Creative economy: How young creative workers in Yogyakarta are dealing with COVID-19

This report explores the impact of COVID-19 by focusing on a place considered to be Indonesia’s cultural hub, a place where tradition, modernity, arts and history overlap.


The province of Yogyakarta is home to 172,000 creative workers who collectively contribute US$230 million to the economy, and here we examine the disruption to their lives caused by COVID-19 and their responses and strategies for coping with it.

Indonesia’s cultural and creative sectors are among those hardest hit by the pandemic. Events have been shut down, concerts postponed and film festivals moved online. Fashion and design entrepreneurs have had their customer base drop off due to social distancing measures.

Read the full “Creative economy: How young creative workers in Yogyakarta are dealing with COVID-19” report here

The nation’s creative economy is one of the biggest contributors to national income and generates 7 percent of Indonesia’s economic activity (GDP). It spurs innovation and skills that have economic and social value, and creates work for 18 percent of young people, who are active in all sectors. Yet our report finds little has been done to support this struggling sector during the COVID-19 crisis despite a range of initiatives being made available for business enterprises. A recent survey showed that 42 percent of creative workers have had to rely on their savings and 22 percent have had to borrow money from friends to cover day-to-day needs.

We delve into the factors that threaten the development and sustainability of Yogyakarta’s (Jogja’s) creative economy during the pandemic, and propose ideas to help policymakers support creative workers in a time of crisis.

We analysed six subsectors: filmmaking, dance, theatre, music, photography and fashion design. Despite Yogyakarta’s status as a cultural hub, the pandemic has amplified the precarious nature of work for those who are reliant on the region’s creative sector.

The creative industry is highly connected within local, national and global networks that generate a flow of ideas, goods and services. The pandemic has forced a shift to more local networks and online tools that have provided solidarity and survival strategies, while also being a seedbed for co-ordinated action to push for government support. Our research uncovered three distinct responses by creative workers to the pandemic: shocked, shocked but adjusting, and ‘staying cool’. The effect of the COVID-19 crisis on individual workers was also influenced by an artist’s social background, class and economic status.

While such workers are active agents in steering their own course through the pandemic, the government plays an important role in supporting them to continue to produce creative works.

Ultimately, the research inspired six key recommendations to help government and policymakers better support young creative workers at three levels: individual, ecosystem and provincial/national.

At an individual level:

  • Provide creative workers with access to digital skills training to help them innovate and find new ways to add economic value and attract customers.
  • Create diverse and sustainable forums/collectives as meeting points for workers.

At an ecosystem level:

  • Create a digital ecosystem for creative workers to bring creators and consumers together.
  • Facilitate subsidised digital gigs that provide support while also building on new digital skills.

At a provincial/national level:

  • Build an institutional level analysis of the creative sectors that could also form the basis of an association for member support.
  • Make available transparent and sustainable travel funding schemes to allow for career progression and growth in other markets.

Photo by ivan hermawan on Unsplash.