Italians working in cultural sector decry pandemic closures | Italy Information

Milan, Italy – Artists and cultural workers protested across Italy on Tuesday. A year later, theaters, music venues, cinemas and cultural spaces closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic – closings that left the 300,000 workers in the sector unemployed.

A protest outside the local central government headquarters in Milan began with a performance where actors, singers and other stage professionals prepared behind the scenes for a show that never takes place.

“This was a five minute show that took nine hours to rehearse. We wanted to show what goes into preparing for a production, ”said Beatrice Parapini, a singer, actress and teacher who took part in the little act, to Al Jazeera.

Since national travel had been banned since the beginning of the second wave, a national demonstration took place in 20 regional capitals.

Workers’ unions organized parallel demonstrations in some cities, including Rome and Catania.

On Monday evening, theaters across Italy turned on their lights to “put the theater in the spotlight”.

Mirko Lanfredini, the artistic director of a small theater in Milan, says that while he was eligible for scholarships, the theater school he founded was shaken [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]”We are calling for venues to be reopened with security measures and a greater focus on our category with serious reforms taking into account the atypical nature of the work in the cultural sector,” said Parapini, who helped organize the protest.

Like others, she was not eligible for government support in the past year.

“I had a serious health problem [in 2019]and I’ve fallen below the threshold of working days required to qualify for the grants, ”explains Parapini, adding that the projects she recently resumed had to be postponed after the pandemic broke out.

Artists and cultural workers could apply for a grant of 600 euros at the beginning of the crisis and announce four additional grants of 1,000 euros during the course of the crisis.

“But we also have to reopen cultural activities with all the necessary security measures,” Maurizio Landini, general secretary of CGIL, one of the largest trade unions in Italy, told journalists in Rome.

“There is also a need for funding and an opportunity for Europeans [Next Generation EU] Plan is an opportunity to invest in culture and the performing arts. “

Across Europe and beyond, most of the cultural institutions have been closed as the coronavirus rises sharply. However, there were short periods of reopening, for example in summer.

In Madrid, the government reopened theaters and cinemas in late 2020, although the country will be in a state of emergency until at least May 9.

The UK, which has one of the world’s highest death tolls but is widely lauded for introducing vaccines, recently announced incremental measures to ease its lockdown. The cultural institutions are to be fully reopened by the end of June.

Uncover structural weaknesses

In his first speech, Mario Draghi, Italy’s new Prime Minister, said: “Culture must be supported. The risk is in losing a legacy that defines our identity. The economic loss is enormous, but the loss of spirit would be even greater. “

The sector should be supported by investing and strengthening worker protection, he said.

But a year after a crisis in which many people are struggling, protesters are looking for more than just words.

A look out of the window of the Montecitorio Palace, the seat of the Italian Parliament, will remind Draghi, the former ECB President, of the challenges he is facing to steer Italy out of the ongoing health and economic crisis.

Around 300,000 people work in Italy’s arts and culture sectors [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]On Monday, restaurant owners protested and asked the government to restore opening hours in the evening.

The #open movement launched in January is supported by right-wing extremist party chairman Matteo Salvini.

Employees are protected by a dismissal ban until March 31.

However, small business owners, self-employed and seasonal workers did not receive such security during the crisis.

Mirko Lanfredini, 42, actor and artistic director of a small theater in Milan, says that while he was eligible for scholarships, the theater school he founded was shaken.

“Since February 23 of last year, my school has only worked for a month in June,” Lanfredini said. “The rent is 2,000 euros a month. All of our savings are gone. “

“The theater I work in has 240 seats and we managed to create 120 detached seats. But the day we were supposed to reopen, the curfew was announced [in October]. ”

David Ghollasi, a 32-year-old electrician at the stable theater in Rome and protest organizer, called for a “continuity income” for workers on short-term or project-related contracts.

The pandemic has exposed profound problems in the cultural space, including precariousness, widespread informal work and exploitation, said Ghollasi, who added there was a silver lining.

“The pandemic has definitely helped break down barriers among workers, and a year without work has given us time to pause and start moving,” he said.

Francesca Bettio, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Siena, told Al Jazeera: “We need to rethink the way we support workers when they are not working, our social safety nets.

“For art workers, half the good news is that they are no longer treated as segregated and marginalized. Your problem is becoming more common and the solutions need to incorporate them too. The crisis has confronted us with a paradigm shift that we can no longer ignore. “

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