Pandemic Hits Artists’ Livelihoods

The pandemic has hit many of Cambodia’s artists hard, with unemployment standing at almost 30 percent, recent research reveals
The study also shows that many artists and workers work for clients without written contracts or agreements. Kiripost/Meas Molika
The study also shows that many artists and workers work for clients without written contracts or agreements. Kiripost/Meas Molika

Artists in Cambodia have been hit hard by Covid-19, with the unemployment rate in the last half of 2022 standing at nearly 30 percent, recent research reveals.

The research by Creative Industries of Cambodia Association for Development and Advocacy (CICADA) early this year, mapped human resources and socio-economic conditions through online and in-person questionnaires with 414 artists and workers from different parts of Cambodia.

The research aims to understand the landscape of informal cultural and creative industries in the country, mapping geographic backgrounds, education and skills, working conditions, livelihood characteristics, challenges and careers pathways of informal cultural artists and freelancers, self-employed, volunteers, non-full-time, informal owners of enterprises and family businesses.

According to the research, in the last six months of 2022, about 70 percent of artists said they had worked while about 30 percent had not.

The research continued that of the 70 percent of employed artists, 59.10 percent are males, and about 10 percent are females. This indicates that the unemployment rate was high, at almost 30 percent, leaving many artists inevitably facing financial difficulties.

The study also shows that up to 90 percent of artists and workers work for clients without written contracts or agreements.

Singer and back dancers on a stage in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/supplied
Singer and back dancers on a stage in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/supplied

In addition, most informal cultural artists and workers never receive benefits, such as insurance and social protection, other than service fees from their clients or employers. Some artists and workers are underprivileged.

Women artists and workers tend to charge a service fee per day that is more expensive than men, the research showed, adding they received average service fees of $40.70 per day while male artists received $29.20 per day.

Even though women artists received higher daily service fees compared to male artists, their income tends to be more seasonal and women often leave cultural industries earlier than men.

Cultural industries are not the only source of income for artists and workers to sustain their livelihoods. Half of artists and workers said income comes from the cultural sector, whereas 24.40 percent said their income from cultural and non-cultural industries was the same.

The fact finding added that at least 25.10 percent of artists and workers do not rely totally on cultural work to maintain their livelihoods.

In debt

Almost 50 percent of artists and workers said they are in debt, and at least 80 percent do not have savings either in cash or in their bank account. On the other hand, they borrowed money from different sources, including money lenders, relatives, microfinance institutions and banks.

A total of 88.80 percent mentioned they did not receive any support for their livelihoods, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown.

About 10 percent said they received support during the lockdown from commune councils and government programs, including cash for poor households.

At least 22 percent of artists and workers said they are likely to switch their career to other sectors for the betterment of their livelihoods.

Speaking at an annual general meeting (AGM) on March 24, Phina So, Director of CICADA, said the vision of the association is to see Cambodian society diversified and grow whenever the creative and cultural industry have been valued.

“Our vision is we want to be the representative in finding the support for creative industry and cultural and sustainable development infrastructure,” she said in her opening remarks. “As we see it is the heart of decision making and goal associated with economic and social policy.”

The AGM was also a celebration of artists for their contribution and to present their milestones to artists and cultural professionals from Phnom Penh and various provinces.

Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO Representative to Cambodia, stated that Covid-19 has had an extremely negative impact on artists in the cultural sector, especially in Cambodia.

“We did many analyses on the impact of Covid, but when it comes to artists and the art community in Cambodia, this suffered the most because all the festivals were closed,” he said.

He added that UNESCO will work with CICADA on the rights of artists and social protection networks to achieve financial security for artists.

Sang Sokserey, a rapper, Stand for Culture fellow and a featured speaker on the panel discussion “Voices from the Cultural and Creative Industries”, said she has seen that cultural and creative industries play significant roles in contributing to the economic growth and promoting Cambodian identity on a global level.

“Promoting cultural and creative industries equally means supporting and creating opportunities for the artists to unleash their potential, talents and creativity through different mediums,” she said.

“That will not only promote Cambodian arts and culture but also contribute to the tourism industry by attracting tourists to visit Cambodia, which has become a catalyst for livelihood development for many informal workers.”