This long period of social distancing implemented throughout the island as the main protection against the COVID-19 pandemic has been a test that has stimulated the creativity and spirit of steely determination of workers in the field of culture and the arts in Puerto Rico.
Innovative efforts by this sector on the island are remarkable, just as entertainment companies are suffering the hard blow of the economic downturn. Mass art events cannot yet be held, and authorized cultural activities require investment in security measures that make them more expensive.
The creative industry involves some 30,000 people in Puerto Rico, not only musicians, actors, dancers, chorus players, artisans, and artists of diverse genres, but also producers, set designers, costume designers, make-up artists, sound engineers, light technicians, and others. According to estimates that 97 percent of them are self-employed. Their economic impact combined totals around $2.2 billion annually. Their emotional impact - leisure and joy they bring to people in need of peace and who are grateful for their strong solidarity with worthy social causes - is incalculable.
Without having fully recovered from the economic blow of Hurricanes Irma and María, the industry had to abruptly cancel, and until further notice, all work commitments due to the economic paralysis caused by the pandemic. Concerts, presentations, fairs, festivals, patron saint celebrations, and any event involving mass crowding were canceled or postponed indefinitely to comply with health measures.
In the face of the transformed reality, the concepts of reinvention and self-management have taken on a new meaning. Many in the sector have shown their creativity and energy in the development of new paths that constitute sustainable sources of income. Technology has proved not only to be an indispensable tool in this effort, but also a sort of laboratory for the projects that will carve out the future of artistic expression.
This way we have seen new entertainment platforms such as online concerts, live streaming in social media - many of which have been directly supported by private companies - and the launch of fair price websites for music to support artists´ cultural work. Online workshops - in singing, dancing, writing, acting, and many other disciplines - are also an important part of the renewed business model, equally necessary to entertain, educate and motivate people confined to their domestic space for a long period.
There have also been collective efforts, such as the one by the Puerto Rico Entertainment Producers Association, which lobbies for government incentives and economic aid. These may include an extension of unemployment insurance to self-employed individuals in the industry and an adjustment in rental payments for state andmunicipal theaters, which host numerous performances on the island. The government of Puerto Rico has an opportunity here to demonstrate its support and strengthen a sector of the economy whose importance is not fairly recognized.
In this uncertain scenario in which the risk of spread of the new strain of coronavirus still prevails, reopening entertainment and cultural spaces, particularly in closed places, demands maximum compliance with health measures such as the use of masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing. Within this context of caution, it deems necessary that citizens consistently support artists, producers, and cultural managers who are essential resources for the island´s education and quality of life.
Puerto Rican arts have brought us to global prestige and will remain against all odds. We should recognize their valuable contribution and give them the place they deserve, here, in their own home.