POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - ECONOMY

Culture in recovery: “We’re in survival mode"



Cultural venues have had to adapt to a new way of working since the pandemic. It is easier for some more than others Shutterstock

Cultural venues have had to adapt to a new way of working since the pandemic. It is easier for some more than others Shutterstock

The pandemic has forced cultural and creative sector actors to dramatically rethink how they make art accessible to the public. Seven leaders of different cultural institutions in Luxembourg describe how they have handled restrictions on gatherings and other measures introduced as a result of the pandemic and share their visions for the future.

In survival mode

Den Atelier, Michel Welter:

“We’re in survival mode and I think in survival mode it’s a different approach. The Atelier consists of two companies: we received €5,000 for one. So far, that’s it. That’s why we presented our concept of open-air or drive-in shows to various institutions. We came up with this concept two months ago and presented it to various institutions. Pétange jumped on board and I’ve been very happy. It gives us at least some activity and keeps the wheels spinning, even though they are very slow. Our activity for the Pétange shows is 500-600 tickets. That’s fine for those shows. But on a regular basis that’s what we would sell in one day. Our turnover has really fallen to 10% of our regular turnover.

“The Atelier’s regular business is international touring. We are one stop of an international tour. It’s not the culture ministry that can say international touring. They will say if we can do shows. But the reality is the international touring business isn’t happening. Luxembourg is one very small part of the international touring. As long as the artists still has so much insecurity in his planning, they will not return to touring. We’re far away from a show at Den Atelier with 3.5 people per square metre. OK, I would feel uncomfortable as well. In order to get rid of this discomfort, we need to lose our fear of the virus and that will only come with a vaccine or cure.”

Museums can be reassuring

Casino Luxembourg artistic director Kevin Muhlen:

“I think the importance of art and culture has become evident during this phase. I think it’s reassuring to go to a museum. It’s a place to feel secure and relaxed.

“For the exhibitions we’re respecting the rules that require people to wear a mask, we’ve a certain amount of visitors who can enter certain exhibitions spaces, people must wash their hands when they enter. We have to adapt. Before the pandemic, we had an exhibition in virtual reality, which had to close because obviously people can’t use the VR masks anymore. We had to take this exhibition down and we replaced with a video exhibition from the same artist.

“We’ve also concerts, performances, talks, etc. This is a bit trickier because we still don’t know how we will handle it. In July and August, we won’t organise any events. The next events are an exhibition opening in October and the night of the museums, this is a big question as well, we still haven’t figured out how to do it. We’ve adapted some different solutions on the online platforms especially during the pandemic we had documents presenting the exhibitions online. We’ve also a video channel on our website called Casino channel. It’s something we always did. We’ve more than 200 videos online. Now we see how much sense it makes to do it all these years. During the winter months we have conference cycle of six conferences. This we plan to do online as well. We’ve some webinars.”

 

2018 archive photo of a Design Friends exhibition at Casino. Photo: Jan Hanrion/Maison Moderne

Optimistic planning

Carl Adalsteinsson, artistic director of arts centre Cape:

“Currently we are planning in a very optimistic way our next season 2020/2021 which will be officially presented on 8 September. It will be a full season with no artistic restrictions and we will “play it by ear” depending on the measures decided by the government, hoping that we will be able to open the house as normally as possible in October. To be honest, I think that the current regulation of physical distancing in the venues between people from different households of 2m at 360° is currently senseless. It means three empty seats between them and every second row will be blocked, which ends up in only 20% of the total seating capacity, whereas in restaurants the distance between tables has been limited to 1,50m. But I’m confident that we will have (hopefully) a different situation in September/October.

“For cultural venues in a ‘post-pandemic’ world, I do strongly hope that we will return then back to normal, with halls filled with audience, artists being able to work again without restrictions and fear etc.”

An individual approach

Luka Heindrichs of venue de Gudde Wellen:

“De Gudde Wëllen is one of Luxembourg’s very few privately-owned concert venues and cultural event promoters. It’s no news that the covid-19 crisis has led many of our European peers to a total disarray and directly threatens the existence of thousands of jobs. I believe that the situation in Luxembourg, where the wide majority of cultural establishments runs entirely on secured government funding, should be a lot easier to handle.

“A determined financial support by the municipalities, as well as a cautious, yet differentiated re-opening schedule, where events targeting 100 people are not equally treated as the ones targeting 1,000 visitors, would enable us to start working on the coming season without the permanent fear of bankruptcy. As we are talking of just a handful of entities whose beneficial societal impact is lightyears away from the actual costs of an overall reasoned rescue plan, I believe that an individual approach would fit Luxembourg’s situation best, and would protect the country from the disappearance of its last wholehearted cultural entrepreneurs.”

 

Kinneksbond theatre director Jérôme Konen says going to the theatre is a collective experience. Photo: Sven Becker/archives

Maintaining a collective experience

Kinneksbond theatre director Jérôme Konen:

“Regarding the actors and dancers on stage, we are hopeful that all social distancing measures will soon be abolished in favour of alternative measures that are more compatible with our craft. However, even without any legal obligation, all cultural actors will have to act in a responsible and respectful way towards their colleagues until there is a vaccine. Furthermore, they might have to ask themselves the following question: if theatre is supposed to be the mirror of a society at a given time, isn’t it necessary for them to reflect upon the collective crisis that we’ve just gone through and to adapt the way they produce their art?

“As to the audience, luckily we are a creative industry and I strongly believe that we will find original means to create a cosy, warm and welcoming atmosphere despite the security measures that we must comply with. Going to the theatre is a collective experience, that goes far beyond what’s being performed on stage. It includes new unexpected encounters, sometimes heated discussions and opening up yourself to different ways to see the world. People might be separated when sitting in their seats, but it is our duty to assure that, one way or another, they feel like being part of a vibrant community.”

Public access to creativity

Neimenster director Ainhoa Achutegui:

“The cultural universe has always known to adapt to new conditions and circumstances. Crises come and go, artists also know them from their own work and creative processes. Yet, this particular crisis has been different and remains one of the worst in our sector in recent decades, because in a matter of days cultural life as we knew it fell apart. Culture, one of the defining aspects of humanity, abruptly came to a halt. But did it really vanish, or rather change? Improvisation, creativity, perseverance and flexibility started to materialize differently: art creation shifted online, numerous cultural institutions showed alternative or virtual programmes, others got inspiration by the crisis itself or developed a different bond with the audience. The dooming cultural void needed to be bridged, without exception.

“However, as artists rely on the audience's feedback and reactivity for their work, it is our mission as cultural institutions to make their creation publicly available. Restrictions or not, promoting culture is our ‘raison d'être’ and we will find ways to make it happen.

“I am confident and optimistic that the audience will share this view and follow suit. Because after all this it's about time to listen to live music again, to go and see exhibitions and to eat popcorn in the cinema. The few remaining changes to our routine--washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing--are merely logistical and don't really matter, the core experience of culture will remain the same. Ultimately, these real live experiences are priceless and simply irreplaceable.”

 

Neimenster director Ainhoa Achutegui, pictured, says she is confident and optimistic audiences will return. Photo: Neimenster

Reinvention and social links

Kulturfabrik collective team statement:

“The Kulturfabrik, like the entire cultural sector, was not spared by the current crisis. But we are convinced, more than ever, that culture is essential--not only for cultural workers, but also for our society as a whole. Fully aware of the long-term impact of the virus, accustomed to planning our projects months in advance, we are now learning together to focus on the near future. We are committed to reinventing ourselves, to continue to create social links, and to bring culture back to life. Physical distancing will never be social distancing at Kufa. New places will be born, new cultural forms will appear, new ways of being together will emerge.

“Kulturfabrik is not only a place for entertainment and shows, but it’s also a place that brings people together. To prove so, we installed and launched the ‘Kufa Summer Bar’ within a few days. Since 27 May, and throughout the summer, we welcome our public on a large outdoor terrace with a cosy atmosphere, recycled furniture, lanterns and vintage decoration. The season will be punctuated by various small cultural events: DJ sets, acoustic concerts and creators market. In order to support the local artistic scene in this difficult period, a residence project called ‘Squatfabrik’ was launched in June. We have other projects in the making and our programme will be revealed in future and in the course of the health news. One thing remains certain: Kufa is a welcoming place, a place of life, exchange and meetings and we intend to take advantage of the coming months to prove it!”