A year ago, on 28 February 2020, the first restrictions for cultural events were adopted. Initially events were limited to 1,000 people, then the first lockdown occurred in mid-March. Thanks to precautionary measures, small rule relaxations were granted in the summer, but they were gradually reversed in autumn. Since mid-January 2021, we have been stuck in the second lockdown: without music events, without access to real – non-virtual – cultural experiences. By Andreas Wegelin, CEO
In order to stop or at least slow down the spread of the virus, the authorities initiated drastic measures. In principle, service ranges outside your daily needs can only be accessed with difficulty, or they are no longer permitted altogether.
But what is that actually, “daily needs”? Who defines them?
The daily needs of people also include things that they can enjoy intellectually! Attending a concert, going to the cinema or visiting an exhibition: Why have museums been closed, when, in fact, exhibitions rarely have to fend off crowds of visitors, except maybe in the case of blockbuster special exhibitions? Why do cabarets and small stages have to keep their doors shut? They could provide Swiss artists with the opportunity to perform and, at the same time, delight a small but certainly grateful audience.
A concert streamed on the internet is no replacement for live events. There is no interaction, no joint experience of an artistic performance which leads to a cross-fertilisation of both sides, performers and audience, that actually makes a concert the memorable occasion it should be.
Meanwhile, concerts with no audiences are organised such as the “ghost festival”: A festival with about 300 bands, with nearly 1,300 music creators including technicians, engineers, bookers, managers and other parties contributing, which actually does not take place simply because nobody can go there. SUISA does support such a “non-festival” with sponsoring but also via ticket sales by its staff.
Cultural and creative industries are relevant
Many event organisers and promoters had worked out reliable precautionary and protective measures in the summer months of 2020 and implemented them with additional costs that were not always insignificant. Now, they are virtually facing an occupational ban. Practically nothing has been permitted any more for a total period of more than six months . The corona bans and prohibitions led to huge financial losses. The Confederation and the cantons may have adopted support programmes, but they have not been well adapted to the situation of the many freelance artists and the event organisers or promoters who are sole traders.
Where does the low regard for the cultural sector stem from?
There is obviously no cultural awareness among the decision makers in politics and administration. Despite a new study of Ernst & Young (EY) showing that the cultural sector is in fourth place regarding the number of employees in Europe: www.rebuilding-europe.eu
We therefore call upon persons with political and administrative control and institutions alike: Culture is vital! It is an essential staple for the cohesion of a society. Allow it to flourish, even in times of a lockdown! It delights people, gives them a perspective beyond the pandemic and particularly gives the artists a livelihood.
Create more differentiated rules: Small events and events with a reduced audience size must be possible, just like open museums, cultural venues, where interested people and artists can meet and experience something together, naturally in compliance with the health regulations. Such places are just as important for society and everyday life as shops where you can buy your everyday provisions. Scientific research has proven that no increased danger exists at cultural events with good precautionary measures with regards to a further spread of the corona virus: more information on this can be read in the study on aerosoles of the Fraunhofer Institute at the Konzerthaus Dortmund (Dortmund Concert Hall) and the closing report of the trial operations of the Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera) with increased audience numbers.
Anchoring cultural awareness more firmly
The corona crisis has revealed something else with respect to culture: Only after events were prohibited and thus disappeared, many have become aware how important culture and entertainment is for us humans and how uplifting cultural exchange between artistic creators and the audience is for both sides.
This cultural awareness should become anchored among the Swiss population more firmly. Starting with education: Young people should be led to the arts through education and through enabling access to cultural achievements. While a few things have been accomplished via the Initiative Jugend & Musik (Youth & Music) there is still a lot to be done, in particular in the other creative genres than just music.
Society’s interest in music, the visual arts, film, literature, dance and performance arts is expanded by stimulating personal creation and promoting the facilitation of current artistic production and artistic heritage. The more people come into contact with artistic forms of expression, the more the need for art and culture will grow. Which ultimately leads to society demanding in a more sustainable manner that this need is satisfied and the necessary conditions for that are created and provided.
A joint strong voice for culture is necessary
In order to increase and more firmly anchor the need for art and culture, the cultural institutions of this country must get together and jointly and more vehemently demand and promote the dissemination of cultural creation.
The “Taskforce Culture” is a joint strong voice which has been heard for the first time during the pandemic. Over the last few months, this task force has, as a discussion partner for politicians and officials, already managed rather well to gather and bundle the forces from the most diverse cultural genres, from artist associations to event organisers and cultural mediators and to stand up for culturally specific concerns. The message has, after all, not hit home with everyone that artistic creation has different requirements to working in many production or service sectors.
A fusion of cultural institutions and associations which, similarly to the large trade associations and workers’ organisations, can take on an important role as a contact for societal and political developments in Switzerland. Such a strong, joint voice for culture is going to get additional relevance in the coming months and years. The public sector will have to make extremely drastic spending cuts because the national economy has suffered and continues to suffer from immense damage due to the fight against the pandemic by way of prohibitions and bans. Future tax collections will decrease while the national debt will increase due to the support measures.
How quickly the savings lever has been applied to culture and education sectors first during financially difficult situations is something we have witnessed already. Together, cultural associations and institutions can raise their voice and see to it that, in the mid- to long-term, the societal and political significance of art and culture is strengthened and respected. For artistic forms of expression and the access to them must of course be recognised as a basic need of people. You cannot and you must not lock them away.
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