Dusk or dawn?

French TYA expects lasting consequences

By François Fogel

As everywhere, French performing arts and the whole cultural sector are deeply impacted by the lockdown. For all those who were still hoping to save the season, the cancelation of the Festival d’Avignon and all the summer festivals sounded like the coup de grâce, but it is only one link in a whole chain reaction at work.

On the companies side uncertainties accumulate. No chance to display your works now could mean empty touring perspectives for two or three seasons. Premieres of ongoing creations become impossible to re-schedule, as, whenever the venues could eventually reopen, programmers will be willing to respect the commitments they have made for the present year. Given the social precariousness of most of the professionals, there is a real risk of disbanding and loss of skills.

Theatres don’t have much more visibility over the next months, and the rules for spacial distanciation they will have to apply in their premises, for performances and even rehearsals. What they already know, is that they will have to fight to regain an audience, as all the surveys indicate that people would like to avoid public events as much as they can.

Local administrations, which are the main commissioners of children and youth cultural programs, expect to have their budgets dryed by the crisis, whilst the economic forecast announce a massive recession. And, last but not least for our sector, there is no clear sign that arts will be a priority in the course of the pupils, once they will be back into the classrooms, since so many hours of “core subjects” will have been lost.

Yet, in that all but charming landscape, several elements carry some hope, and allow us to glimpse some lights through the swarms.

First, the eminent role played by the arts and culture in the french society and its weight in the national income led the government and the regions to take quick and protective measures. Regarding performing arts, it covers several majors topics, as the obligation made to subsidized theatres to pay for commissioned works, even if they have not been performed, a one year extension to one’s rights to the performing arts specific unemployment benefits system, and the announcement of public procurements in the arts. The signs of involvement given by the government bodies culminated on May 6 by an unprecedented one-hour TV speech of the President of the Republic himself, specifically dedicated to cultural topics.

The mobilisation of cultural professionals across all sectors is not unrelated to the State’s interest. The unions and professional organisations alerted on the situation, and claimed for a long-term plan. Solidarity initiatives and calls for vigilance have been developing since the early days of the lockdown.

Scènes d’enfance – ASSITEJ France began by calling to solidarity, pushing for fairness in the relationship between theatres and artists, calling commissioners to pay whatever the state of completion of the projects, and claiming for an emergency support plan as soon as possible. As many, we launched a resource page, and pages dedicated to online initiatives that proved a lot of creativity and an exceptional level of concern to the continuation of an artistic life for the isolated children and families by the artists and the theaters.

To begin to envisage the next steps, the board decided to set up 4 working groups :

  • GROUP 1 – Strategy and policy: letters to the institutions, political positioning and communication strategy
  • GROUP 2 – Listening to the needs of the profession: collection of data from the TYA sector and setting up of discussion forums
  • GROUP 3 – Encounter with works in artistic and cultural education: from issues to good practices in the service of the public
  • GROUP 4 – Solidarity around creation: rethinking the link between artists and places in times of coronavirus and ways of supporting creation (residencies, place-team sponsorship)

We also sent a letter to the Minister of Culture, which provoked many echos in the cultural press and buzzed a lot on the social networks.

So everyone is on the deck. It is noticeable that we are moving forward with the growing feeling that things will never be the same. Whereas no one could call the Covid-crisis an “opportunity”, our industry is clearly questioning whole areas of the present society, and looking for more sustainable ways of life. As it is shared with many others, it is still a cause for hope.

We long all our foreign colleagues, and we wish you all safe and creative days.