17 September 2021

Research: Slovenian Cultural and Creative Worker in Times of COVID-19

part III, spring 2021


Eva Matjaž, Polona Černič, Teja Kosi


Between 4 and 31 May 2021, just before the end of the eight-month period since the declaration of the COVID-19 epidemic in mid-June, the third survey on the impact of the epidemic on the life and work of workers in the Slovenian cultural and creative sectors was conducted. The sample comprised 1,517 workers, one half of whom participated in the survey for the first time. Like on the first two occasions, the survey targeted all workers, regardless of their legal status: students, contract workers, the self-employed in culture, private entrepreneurs, those employed in companies, private institutions, associations and cooperatives, those employed in public institutions as well as unregistered workers active on all subfields of the two sectors.

The results show that many pre-existing problems raised by the workers in the cultural and creative sectors before the crisis have exacerbated and become more apparent as a result of the epidemic.

• In the spring 2021 survey, even more workers than in autumn 2020 believed that our future is in jeopardy, that this crisis will have more substantial and long-term effects than the financial crisis a decade ago and that we are facing irreversible social changes. The respondents do not believe that the epidemic will be overcome this year and that life will return to normal.

• 64.2% of workers know at least one colleague who wants to leave the cultural and creative sectors due to difficult circumstances. 56.7% of workers are thinking of leaving the sectors themselves, while a minority of them (3.7%) has already left to pursue another career. To make a living, nearly one half of people working in the cultural and creative sectors (46.7%) must do other work not related to their profession.

• Despite the easing of measures in spring, nearly one half (47.9%) of all workers did not have enough work or did not work at all in May. Six out of ten workers (59.4 %) do not have guaranteed or fully guaranteed work until the end of summer. 64.9% of all workers received cancellations from the beginning of the epidemic until the end of 2020. A further 38.1% received cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic in 2021.

51.0% of all workers earn up to EUR 1,000 net per month. Only 21.8% have a monthly income of more than EUR 1,500. The already low average incomes in the two sectors have dropped or dropped considerably since the beginning of the epidemic for 56.0% of workers and 43.0% of their households.

• The income trends for cultural and creative sectors between March 2020 and May 2021 show that the economic situation deteriorated further or deteriorated significantly in 2021 compared to 2020 for 45.9% of workers
and 33.4% of households. 26.9% of workers are not entitled to support even though they need it or have received insufficient support.

• The worst deterioration in the workers’ economic situation was recorded in the fields of music, photography, cultural and creative tourism, performance arts and fashion/textile design. Two thirds or nearly two thirds of these workers saw their economic situation in 2021 deteriorate further compared to 2020. Less than every tenth worker active in one of these fields has seen their situation improve this year.

The epidemic is increasing the differences between the market-oriented and cultural part of the two sectors. More than 30% of graphic designers, architects, media workers and programmers have seen their economic situation improve from last year. For the majority of workers in this segment, their economic situation has remained unchanged.

Many cultural and creative workers are having a difficult time making ends meet: they have to make every euro count, some are unable to pay even the basic expenses, while others are out of work and poverty is on the rise. The workers have used up their savings, taken up loans or tried to find other solutions like moving back in with their parents and therefore losing their independence or finding work abroad.

• The spring 2021 survey shows the same trend as the 2020 autumn and spring data. A growing gap between workers in safer public jobs and precarious workers has been detected. The most precarious workers are also the worst paid, seeing their incomes decrease the most during the epidemic. Safer permanent public jobs as well as permanent jobs in the private sector remain the best paid even during the epidemic.

Despite the difficult situation, the average self-assessment of the workers’ mental state is not bad; nevertheless, the experience of the minority of the weakest workers must be considered with all seriousness. Two out of ten workers (19.7%) estimate their mental state as poor or very poor. 14.4% of the respondents believe that they deal with the challenges of the epidemic worse or much worse than others. More than one half of workers (56.1%) estimate their current work efficiency as being lower or much lower than before the epidemic. People have feelings of fear and anxiety, exhaustion, burnout, uncertainty, apathy, helplessness and futility. Workers also experience feelings of depression, even suicidal thoughts, breakdowns in family relationships and deteriorated health.

Compared to the spring survey, the workers’ trust in the efficiency of Government measures is even lower, and they are even more certain that the epidemic is being used for authoritarian ends. The percentage of those who gave the measures the lowest mark, i.e. 1 or 2, remains high and is approximately the same in all three surveys; in the 2021 spring survey, it amounted to 84.8%.

• Workers in the cultural and creative sectors provide many reasons for their deep dissatisfaction. Many subfields of the two sectors have endured one of the longest suspensions of activities during the epidemic, which the workers consider unjust and disproportionate compared to other sectors. According to the workers, support measures are much too bureaucratic and ambiguous, the assistance insufficient and unavailable to the weakest segments in the two sectors. The key reasons for the Government’s stepmotherly attitude towards culture are the lack of understanding of the specifics of how the two sectors work and/or the systematic destruction of the sectors which, according to the workers, is evident from the Government’s public displays of intolerance towards the cultural and creative sectors and
their workers.

Today, 23.5% more workers practice remote or hybrid work compared to the time before the epidemic. Furthermore, the percentage of workers who believe that remote work will be more common in the future has increased compared to the first two surveys. The workers also anticipate less face-toface contact and more computer-based work and warn of the risk of increased precarity, stressing that many sceptical employers have realised during the epidemic that good work is not conditional upon constant supervision.

Any further lockdowns, particularly for the audience-focused subfields, would have disastrous and long-term consequences that would be difficult to repair, with many workers, as well as entire industries hanging on the line. Below are the key findings regarding the operations of private entities: the self-employed in culture, private entrepreneurs, part-time entrepreneurs as well as institutions, cooperatives and associations. The operations of public institutions were not included in the survey.

In the first third of 2021, the highest share of entities in the cultural and creative sectors regard their business operations as poor or very poor (42.2%). 29.7% of them consider their operations as fairly good, and 29.1% of all entities consider their operations to be good or very good.

For 67.3% of entities, operating income has decreased or decreased significantly in 2020 compared to 2019. A comparison of business performance assessments for 2020 and 2021 shows that, for 40.4% of respondents, the 2021 financial year has been worse or much worse than 2020.

The two key reasons for bad results due to lockdowns are project suspensions and postponements. While, in 2020, one of the solutions to suspended projects was trying to adapt their format, the continued uncertainty has brought about another problem identified in 2021 – a complete suspension of orders without the
possibility of alternative formats. Other problems of long-term closures include limited business opportunities for networking and decreased consumption.

• The autumn survey showed that the respondents believed business would decrease by 38.8% in 2020 compared to the year before. In spring 2021, the results show that the estimated decrease in business based on actual operations is higher; compared to the year before, business has decreased by 53.6%. The average business losses amounted to EUR 12,303 in 2020, and EUR 6,787 in the first third of 2021. The estimated average value of earnings lost by the end of summer 2021 is EUR 6,944.

Not many subfields have fared better than last year. These are: software and game development, product and service design, architecture and advertising, literature and publishing and graphic design. These are the fields that were less affected by the epidemic last year and that generally fall under the more market-oriented part of the two sectors. Workers believe that their improved results in the spring of 2021 are due to their efficient adaptation to the new situation, often in digital environments, and an improved business climate because of the gradual easing of the epidemic crisis and fairer payments.

• A low dependence of the non-public part of the cultural and creative sectors on public funding was identified in the surveys conducted in spring and autumn 2020, a trend which has been confirmed for the third time. Two thirds of the private part of the cultural and creative sectors included in the survey (66.2%) did not carry out any tendered projects in 2020. More than 80.0% of the companies, private entrepreneurs and part-time entrepreneurs included in the survey did not carry out any tendered projects in 2020.

• A third of entities that did carry out publicly funded projects last year received 68.7% in state or municipal funds. Even though only a third of entities carried out tendered projects in 2020, these funds represent the majority share of the recipients’ income, namely 65.7% on average.


“The worst thing about the pandemic was not the virus – what was really paralysing was the epistemic insecurity. When you don’t know what is happening, what will happen, what is true and what is not. Epistemic insecurity
is what our brain finds the hardest to overcome.” 1 Neurologist, Zvezdan Pirtošek, PhD.”

Each one of us, either in our private or professional life, has faced epistemic insecurity during the epidemic, but in no sector was this insecurity as persisting and harmful as in the cultural and creative sectors. As the end of summer approaches, many workers are yet again uncertain about what the coming autumn and winter will bring. Will the audience-focused subfields again be subject to the most rigorous restrictions or even complete lockdowns? Will measures in the fourth wave again be implemented at the last minute, without considering the experts’ and the artists’ recommendations? Will there once again be only quasi-solutions, such as BON21, which is neither a voucher promoting exclusively cultural consumption but rather more convenient as well as more popular hospitality, tourism and sports services nor can it be used for all cultural and creative service providers?

Despite the confidence of the Minister of Culture, who said that “the attention devoted to culture in Slovenia during the COVID-19 crisis can serve as an example to others,”2 our data suggests that the two sectors have gone into a free fall. The statistics of the Slovenian Statistical Office confirm this trend as, according to their data, stage production has decreased to around 45%3, while museum and gallery activities have shrunk to two thirds4 of what they were in 2019. However, the most worrying fact according to the Statistical Office is that, in 2020, two thirds of public cultural institutions reported less outsourcing, which further confirms our findings about the widening gap between workers in public institutions and workers in the precarious, independent segment of the cultural and creative sectors.

At the end of June 2021, the first-ever G20 meeting dedicated to culture was held in Rome, where the participating ministers of culture unanimously adopted the Rome Declaration, indicating that culture is a powerful tool for a speedy recovery, both in terms of the values that will form the basis for post-pandemic regeneration and in terms of the role of the creative sectors of the economy in creating new jobs and opportunities.5 Contrary to the growing belief in Slovenia, the G20 ministers of culture do not regard culture as an unnecessary expense but as an important tool for overcoming the crisis, stressing that the return on investment in culture is manifold.

After a year and a half of the epidemic, the cultural and creative sectors in Slovenia must finally receive the same treatment as all other highly affected industries as they employ 35,000 workers or 7% of Slovenia’s entire active population6. In the event of lockdowns, measures should be proportionate and comparable to other sectors. As data shows that the situation in the two sectors is rapidly deteriorating which, according to the OECD7, is also relevant to many other industries, we must finally come up with specific solutions for the cultural and creative sectors, particularly for the weakest industries and the workers working in these industries. Epistemic uncertainty must be reduced to a minimum, ensuring, in particular, that any changes to the closing and opening of activities are thoroughly thought through and introduced within reasonable timeframes.

The workers included in our survey have clearly articulated the most vital types of support. They believe it is essential to provide aid to all workers affected by the epidemic who were previously overlooked. They emphasise that the delayed negative consequences of the epidemic must also be considered and that any future damage must be prevented accordingly. They propose the introduction of an actual basic income not subject to any conditions, as well as proportional and equal measures for all activities across sectors. They call attention to the fact that the epidemic has highlighted the need for an effective organisation of workers in the cultural and creative sectors and the necessity to foster advocacy. According to the workers, the recovery of the sectors also depends on the efforts of public institutions, whose production is largely based on outsourcing workers who were completely forgotten during the crisis. They demand an immediate end to political pressures on the two sectors and a change in political leadership.

Let us not forget that the COVID-19 epidemic has only exacerbated some of the existing problems in the cultural and creative sectors, making them even more visible. Solutions to various issues in the two sectors require careful consideration and radical systemic changes; appropriate anti-COVID measures will not suffice. Even though the epidemic is not over yet, it is not too early to start shaping the basis not only for post-COVID regeneration but also and in particular for a comprehensive transformation of the two sectors. This process must be based on respect for the principles of social and environmental justice, addressing all forms of social inequality.

Let’s not forget that, despite the Government’s belief that Slovenia has taken good care of culture during the epidemic, our survey suggests that 56.7% of workers already have one foot in the door, looking for opportunities to leave the cultural and creative sectors.

And we don’t want that, do we?

1. Tratnik, K. 2021. Zvezdan Pirtošek: “Če ustvariš dobre razmere, je lahko staranje nekaj čudovitega.”. Intervju z nevrologom. RTV SLO MMC.

2. Merse, P. 2021. Dr. Vasko Simoniti: Tako, kot smo v COVID krizi za kulturo poskrbeli pri nas, smo lahko vzor drugim državam. Domovina.

3. Repovž Grabnar, I. 2021. Kulturne dejavnosti na odru, Slovenija, 2020. An average of nearly 31 cultural events per day were held in Slovenia in 2020, and approximately 68 in 2019. Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS)..

4. Repovž Grabnar, I. 2021. Muzejska in galerijska dejavnost, Slovenija, 2020. 2020: museums and galleries put on 893 on-site exhibitions and another 185 virtual exhibitions. Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS).

5. P.G. 2021. Srečanje ministrov skupine G20 za kulturo: Kultura kot močno orodje za hitro okrevanje. RTV SLO MMC.

6. Murovec, N., Kavaš, D., Bartol, T., 2020. Statistična analiza stanja kulturnega in kreativnega sektorja v Sloveniji 2008–2017. Ljubljana: Center za kreativnost, Muzej za arhitekturo in oblikovanje.

7. OECD. 2020. Culture shock: COVID-19 and the cultural and creative sectors.

Full report in Slovene language