|The National Theatre in London, Sept. 21, 2020. Governments around the world have tried to support the arts during the pandemic, some more generously than others. Lauren Fleishman/The New York Times.
by Alex Marshall, © 2021 The New York Times Company; via Pam Green
|NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- In December, owners and operators of theaters and music halls across the United States breathed a sigh of relief when Congress passed the latest coronavirus aid package, which finally set aside $15 billion to help desperate cultural venues. But that came more than six months after a host of other countries had taken steps to buffer the strain of the pandemic on the arts and artists.
Here are the highlights, and missteps, from eight countries’ efforts.
President Emmanuel Macron of France was one of the first world leaders to act to help freelance workers in the arts. The country has long had a special unemployment system for performing artists that recognizes the seasonality of such work and helps even out freelancers’ pay during fallow stretches. In May, Macron removed a minimum requirement of hours worked for those who had previously qualified for the aid. He also set up government insurance for TV and film shoots to deal with the threat of closure caused by the pandemic. Other countries, including Britain, quickly copied the move.
Germany’s cultural life has always been heavily subsidized, something that insulated many arts institutions from the pandemic’s effect. But in June, the government announced a $1.2 billion fund to get cultural life restarted, including money directed to such projects as helping venues upgrade their ventilation systems. And more assistance is on the way. Germany’s Finance Ministry intends to launch two new funds: one to pay a bonus to organizers of smaller cultural events (those intended for up to a few hundred people), so they can be profitable even with social distancing; and another to provide insurance for larger events (for several thousand attendees) to mitigate the risk of cancellation. Germany is not the first to implement such measures; Austria introduced event insurance in January.
In July, the British government announced a cultural bailout package worth about $2.1 billion — money that saved thousands of theaters, comedy clubs and music venues from closure. In December, several major institutions, including the National Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company, were also given long-term loans under the package. Even with the help, there have already been about 4,000 layoffs at British museums alone, and more in other sectors.
European cultural aid hasn’t been enacted without controversy. In November, Poland announced recipients of a $100 million fund meant to compensate dance, music and theater companies for earnings lost because of restrictions during the pandemic. But the plan was immediately attacked by some news outlets for giving money to “the famous and rich,” including pop stars and their management. The complaints prompted the culture minister to announce an urgent review of all payments, but the government ultimately defended them, and made only minor changes.