One year of COVID in the performing arts
AITI has compiled an overview of the status of the performing arts in one year of COVID.
A whole year of burdensome restrictions
- Theaters had to close their doors for a total of 4 ½ months.
- Severe gathering restrictions for public performances with proximity limits and a limited number of spectators for a total of almost 4 months during the period.
- Subtle restrictions for public performances were for almost 4 months in total, and for the longest time during the summer of 2020, when theater activities are at an all-time low.
Increased project funds for independent performing arts
The government responded to the effects of the pandemic in the spring with an additional allocation through the competition funds, Performing Arts Fund and Artists Salary. In May, 95 million ISK was allocated for new projects and at the end of June, 71 months were allocated from the artists’ salary fund to performing artists.
In January 2021, the government increased its contribution to the performing arts fund by 37 million ISK providing 132 million ISK to 30 professional performing arts groups in the year 2021. There was also an increase in artists’ salaries by 117 months for performing artists with a total of 307 monthly salaries.
This increase is a huge need and a long overdue injection into the difficult and vulnerable working environment of artists. It is hoped that the government will respond to the artists’ call for this increase to be permanent. It is worth noting that although the aforementioned additional allocation was helpful, it was for new projects and had little to say about the problem that the current project encountered and remains unresolved.
Covid support for theaters
All theaters in the country have experienced huge revenue losses and had to lay off staff during the year. The number of projects has decreased and many projects have been moved to next season.
To meet the weak status of the theaters, the state and the city have increased funding for both the National Theater and the City Theater. The City of Reykjavík contributed ISK 78 million to the The City Theater and the government provided an additional ISK 350 million to the National Theater to partially compensate for the theaters’ losses in covid.
Tjarnarbíó, home of independent performing arts, received 5 million in covid support from the City of Reykjavík.
Other government responses
The government has been responsible for a variety of action packages to save the economy and individuals, including: partial salary compensation, business closure grants, revenue loss grants and relief grants. Unfortunately, these actions have benefited self-employed performing artists and groups only to a very small extent. These measures have been limited to companies and associations that have unlimited tax liability and are therefore not applicable for cultural associations (performing arts companies) that run non-profit activities.
Postponing again and again
Many independent performing arts groups have been hit hard by the covid pandemic. There are examples of scheduled premieres having to be postponed many times, e.g. Steinunn Ketilsdóttir’s premiere of dance performancet Piece nr. 2. It was first scheduled at Vorblót Dance Festival in April 2020, then again at Reykjavík Dance Festival in November 2020 and finally at the cancelled Vorblót in April this year. Other groups have had to stop their performances more than once e.g. Reykjavík Ensemble, which just managed to premiere Polishing Iceland before closing in March 2020. They finally continued their shows at the end of September but were forced to stop again shortly afterwards due to closure. The same goes for Garp Performing Arts Company, which premiered Am I My Mom? just before closing in March 2020 and then stopped showing for a full house. The performance has now been rehearsed twice, but there have been no shows as of yet due to the closures. The childrens theater group Lotta has also suffered a lot of financial damage from the covid restrictions and is on the verge of bankruptcy. Then there are countless well-established companies, e.g. Gablers Theatre, Comedy Theatre and others who have suffered financial hardship due to the situation.
Real need for specific measures for independent performing arts
The fact that these companies do not have access to the government’s rescue measures due to covid is particularly bad as in all cases they are companies that have no funds to apply for. Their business is non-profit and all their income goes to pay for the cost of events and salary payments obviously weigh the most. The aim of the government with its actions has been abling those who have had to undergo burdensome restrictions to resume operations in a normal manner when the situation allows. However, it is clear that not all of these groups will survive unless they are supported by specific measures. Not to mention of the mental well being of the artists that have been prevented from working in their profession for such a long time.
Independent performing arts still active in the epidemic
Despite the restrictions and suspension of performances, the independent performing arts have been active and visible during the epidemic. As usual, most premieres are still by independent performing arts companies. Independent performing arts companies have premiered 15 of the 28 shows of the winter, of which 6 are independent children’s shows. Despite this, attendance is as expected considerably lower than in the average year due to restrictions.
With summer approaching, increased vaccinations and lifts on restriction bans we can expect a flourishing independent performing arts scene in the coming season. Thirty performing arts groups received project grants in the start of the year, which is a new record for independent performing arts.