The Impact of Coronavirus on Culture

The fact that the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 has reached our doorstep is unquestionable. Many countries, including Slovakia, have taken “hard” preventive measures and we see an increased fear of a pandemic not only in the news, but also in hospitals, pharmacies and, last but not least, in queues at groceries and ski lifts. Governments have cancelled all mass events, which led to the interruption of the football Champions League or the premature termination of top hockey leagues, for example in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, without knowing the winners of the season. NBA basketball stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry also called on the league management to end the season early after a coronavirus infection was confirmed in one of the players.

However, the consequences of coronavirus also have a huge impact on culture. In addition to the fact that cultural events are being cancelled, it is important to be aware of the consequences of these measures. Cinemas cancel screenings and postpone the premieres of upcoming and much-anticipated films. A great example is the postponement of the world premiere of the new James Bond film with the distinctive subtitle No Time To Die from April to November. The disease left out no Hollywood stars and found one of the greates, Tom Hanks and his wife who ended up in an Australian hospital. The largest video game conference, E3, which takes place every June in Los Angeles and at which new generations of Xbox and Playstation game consoles were to be announced this year, has been cancelled altogether. Instead, some gaming companies are considering an online conference. Even Pope Francis has announced that he will not appear in the window this time, but would rather stream online so as not to attract crowds of people to St. Peter’s Square.
The non-profit Americans for the Arts had to make a difficult decision and cancel the National Arts Action Summit in Washington, D.C., in late March. All performances on Broadway in New York are also suspended. French theatre companies, which operate on the principle of touring theatres, had to cancel the planned tour of the country. A French web portal La Scène, which specializes in performing arts in France, has published an article in which you can find a list of festivals and events that have been suspended or cancelled.

The wave of cancellations has struck Slovak cultural organizations too, and only now everyone begins to realize that for most of them it will have fatal consequences. The Košice cultural centre, Tabačka Kulturfabrik, operates as a non-profit organization which, in addition to cultural events, covers part of its costs by operating a bar, bistro and renting premises. The cancellation of planned events will have a major impact on the financial situation, not only in terms of covering operating costs, but may also complicate the implementation of projects funded by the Arts Council (FPU). The manager of the Úsmev Cinema in Košice, Barbora Tóthová, told Denník N that “the closure of the cinema and bar puts us in a serious financial situation and can cause existential problems.” The General Manager of the Slovak National Theatre and the head of the SND Drama Peter Kováč said that without spectators there is a loss of revenue of 100,000 euros every weeek. The Pôtoň Theatre has currently cancelled seven events and three all-day events for a total of about 600-700 participants as part of the Psota na Slovensku (Hardship in Slovakia) project. At the same time, they cancelled all events and screenings at their central site in Bátovce.

In the Czech Republic, the Association of Independent Theatres of the Czech Republic turned to the Ministry of Culture with an open letter requesting the opening of negotiations on how to compensate for damage suffered by the independent performing arts sector following the introduction of emergency measures against the spread of the epidemic. Most of the staff in independent theatres, whether artistic, technical or managerial, have no emloyment contracts. The incomes of these employees are, as in Slovakia, directly proportional to the number of performances played. On the divadlo.cz web portal you can find changes in the programmes and statements of all Czech theatres in connection with the adoption of preventive measures. After negotiations with the Association of Independent Theatres of the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic commissioned the Institute of Arts – Theater Institute (IDU) to map the impacts of emergency measures through a short survey in the form of a questionnaire from which further steps will follow. The Czech Minister of Culture, Lubomír Zaorálek, assured the cultural community that he is aware of all the complications and will pay full attention to the situation. In the meantime, the Donio.cz charitable collections platform has launched a call to “save Czech culture”.

The Singapore Secretary of State for Culture has announced that the government is allocating $ 1.6 million to the cultural sector in connection with coronavirus-related measures. Germany has pledged financial assistance to the arts organizations and artists whose preventive measures have hit hardest. Hong Kong is working with the artist community to launch an online platform that will offer access to galleries or live online broadcasts of cultural events. A number of public institutions have begun to work with governments to evaluate and coordinate the possible consequences and different scenarios that could affect the cultural sector and grant recipients. The American Smithsonian Institution Magazine has published an article referring to the current exhibition entitled Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World, which highlights the important role of museums in combating disinformation and making available information that demystifies the emergence and spread of new diseases. Some museums have even made virtual tours available, including museums in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and the Americas. Various banks are also responding to the situation in the world, offering the option of postponing mortgage and loan repayments for several months. TV operators are gradually announcing that children’s stations as well as other paid channels have been unblocked for all clients, and Microsoft is offering companies a free Office 365 offer for half a year.

We see that the situation caused by the coronavirus has really bad consequences for the cultural sector. There is a reason why a pandemic has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Slovak National Theatre is hit by one blow after another on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its founding. As a result of the crisis, it called for a “lifebuoy” and calls on its supporters to consider claiming a refund for cancelled performances and to visit the theatre as soon as it will become possible. It was inspired by a similar challenge from Hungary, which is spreading on social networks. It may be premature to talk about statistics at the moment and it is difficult to predict how the situation will develop. Nevertheless, we see that governments in some countries are taking steps that count on the support of the cultural sector. The Arts Council (FPU) has issued guidelines regarding the cancellation or change of dates for events or other projects directly caused by this situation: however, this is an extremely challenging situation for organizers of any cultural event, from the preparation of the Istropolitana Project international theatre festival, which is organised by the Faculty of Theatre of the Academy of Performing Arts, to the activities of local amateur ensembles.
In addition, the Slovak Republic is in the period after the parliamentary elections, with a new government being formed, but the current one should already act. The whole situation looks all the more frightening when we realize that the Ministry of Culture was one of the ministries that could be described as an “unwanted bride”.

Denis Farkaš