COVID-19 Measures for culture in Austria
Update: 3 December 2021
As in all European countries the Austrian cultural scene is severely affected by the measures to combat the Corona virus. All cultural institutions suffer from a major loss of revenues from ticket sales and rental of venues. The loss of income poses an existential threat for many freelance artists, cultural operators and NGOs in the field of culture. A study by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research in 2020 estimated that the Corona-crisis caused € 1,5-2 billion damage in the field of culture, which is a quarter of the annual added value.
Since March 2020 the Federal Government has adopted a series of general and sector-specific measures to support the cultural and creative sectors. The Federal Ministry for Arts, Culture, the Civil Service and Sport has launched a hotline, a mailbox and regularly updated FAQs on the website. Moreover, there are various relevant measures by the Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and regional governments. The measures have been extended several times and the budget increased, most recently in November 2021.
General support measures by the Federal Government:
- Fund for Non-Profit-Organisations
Since July 2020 there is a fund supporting NPOs from the fields of culture, sport, religious communities and volunteering with € 950 million in total. The fund is established by the Ministry for Arts, Culture, the Civil Service and Sport, while applications are processed by Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH, the promotional bank of the Federal Government. Applicants can receive subsidies for 100% of fixed costs and a flat rate for maintenance costs.
- Hardship fund for self-employment
Since March 2020 one-person companies, micro-enterprises and freelance employees can apply for partial compensation of the net income loss. The fund is administered by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber and has been prolonged from 6 to 15 months. Applicants can receive non-repayable grants of 80-90% of loss of net income. The fund is open to freelance artists and cultural SMEs.
- Corona Short-time work
The model for safeguarding jobs was prolonged four times. Presently, the work time can be reduced to 30-80%, while employees remain in stable employment with nearly full wage compensation. This model is also used by big cultural institutions, like Federal Museums and Federal Theatres.
- Further measures
- Reduction or deferral of social security contributions for freelance operators, including cultural organisations and cultural freelance operators
- Tax deferrals (income tax, corporate tax etc.)
- Fixed-cost subsidy for companies
- Federally secured guarantees for bank loans in order to cover the short-term liquidity
Reduction of the VAT to 5% for gastronomy, culture and publishing from July until end of 2021
Covid-Start-up Emergency Fund by Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH doubling the equity capital of SMEs
Lockdown support for officially closed institutions.
Sector-specific measures by the Federal Government:
- Bridge funding for artists
Since July 2020 there is a new fund endowed with meanwhile € 175 million in order to support freelance artists who are in financial emergency due to loss of income. Applications are administered by the Social Insurance Institution for the Self-Employed and applicants must be insured by this institution. For the first quarter of 2022 the grant will be prolonged.
- COVID-19 Fund for artists and cultural educators
The special fund, endowed with € 40 million (planning for December 2021: increase to € 50 million), supports artists and cultural educators, who are neither entitled to apply to the hardship fund nor to the bridge funding for artists. For the first quarter of 2022 the grant will be prolonged.
- Voucher redemption for cancelled events
The law for cancelled events due to the COVID-19 pandemic aims to ensure the liquidity of event organisers. Instead of refunding, a voucher can be issued for tickets amounting up to € 70. For more expensive tickets, reimbursement is possible up to € 180 combined with vouchers. Vouchers are valid until the end of 2022 or 2023. After that deadline, a payment of the outstanding amount of the voucher can be requested.
- Comeback Grant for film and TV productions
As film insurances did not cover damages due to COVID-19 the Government introduced an instrument in May 2020 to cover the risk of stopped or postponed shootings. The fund is endowed € 25 million and administered by Austria Wirtschaftsservice GmbH, the promotional bank of the Federal Government. Film producers can apply for a non-repayable grant of up to 75% of the default costs until 31 December 2022
- Protective Shield for events in the field of culture and sport
There is an instrument to counteract financial risks for event organisers and allow for planning security after the current lockdown in the field of culture and sport congresses and fairs. It is a liability by the Federal Government for non-cancellable costs endowed with € 300 million which can be called upon by event organisers in case of cancellation of events or restriction of visitor numbers. The protective shield covers planned events between 1 February 2021 and 30 June 2023. The fund is administered by the Hotel and Tourism Bank.
- Grants by the Ministry for Arts, Culture, the Civil Service and Sport
- Annual grants of the Ministry are paid in full, even if not all annual activities could take place due to the Corona crisis. The aim is to ensure staff employment.
- Artists and cultural institutions that had to cancel or postpone projects funded by the Ministry have to inform the relevant funding department in order to find a practical solution (case-by-case decisions).
- The Ministry has increased subsidies for the most affected cultural sectors: plus € 1.2 million for film, € 400.000 for cinemas in 2020 and in 2021, € 800.000 for the publishing sector, € 420.000 for the Austrian Music Fund, € 200.000 for theatres, € 250.000 for visual art and photography.
- Federal Theatres received € 10.4 million extra funding in 2020 and € 8 million in 2021 to cover revenue losses, Federal Museums received € 23.1 million in 2020 and € 9 million in 2021.
- In 2020 € 1.1 million were dedicated to specific digital projects. In April 2021 the joint call of the Ministry and regional authorities under the title “Arts and culture in the digital space” was published with a total budget of € 2.5 million. The aim is to support new/innovative digital formats in all cultural sectors (production, access, communication, knowledge-transfer etc.).
- To facilitate the re-opening of the CCS the Ministry has issued 5 special calls in spring 2021 with a total volume of € 20 million:
- The special call “Perspectives Innovation Arts” fosters the support of cross-sectoral cooperation, innovative approaches and experimental projects in all cultural sectors. The total budget is € 2 million for projects to be implemented between November 2021 and the end of 2022. Projects can receive up to € 100.000.
- The special call “Fresh air – Art outdoors” is dedicated to artistic/cultural projects in all CCS. With a total budget of € 2 million, each project can receive grants between € 10.000 and 80.000.
- The special call “From the stage to the video” supports professional video-adaptations and streaming-projects in the field of theatre, dance, music, musical and cabaret. With a total budget of € 2 million each selected project can receive up to € 35.000.
- A special call for audience development aims at supporting measures in order to bring back and bind “old” audience and engage with “new” audience groups (e.g. marketing & social media activities, serial ticketing). The fund is endowed with € 4 million.
- A special call aims at supporting investments in technical equipment and spatial measures in cultural institutions (e.g. ventilation systems, renovation of auditoriums). This fund is endowed with € 10 million.
- Cultural institutions in existential difficulties, despite of various support instruments, can receive special funding. The fund amounts to € 10 million.
COVID-19 Regulations for cultural institutions
After the first lockdown in March 2020 museums, libraries, archives and outdoors cinemas were allowed to reopen on 15 May 2020. Theatres, music halls and cinemas could resume their programme on 29 May 2020 with gradually extended visitor numbers until the beginning of September 2020.
Due to the rapid rise of infection numbers, the Federal Government reintroduced restrictions for events on 14 September and then again on 25 October (maximum 1.000 persons indoor and 1.500 persons outdoor with assigned seats).
Due to the rapid spread of the Corona virus the Federal Government introduced a partial lockdown from 3 November and a full lockdown from 17 November 2020 until 7 February 2021, which included a ban on events with audience and the closure of all cultural institutions, libraries, bookstores, galleries and specialized arts shops. Artistic performances without audience, rehearsals and audiovisual productions applying protective measures were allowed because they were considered as vocational activity.
According to the gradual reopening plan, museums, libraries, archives, bookstores, galleries and arts shops could reopen on 8 February 2021, theatres, music halls and cinemas on 19 May 2021.
As from 1 July 2021 there were no more restrictions regarding distance, capacity and closing hour; mouth-nose-masks had to be used in public transport and retail. Public events had to apply the 3-G rule (tested, recovered, vaccinated), there was no more capacity limitation, however, a notification duty over 100 persons and an authorization requirement over 500 persons. In autumn 2021 several federal states introduced deviating stricter regulations.
The most recent full lockdown started on 22 November 2021 and is expected to last until 13 December 2021.