In the past decade discussion has largely revolved around the issue of the amount of support for culture provided by the state, which has been reduced several times and only in recent years has begun to increase again. This complex situation has not benefited either from the fact that there has been a substantial increase in VAT in recent years. Since January 2012 the lower VAT rate has risen from 10% to 14%, while the list of items subject to VAT has remained unchanged. The basic rate remained at 20%. The rate was supposed to be changed to a uniform 17.5% from January 2013. However, in the end the government agreed to increase both rates by just one percentage point, from 14% to 15% and from 20% to 21%. The dramatic increase in VAT in recent years has had a huge impact on the cultural sector because many items were originally subject to the lower VAT rate. The new Government in 2014 promised a lower VAT rate would be re-introduced from January 2015 set at 10%, which would apply to children’s food and books as well as medicine, and it did as promised (see also chapter 4.1.4.).
Debates and the development of new civic initiatives revolve around financial issues, but also around the lack of transparency in the tender procedures for so-called priority activities at the MC, the grant selection procedures at the municipal level, or the selection procedures for appointing directors of cultural institutions.
The year 2014 also ushered in a fundamental change in connection with the new Civil Code (Act No. 89/2012 Coll.). The old Civil Code was replaced with an entirely new set of legislation that unites all the legislation in the area of civil law into a single code. As soon as the new Civil Code came into effect the Commercial Code (Act No. 513/1991 Coll.), for instance, became a thing of the past.
The year 2019 saw the nighteenth change in the post of Minister of Culture since 1989. The swift succession of alternating ministers in previous years was accompanied also by a large turnover in personnel occupying lower posts in the Ministry of Culture and has had the effect of disrupting continuity and strategic thinking at the MC. Compounding this has been the annual decrease in the amount of resources directed into the sector of culture.
A real and current challenge for cultural strategies was ushered in with the COVID-19 crisis. During the crisis, new formal and informal groups began to emerge in the sphere of culture that across both the commercial and non-commercial sectors put increasing pressure on public administration through cultural advocacy and lobbying. Up to the crisis, the purely commercial sector of the arts had existed without any public support and depended on revenue from admission and entrance fees. In an unprecedented development, the MC responded to pressure by gradually communicating with individual representatives of the commercial sector of the performing arts – for example, musicals, summer theatres, music festivals, and the field’s umbrella organisations.
The music sector has come together to form what is called the ‘Czech Music Community’. This new platform emerged spontaneously during the state of emergency in April 2020. It brings together professionals in the fields of pop and classical music. This platform also launched the project #zazivouhudbu, which resulted in proposals such as to eliminate VAT from music sales, to reduce VAT on the sale of admission tickets to 10%, to extend the special state support for people in the music industry working freelance with a trade licence, to introduce a system of interest-free loans, and the founding of the National Music Fund, which would help to deal with the losses. Together with the MC it also created a working group that is dedicated to the issues of the music industry.
The Czech Music Community also formed ties with the International Theatre Institute and together they prepared a series of letters to relevant ministries in which they requested that clear details be set out regarding the timetable for relaxing the government’s emergency measures to combat COVID-19 and regarding changes to the limits on the compensation bonus provided in the frame of support for self-employed persons and the special Covid-Culture I and II programmes.
The Government of the Czech Republic approved the first package of support to help save culture in the amount of 1.07 billion CZK, which was primarily intended to help support contributory organisations of the state and the municipalities and entities that in the past were already supported with state funding. This package also included a special call for proposals (for projects) supporting access to the arts via digital media in the amount of 30 million CZK.
Other measures adopted applied to the entire culture sector. The Ministry of Culture passed a bill, No. 247/2020 Coll., on some measures to mitigate the effects of the pandemic of the Coronavirus called SARS CoV-2 in the area of cultural events. It was made possible for organisers of cultural events to issue vouchers for a cultural event instead of refunding an admission fee.
In June the Government of the Czech Republic approved a reduction in the rate of VAT on admission/entrance fees from 15% to 10%. It then approved a special grant programme to support business entities in the culture sector, the ‘COVID-CULTURE’ programme for cultural and creative industries, which was prepared jointly by the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Culture. This was an unprecedented step of a joint programme being created in the culture sector by two ministries.
COVID-19 ushered in a general paradigm shift. Over the course of the crisis the Ministry of Culture progressed from its initial support aimed mainly at entities that had already been supported in the past to opening up a more intensive dialogue and providing support for the entire cultural sector across both its commercial and non-commercial branches.
One of the by-products of the crisis is that it has become apparent that there is a need to define the status of artists in the Czech Republic, which has not yet been defined. In this connection the MC initiated the step of dealing with this issue in the new State Cultural Policy.