NUS Master of Arts in Arts and Cultural Entrepreneurship Thought Leadership Series

Arts, Culture and Creativity in the New Normal

Arts, Culture and Creative

Dr Audrey Yue, Professor | 7-min read

15 September 2021 — During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, museums, galleries and theatres were the first to close.  With vaccination now underway and countries slowly opening up, these venues are the last to open.  Undeterred, artists and arts organisations have kept busy. They have created online content, digitalised cultural collections in galleries and museums, and curated interactive arts and multimedia theatre. They have worked tirelessly to invent new craft to excite our senses and ignite our zest for life as we sheltered in place across different outbreak waves and prolonged lockdowns. Digital arts and culture have nourished our souls and brought a slice of humanity to social isolation and separation. These workers--creative professionals—are championed as essential workers by governments and audiences alike who have hailed the arts and culture industries as the most resilient and forward-looking sector. From the digitalisation of the arts and culture to the creativity of arts and culture entrepreneurship, these aesthetic and industry changes are now the key drivers of innovation and transformation in the age of the new normal.

Arts, culture and creativity span many industries. Commonly known as the cultural and creative industries (CCI), they include advertising and marketing; architecture; crafts; design (product, graphic, fashion); film, tv, video, radio, photography; IT, software and computer services; publishing; museums, galleries and libraries; music, performing and visual arts, as well as services including cultural tourism, heritage and entertainment. CCI are big businesses globally. According to UNESCO, NASAA, Eurostat and Xinhua news reports for 2019, they generated USD 1.11 trillion in US and EU, and 1.34 trillion in China annually to economic growth, and created 29.5 million jobs worldwide. The Asia-Pacific, the world’s largest creative economy, accounts for 33% of global CCI sales and 43% of CCI jobs worldwide. 

Even before the accelerated digitalisation brought forth by COVID-19, the CCI sector has been rapidly changing. From production, distribution, regulation, consumption to the symbolic realm of representation, new arts and culture platforms are creating new products, consumer demand, place identities and social impacts. These are creating new jobs and skills-gaps. Six key features currently shape this fast-changing sector.

1. Growth of Global Art Cities 
Currently, thirty-four cities over the world—including Singapore—are vying with each other to be the global hub of arts and culture.1 Over the next ten years, more than US$250 billion will be spent in the building of arts and cultural precincts around the world.2  A robust understanding of cultural policy and impact, together with new skill-sets in cultural analytics, will be key to the future of jobs in the sector that will require planning for sustainable urban cultures and social impact.

2. New Arts Business 

The arts is not only seen as an object of pleasure. The business of the arts has now transcended traditional philanthropic patronage and state subsidy to become a wealth investment asset with new business opportunities worth US$1.74 trillion in 2018.3 This financialisation of the arts requires new knowledge to understand the arts economy as a big business incorporating blockbuster exhibitions and auctions, as well as blockchain technology.

3. Changing Heritage Ecology 
The growth in cultural heritage has also been spurred by global large-scale urban renewal and the worldwide advocacy for the protection of cultural heritage in concert with creating local sustainable communities and preserving national identities. Heritage is now everywhere, as popular discourse, on social media, and in the marketplace. It is not only evident through tangible built form and intangible cultural value, it is now also increasingly remediated through online platforms and digital archives.  Social media and travel influencers have become exemplary avenues to promote heritage and heritage tourism while cultural archives and digital heritage are now chartered by UNESCO as requiring active preservation.4 This changing ecology requires new approaches to understand the application of heritage in urban development, cultural organisations and tourism.

4. The 21st C curator
Our contemporary culture is increasingly governed by new practices of curation.  From museums and galleries that programme exhibits and exhibitions, to social media profiles and digital marketing that promote individuals, groups and companies, curatorial skills now require not just the expert selection of documents, artefacts or collections, but also the managing, organising, and administrating of digital content creation as well as data curation. Digital and social media have transformed the relationship between museums and galleries, as well as between curators and visitors. Big data and cultural informatics have also brought new opportunities to identify new cultural trends and curate new taste cultures. Contemporary curation now includes making exhibitions more accessible to audiences, increasing collaboration and participation, and creating new narratives for stakeholders. The specialist curator is on the wane and the generalist curator is on the rise. Just as the sector has become more professionalised, the role of the specialist curator is also becoming more hybrid. The 21st century curators are scholars, storytellers, entrepreneurs, fundraisers and facilitators all at once5. Curating is now an essential 21st century skill because it encourages creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration6.

5. Cultural Diversity and Complexity
Globalisation, migration and polarisation have created a new world of cultural complexity which has brought challenges and opportunities to diversity. While there is a need to champion new models of social cohesion to bind an increasingly multicultural constituency, diversity is also an asset to be preserved and a resource to be promoted for countries, businesses and communities. Nurturing the diversity of cultural expressions is essential to individual empowerment and group inclusion. Nurturing cultural diversity is also fundamental to creativity. Cultural intelligence (CQ)—the cultural literacy skills to navigate cultural complexity and harness cultural diversity, will bring new competency to understanding artistic creativity and all forms of CCI innovation including cultural creation, the commercialisation of cultural expressions, and the broader impacts of culture on business and the marketplace7.

6. Cultural Policy, Diplomacy and Sustainability
Culture is a key driver for diplomacy and sustainability. Across the realms of education, art, culture, media and tourism, the soft power of cultural diplomacy has fundamentally shaped bilateral and international trade relations. The brand power of K-pop, Hollywood, Huawei, Amazon and Facebook (to name a few), for example, has welded enormous influence to impact global governance and national sovereignties. Cultural policy futures need to be reshaped to achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services so that cultural exchange can foster  meaningful intercultural relations8. Similarly, to achieve meaningful intergenerational cultural wealth, culture needs to actively pursued as the fourth pillar of sustainability9. Cultural policy needs to integrate culture into sustainable development frameworks and draw on culture to promote sustainable systems of governance10. Nurturing new enterprises in community cultural development and cultural resource management will ensure intergenerational cultural wealth continues to enhance economic viability, environmental protection and social equity.

In sum, the CCI sector commands a large global economy and supports millions of jobs. The sector is transforming into a new integrated economy, creating new platforms, products and consumers. It is characterised by the rise of global arts cities, the new financialisation of arts and culture, and the changing ecologies of arts and cultural organisations, including the remediation of heritage and tourism, and the rise of the new hybrid curator. For CCI to thrive, the sector needs to reshape cultural policy that can navigate cultural complexity, harness diversity, promote sustainability, and balance diplomacy. The future creative professional will require new skill-sets to flourish in this changing sector, including creativity, entrepreneurship, cultural intelligence, cultural resource management, arts finance, digital marketing, and new analytical skills such as critical thinking, data analytics and cultural informatics. 


[1] GCDN (Global Cultural Districts Network). (2018). Members. Retrieved from

[2] Fairley, G. (2014, September 18). Cultural precincts battle for the global marketplace. ArtsHub. Retrieved from

[3] Deloitte. (2019). ArtTactic Art and Finance Report 2019

[4] UNESCO (2019). Digital Heritage.

[5]  Deuchar, S. (2017). What does a 21st-century curator need? Museums Association. Issue 117/11, p14. 1st November

[6] Art Fund (2016). Who is the 21st-century curator? London: Art Insights.

[7] UNESCO (2009). UNESCO World Report  Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue 

[8] UNESCO (2018). Global Report 2018. Reshaping Cultural Policies

[9] The three pillars are: environmental, economic and social pillars. See Yue, Audrey and Rimi Khan (2012). “Culture.” In C. Pearson (ed). 2020: Visions for a Sustainable Society. Melbourne: Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, 57-63. See also John Hawkes (2001). The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: Culture’s Essential Role in Public Planning. Common Ground.

[10] UNESCO (2018). Global Report 2018. Reshaping Cultural Policies. 

01 October 2021