Measures taken for the support of the cultural and creative sector due to the COVID-19 crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the surface structural issues that the Greek cultural and creative sector has been facing, due mainly to the recent financial crisis that the country went through:
- Labor issues
High percentage of undocumented employment; Multitude of labor models; and Unmapped industry.
- Intellectual property rights
Limited ability of royalty collection societies to collect dues, especially from digital media; and High piracy rate.
- Skills and education
Issues pertaining to the recognition of cultural studies degrees; Outdated business models (lack of business/digital skills); and Limited access to credit/funding (lack of fundraising/marketing/networking skills).
The above systemic issues exacerbated the impact of COVID-19, namely: Reduced revenue and additional expenses; Unemployment; and Inability for long-term planning. The government’s response has been structured in three tiers (1. Immediate response; 2. Mid-term response; and 3. Long-term response), which are discussed in detail below.
1. Immediate response
Safety measures (lock down)
In accordance with the instructions by the health authorities, cultural venues were asked to lock down on March 13, 2020. This included theatres, cinemas, concert halls, museums, archaeological sites etc.
Relief support to employees and enterprises of the sector
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece has adopted measures to provide relief to those individuals and sectors that have been particularly affected, including the cultural sector. Those measures include a temporary economic support to wage earners, self-employed, individual businesses and certain professions affected by the pandemic, payment of repayable advances to companies with decreased turnover, payment of social security contributions for employees whose labor contracts have been suspended, deferral of taxes and social security contributions including tax instalment schemes for at least three months for all companies, self-employed and wage earners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, an interest subsidy on loans to small and medium-sized enterprises and higher health care expenditure. Initially, the economic support covered the period between mid-March to end of April (EUR 800) and it was then expanded to cover May (EUR 534). It is estimated that approximately 40.000 people in the cultural and creative industries have benefited from these horizontal measures.
In addition, certain relief measures were adopted specifically for the cultural and creative sector:
- Seasonal cultural workers were included in the list of beneficiaries
- Special categories of cultural workers were also included (essentially the perimeter of beneficiaries has expanded, and the requirements have been further limited)
- As non-profit organisations were excluded from the horizontal support measures, yet a lot of cultural organisations are indeed nonprofit, EUR 2.000 was given to each cultural non-profit organisation already registered to the Ministry’s Registry of Cultural Organisations (over 600 organisations benefited)
Measures to stimulate growth
In collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Culture and Sports contributed EUR 15 million to support the cultural sector. In addition, it undertook a series of measures per cultural field. Specifically:
i. Film and Cinema:
- Call for the development of short films and documentaries and animation films in collaboration with the Greek Film Centre (EUR 2.8 million)
- Acceleration of payments by the Greek Film Centre to motion pictures that are in the production stage
- Acceleration and simplification of the application process regarding funding proposals
- Extension of existing film production deadlines
- Emergency support of small arthouse cinemas that traditionally present mostly Greek and European motion pictures
ii. Performing Arts:
- Increase of the funding earmarked for Municipal and Regional Theatres (EUR 100.000 increase).
- Doubling of this year’s funding for theatre (totaling EUR 2.3 million) and dance (totaling EUR 1.1 million) calls for non-profit organisations
- Around EUR 1.2 million to for profit theatre companies that had to cancel their shows because of the lockdown
- Specific call for long-term dance research projects (EUR 120K)
- Increase of the monetary amount of the National Theatre Play Awards
iii. Visual Arts:
- Specific call for visual arts projects, including long-term research and interdisciplinary projects (EUR 640K)
- Support of art galleries
- Allocation of additional resources to state-owned museums of Contemporary Art for the acquisition of works by Greek visual artists,
- Direct acquisition by the Ministry of Culture and Sports of works by Greek visual artists
- Dissemination of a EUR 20 voucher for the purchase of books to all unemployed citizens up to 25 years old (approximately 65.000 beneficiaries, totaling EUR 1.3 million), in collaboration with the National Employment Service (OAED)
- Redesign of the Thessaloniki International Book Fair to increase its outreach and resilience
- Dissemination of EUR 1.3 million to regional authorities to fund music concerts across Greece
- Specific call for design projects to promote the visibility of Greek design abroad (EUR 500K)
- Creation of a platform to include all Greek designers
- Call from the Archeological Resources Fund for the design of products to be sold in the stores of state-run archeological and cultural heritage museums
- Specific call for digital culture projects aiming at improving remote access of culture (EUR 800K)
- Specific call for video game development projects (EUR 300K)
In addition to the above:
- Additional grants were given to the cultural organisations supervised by the Ministry of Culture and Sports to enable commissions to Greek artists.
- Submission deadlines and completion deadlines for projects funded by the Ministry in 2019 for the 2019-2020 season were extended
- A bill passed to allow performing arts producers to issue vouchers to reimburse tickets of cancelled concerts and performances
Measures to maintain citizens’ access to culture during the lock down
Developing alternative ways for citizens to access culture was a basic priority since the outbreak of the pandemic, since culture has proven to be the citizens’ refuge. The Ministry of Culture and Sports has built a repository of cultural content, created by its own services and supervised organisations. It consists of material from the huge cultural reserve — monuments, museums, archaeological sites, publications — as well as contemporary cultural productions. These include digital tours of museum collections, online showing of performances, motion pictures and concerts, e-courses etc. The reservoir is continuously expanded with new material.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Culture and Sports — with the support of the Ministry of Digital Governance — introduced a new Cultural Platform, digitalculture.gov.gr, to inform and connect citizens with daily cultural happenings in Greece and abroad and hosting all aforementioned content.
Finally, as stated above, the Ministry issued a specific call for digital culture projects, especially those that enable remote access to culture.
2. Mid-term response
Reopening the sector after the lockdown
Reopening the cultural sector in a safe and sustainable manner was one of the key priorities. In collaboration with the national healthcare authorities, the Ministry designed a gradual reopening of cultural organisations and cultural education facilities, taking into account all necessary precautions and issuing respective protocols.
- Rehearsals and cinema filming proceeded on May 18, 2020
- Open-air archaeological sites reopened on May 18, 2020
- Museums reopened on June 15, 2020
- Open-air cinemas reopened on June 1, 2020
- Other cinemas reopened on July 1, 2020
- Open-air live spectacles (theatre performances, concerts etc.) proceeded on July 1, 2020
- Cultural education organisations (conservatories, dance schools, drama schools etc.) started reopening gradually on May 18, 2020 and the academic year was extended
Furthermore, in order to promote the safe reopening of theatres and the commencement of the Athens and Epidaurus Festival, the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the National Theatre of Greece co-organised the first ever live streaming of a theatre play from the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, with the support of Google. The event was aimed at viewers outside Greece. Over 100.000 people from around the world joined live to watch Aeschylus’ The Persians.
Additional growth measures
In addition to the measures to stimulate growth (see 1. Immediate measures) the Ministry has taken a series of measures aimed at generating employment opportunities and supporting growth.
- Commissioning to state-owned cultural organisations a series of over 250 cultural events with the participation of cultural workers from the free market, over the summer period
- Reducing in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance the VAT of cinema tickets from 24% to 13%
- The Ministry of Labor has developed a program for 10.000 culture professionals, amounting to EUR 13m, using social and other criteria, following a point system. Each participant will receive a social work voucher of EUR 1.000, with full social insurance coverage, during their work, for a period of 3 months
- A cross-ministerial working group was formed on how to increase the capacity and improve the efficiency of royalty collection societies, and a series of relevant measures were adopted.
- The dynamic blocking injunction bill was expedited and passed, further combating piracy
- The Ministry of Culture and Sports is an active participant of the government discussion regarding the NextGeneration EU recovery programme, focusing on its cultural and creative industry dimension.
Conducting research to measure the impact of COVID-19
- The Ministry of Culture and Sports will commission a qualitative survey among professionals in the Greek cultural and creative industries, measuring the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on culture.
- In order to map the professionals of the cultural and creative sectors, a Registry has been created and is open since May at artandcultureprofessionals.services.gov.gr, operated by the Ministry of Labor. A joint Ministerial working group will assess the results and work on evolving this database into a full-fledged Registry that can be used for policy-making purposes.
3. Long-term response
As stated above, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the structural reforms needed in order to increase the sector’s resilience and competitiveness, and to protect its employees. These include:
- Reforms related to labor relations and social security issues
- Tax reforms
- Further strengthening the protection of intellectual property
- Incentives to transition from gray to white economy across different cultural value chains
- Improvement of access to funding
- Reforms related to cultural education
- The inauguration and utilization of a new entity, Acropole Across, which aims at providing funding, skill building, networking, and marketing opportunities to members of the cultural and creative sectors
- Audience development strategies to increase the visibility of contemporary Greek cultural production both within Greece and abroad
- Utilization of technology to support innovative solutions for the production and dissemination of cultural works
- Strategies for the higher visibility of the sector as a key contributor both in Greek society and economy, as well as in the overall stance of Greece and the wellbeing of its citizens (hard and soft data)