In April 2020, the UAE launched a comprehensive survey to understand the challenges faced by artists and small enterprises operating in the cultural and creative sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim of the survey was to collect information and data that would contribute to making informed decisions, and to design a support program that suits the needs of these individuals and organizations.
More than 1,451 organizations and individuals responded to the questionnaire, which provided a picture of how to direct support to the groups most affected by the crisis. The biggest challenge at the time of the survey for freelancers and small and medium businesses were meeting fixed expenses. The top three most burdensome costs were rent, staff salaries and paying bills.
As a result of the findings of the survey, the National Creative Relief Program was launched in May 2020 to financially assist both individuals and small enterprises in order to help the industry survive the effects of the pandemic on the creative economy. A committee evaluated the applications based on criteria including the volume of lost work and its financial implications. The program supported individuals and organizations across all cultural domains. The grant contributed to cover 100 percent of freelancers' and small enterprises (less than 10 employees) financial obligations for a month.
By covering part of the recipients' financial commitments, the Creative Relief Program has helped creators and cultural businesses sustain their creative work during the pandemic.
In the first phase of the program 87 creative individuals and small enterprises operating in the cultural and creative industries received financial grants. The grant, which ranged between AED15,000 to AED50,000 (roughly USD4,100 to USD13,600) were distributed among 50 individuals and 37 companies to help them overcome the financial difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to supporting freelancers, the second phase of the program aimed to support organizations with up to 20 employees. With the second phase, the National Creative Relief Program was able to provide financial grants between AED15,000 to AED75,000 (roughly USD4,100 to USD20,500) to another 53 freelancers and organizations, bringing the total number of individuals and companies helped throughout both phases of the program to 140.
The volume of interaction with the National Creative Relief Program in phase 1 highlighted the urgent need for government intervention to sustain the creative ecosystem and help companies continue to carry out their businesses. As a result, a second phase of the program was launched.
Furthermore, the studies have shown that companies will follow a new trend in hiring post-COVID19, with the emphasis on hiring freelancers, over full-time staff, to avoid being financially burdened should a future crisis or pandemic affect the continuity of their work. This finding has propelled the Ministry of Culture to work with the Ministry of Economy to understand the requirements of the freelance community in the UAE and provide the necessary legal protections to this segment. To date, multiple workshops have been held with freelancers to understand their challenges and their needs.
Moreover, the transition to digital platforms as a result of the pandemic, has increased the need to enhance the IP protections for people working in the cultural sector and build a framework for the digital cultural economy to provide the necessary protections and empower creativity.