremie Molho will present the first 2021 casual meeting of the French Lab Singapore “AfterLab” on the following theme: Cultural hubs in times of crisis: Exploring the challenges facing the cultural sectors of Singapore and Doha amid the Covid pandemic.
Jeremie Molho is a research fellow at the Asian Urbanisms Cluster, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore and the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute (Florence, Italy).
Over the last two decades, Doha and Singapore have invested significant resources to position themselves as cultural hubs. New cultural infrastructures were established, ambitious art programmes were launched, and extensive regional and global cultural networks were developed. These strategies aimed at diversifying the economy, boosting tourism, promoting the city as open and dynamic, and expanding its regional and global influence. In this presentation, I will explore how the Covid pandemic challenges these strategies. First, I will start by investigating the resilience of these cities’ creative economies, by looking at the effects that the measures intended to tackle the pandemic have had on the cultural sector. Border restrictions, safe distancing, and lockdowns come at a high cost for culture. They have caused cancellations and loss of revenues for art organisations, and many freelancers have seen their work opportunities drying up. Public responses include the provision of relief funds, digitalisation incentives and support to the domestic demand. Artists and art organisations have responded to the crisis by creating support groups to provide mutual help, and have reinvented their own practices, creating online performances, exhibitions, and mobilising new technologies to engage with their audiences. Second, I will discuss how the Covid crisis has challenged the narrative of cosmopolitan openness at the basis of these cultural hub strategies. On a global scale, the pandemic has generated fears of strangers, accused of representing risks to the national health; and the economic impacts of the crisis have triggered calls to prioritise national citizens on the job market. This globalisation backlash represents a test for these cities’ aspirations to champion cultural diversity and intercultural understanding on the local and international scales. This raises the question of the role that their cultural scenes can play to address this issue.