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A recent report by Agence France-Presse (AFP) brings attention to an often-overlooked dimension of the economic impact of culture and art. The findings are supported by specific examples compiled by worthy economists.

Thus, the global tour of American pop star Taylor Swift, known as “The Eras Tour,” could exceed one billion dollars in revenue by its finale in late 2024. Beyoncé’s performances in Stockholm led to higher-than-expected inflation, fueled by fans’ extravagant spending. Her “Renaissance World Tour,” which wrapped up in October, is projected to generate a total revenue of approximately 560 million dollars. In South Korea, the K-pop group BTS contributed over 3.6 billion dollars to the country’s economy.

More than 50 years after the Beatles’ separation, their hometown, Liverpool, continues to attract nostalgic fans of the legendary quartet. Beatles-related tourism is estimated at around 150 million dollars. Meanwhile, the group Abba has played a pivotal role in propelling Sweden as the world’s third-largest exporter of music production, following the United States and the United Kingdom.

Moreover, on a broader artistic level, the economic impact of Mozart in Vienna, the Louvre (along with 130 other museums) in Paris, Broadway shows in New York, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or the rush of Mylène Farmer’s fans wherever she performs is felt and seen by all. In reality, the cultural-artistic-heritage combined element is definitely one of the primary attractions of a region, competing for the top position in terms of economic impact alongside the triple S factors, namely sea, sex, and sun.

In Lebanon, we are blessed to have all the necessary ingredients to achieve record revenues on a local scale. However, as we are also the kings of missed opportunities, we often fail to fully capitalize on our potential.

A considerable number of artists represented by the leading pan-Arab agency, Rotana, happen to be Lebanese. During flourishing times, when Hezbollah wasn’t instigating all types of disturbances, the country used to host dozens of annual festivals with a rich variety of concerts, shows, exhibitions, and events.

A 2020 study conducted by the Basil Fuleihan Institute, in collaboration with the French development agency (AFD), using pre-crisis data, estimated the sector’s value at 3 billion dollars, encompassing 50,000 jobs and 6,000 businesses (including theater, performances, cinema, television, production, publishing, heritage, arts, sites, etc.), irrespective of the collateral impact on other sectors. The untapped potential for further growth in this sector is still quite significant.

However, this potential will most likely remain unexploited, except for a few steadfast exceptions. From a governmental standpoint, there has never been any noticeable interest in this sector. The ministry has never been allocated a significant budget, and museums like the National Museum and the Sursock Museum would not have survived without their respective private associations. All other museums are privately owned, and the National Library, despite its recent creation, has already become idle. The state-owned television and radio station no longer provide any cultural substance. And now, the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory is teetering on the brink, in turn threatening the livelihood of the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, which underwent years of hard work to develop and is currently inactive. Cherry on top: appointing a person such as Mohamad Mortada as Minister of Culture is proof of the lack of consideration for the arts.

Even private stakeholders are no longer interested. The leading Lebanese TV channels are such an example: their prime-time schedule is loaded with Turkish series dubbed in Syrian dialect. As for “local production,” brace yourself for an overdose of Wiam Wahhab and the like.

As a result, a multitude of professionals — actors, scriptwriters, technicians, directors, producers, set designers, and more — from the competent Lebanese talent pool are currently either unemployed or heading to the airport. A group of seasoned actors grappling with long-term joblessness has even formed a theatrical troupe that is touring cities in France.

In addition, the vast majority of working professionals who graduated in audiovisual studies from ALBA or USJ are already in the Gulf or Europe, depriving the country of both cultural and economic wealth.

Amidst the trust issue pertaining to the Lebanese banks, the income of all the artists performing “from the Ocean to the Gulf” (as per the old saying) may not find their way back to the safes. Even artworks by famous artists are currently being auctioned at Dubai’s Christie’s, fetching prices in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, which will be totally dismissed.

In essence, if making money is an art, as Warhol used to say, we have finally achieved to squander both.