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Give priority to the fragile statutes of cultural freelancers.
On Friday 13 March, the Belgian government announced a number of drastic measures to curb the further spread of the Coronavirus. An important part of social life was shut down. In addition to retirement homes, schools, universities, shops and cafes, the cultural houses were also asked to close their doors: museums, concert halls, clubs, cinemas, cultural centres, fairs and festivals … But also rehearsals, film recordings and residencies were cancelled and production processes were shut down.
That same evening, State of the Arts, the platform for independent artists and artists, launched a hotline for the hundreds of freelancers who had to stop their activities from one moment to the next.
In addition to a heartwarming call for solidarity, the stories we have been hearing for several days are poignant. This crisis could not have come at a more unfortunate moment for the culture. After the blow of the recent budget cuts, all hope was placed on this spring. March and April are among the busiest months of the year. It is not uncommon for artists to earn an important part of their annual income during these months.
The shutdown of the production and presentation chain has long-term consequences for the people working in this sector. The more than 450 reactions that have flowed in so far show very clearly the extremely fragile income structure with which not only artists juggle, but also other freelancers in the cultural sector technicians, dramaturges, administrators, graphic designers, photographers… Students and volunteers will also have difficulty making ends meet this month.
For an extensive report, we refer to the article by Wouter Hillaert.
Within a vulnerable web of dependencies, freelancers try to keep their heads above water by means of very different engagements: longer engagements alternate with short ones, with a bit of luck these are supplemented by a few hours of teaching or serving in a restaurant… and all this combined in an extremely tight schedule, with someone working in the cafe in the afternoon before singing an aria in the evening. Unfortunately, the ‘informal’ circuit of the Kleine Vergoedings regelingen (KVR) for artists is still often used. The years of barrenness in the sector become painfully visible these days.
Together, the testimonies already accounted for a loss of around 2 million euros. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Lost income, but also invested production costs such as visas, train and plane tickets, already paid hotel costs… These are one-off costs that will have to be paid again, if the productions are to be played in the future, and now mainly make a hole in the budget. And anyway, shifting everything to the future is not an option. Not in the short term anyway! We will unfortunately have to say goodbye to many productions…
Anyone who cannot fall back on an artist’s statute, a partner with a solid income or a company with the necessary reserves will be faced with an unbridgeable gap. Many households are also doubly affected, because both partners work in the sector. What the situation also makes very clear is the strong (economic) interdependence between culture, tourism and the hospitality industry. We therefore ask for a fair and coherent solution for all three sectors, taking into account all their actors, especially those with very fragile statutes.
A differentiated compensation fund for the cultural sector
State of the Arts (SOTA) would like to explicitly thank the organisations in the field, who immediately promised to pay out as much, and as properly as possible despite the great challenges. However, the testimonies we receive show that many other cultural workers unfortunately fall outside such agreements, and are existentially affected.
That is why we advocate a differentiated package of compensation measures for those actors with a fragile status. We propose:
· in the very short term, to deploy a task force with excellent and comprehensive knowledge of the field, in which all actors (artistic staff and technical/support staff) are properly represented.
· to include the cultural sector in the global economic emergency measures, in the same way as, for example, the hospitality sector.
· arrive at fair and solidarity-based considerations around the complexity and enormous differences in the income structures of cultural workers (whether or not they are artists, self-employed, self-employed in a secondary occupation), whereby the weakest in the link are given priority when it comes to compensation.
· These compensations should also take into account the losses of one-off investment costs already paid, which will have to be paid again in the event of new playing or presentation dates.
· To offer flexible opportunities to take advantage of technical unemployment due to force majeure, even in the case of short-term contracts via temporary work.
· To also show flexibility with regard to the minimum number of contracts and assignments required to renew or obtain the ‘artist’s statute’, as a result of the corona crisis.
· A remission of 1 or 2 quarters of the social security contributions for self-employed persons and self-employed persons in secondary occupation
Moreover, SOTA is happy to keep its promise to release funds for the second round of project subsidies at the budgetary examination in April, despite the major budgetary efforts that now have to be made. One crisis must not push another into the background. The project funds are an important weapon against the loss of income of so many artists and project organisations.
What are the next steps? Fair Practice!
SOTA will follow developments very closely. In direct consultation with the undersigned artists’ organisations, we inform the government, the parliamentarians and the social partners who are gathered around the table, to support the idea of the compensation measures. But we also want to make fair practice in the arts and cultural sector even more powerful from now on. This crisis proves once again how far we are from a solid social framework for workers in this sector.
Questions ideas or proposals? Write us.