the challenges and potential solutions of the cultural sector

Marta Silva, director at Largo Residencias, Lisbon also agrees with the fact that culture  is one of the sectors with the weakest social protection system, and that governments haven’t been doing enough to protect workers already in the past, let alone right now. And despite artists having been generously developing many online free shows, their economic conditions for survival are ever more a topic of debate. This brings to the conclusion that policies need to change, fast.

Yet, however complicated and unsatisfactory social security in Europe can be, this unprecedented situation looks very different overseas: Anikó Erdősi, curator and currently director of Donald Ellis Gallery in New York, remarks how the U.S cultural context is the most capitalistic one, where funding mostly comes from private sources, being almost totally philanthropic and much more relying on market dynamics than in Europe. What happened during the last weeks is similar to what happened elsewhere. A lot of people lost their jobs, making both small and big organizations suffer. “The biggest institutions haven’t started laying off people, while smaller ones ceased all activity, being totally dependent on the gig economy. Many cultural workers usually have day jobs, but as the lockdown progressed, most of them lost their jobs overnight. Even though the city of New York has a long history of social organizing, and even if lots of non-profit organizations started to act on the issue, the problem is expanding and there aren’t enough resources to save everybody”, she observes.

But how are things in European cities that are increasingly investing in culture, acknowledging it as a very important asset? 

Daniela Patti –  “Getting back to Europe, and precisely in Italy, I’d like to ask Fabrizio Barbiero, Public Manager at the Municipality of Turin, what his point of view is, both on personal and city council level?”

“Actually, I can personally relate to what is happening in New York. Everything is closed and it’s not easy to turn “physical” cultural activities into “virtual” ones. This is very strange because this phenomenon is not a war, you can’t escape it. It’s “just” a pandemic that needs to stop, but nobody knows when it will stop. The sector is risking a setback that could last for even a year or more, considering all the projects have been halted. The biggest issue is how to avoid fixed costs. We are getting lots of requests from people who need to stop paying rents, otherwise they could literally starve. There should be new and fast policies both at national and EU-level, as we need  both the EU and the European continent as a whole to understand that this is a common problem.” 

Daniela Patti – “Where, but mostly how, can a city council help to act quickly, considering the fact that it will have to overcome several bureaucratic obstacles? How do you see the interaction between foundations and the government?”

“I personally don’t know the exact answer. We actually haven’t had the time to understand the whole situation yet. We were definitely not prepared for this. The cultural sector has become a very important asset for our city. Lots of cultural organizations are trying to promote virtual experiences to keep doing their job and to bring their mission forth, but now it is difficult to think about the future. We will face a cultural crisis, not only in health and economical terms. We will wake up in a very different world once we will end the pandemic, and we will have to find out how to use culture as a tool for making people stay together, help one another and rebuild social relations.”

Image (c) Eutropian

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