15-day ban on cultural events sparks anger

Catalonia closes theatres, cinemas, concerts and libraries non-lending services because of covid-19

Restrictions announced on Thursday by the Generalitat to curb the coronavirus have been met with stupefaction and indignation amid the cultural sector. The measures will force all stage and music events to be cancelled, whether they are outdoors or interiors. Cinemas will also have to close and libraries will only be able to open for lending services. Archives, museums, exhibition halls, art galleries and visual arts centers will be allowed to open, but capacity will be limited to 33 percent. Only bookstores will be exempt from the restrictions, and they will be able to operate normally like all other commercial establishments -except shopping centres-. The cultural closure will be in place for a period of 15 days, for the time being.

Local lockdowns and ban on cultural and after-school activities

The new restrictions affect festivals such as Temporada Alta, the RBLS, the Ciutat Flamenco, the Barcelona Jazz Festival, In-Edit, the Terrassa Jazz Festival, Sala BCN, the Mosto - which is postponed until June 2021 - and the Festival Acrobats de l'Hospitalet de Llobregat. They also have a direct impact on all theatres, concert venues and cinemas. The vice-president and acting president, Pere Aragonès, has announced that the measures will be linked to an "immediate mobilisation of the necessary resources to protect economic sectors whose activity has been limited" and has underlined that "the social break is essential to stop the pandemic".

The announcement of new restrictions has angered workers at theatres, festivals, concert venues and cinemas, who claim that their activities are safe. Critics recall the declaration of culture as an essential asset, which was passed by parliament at the end of September and which, as the Generalitat said a month ago, must serve to "preserve culture in the face of new restrictions". On this issue, Aragonès said that "the government is fully committed to culture" and that measures were delayed until it was absolutely necessary. "We know that this is a necessary parenthesis not because of the risks of the activity itself but because of the concentration of people", added Aragonès.

"The burial of culture"

"We understand that public spaces must be closed, because the coronavirus is rampant, but the situation is really bad," says the president of the Association of Theatre Companies of Catalonia (Adetca), Isabel Vidal. All the theatres in Barcelona -except the Coliseum, which was about to open- were working and had programmes for the whole of November. Vidal stresses that in November last year, Barcelona's private theatres had a turnover of seven million euros. "If we close, we lose this. We are an activity that has not added to the pandemic and we still think we are part of the solution. We hope that the measures will be useful and are only for 15 days because if not, it is the burial of culture," adds the president of Adetca.

"Now what is essential is that people in the profession can continue working and getting paid," says the director of Temporada Alta theatre festival, Salvador Sunyer. "We are keeping the festival going, we will try to do as much as possible in streaming. We will try to do shows like the El Pot Petit's and Mos Maiorum's in digital. Others like Prostitución we will move to December, to the final dates of the festival", adds Sunyer, who receives the new measures with resignation and says that "nobody likes them, but that's what it is". Like the Temporada Alta, the Auditori de Barcelona will also try to maintain the programme through its digital platform.

The Barcelona Jazz Festival has had to suspend or reschedule eight concerts and is waiting to be able to continue with performances after 13 November. "It has been proven that the outbreaks in cultural activities is practically zero. Going to a concert is not like being in a restaurant talking and eating," says the director of the Jazz Festival and co-founder of The Project, Tito Ramoneda. The closure will also prevent the premiere of El mètode Gronholm at Teatre Poliorama, scheduled for November 5th. The director of Anexa -the show's production company-, Toni Albadalejo, has received the restrictions "with sadness and great indignation". The worst thing, he says, is the uncertainty and the fact that he does not know if they will be able to perform within 15 days. "We would like the closure to have a fixed date, because the shows that we do not do now will be lost," says Albadalejo.

Part of the sector is opposed to the cultural restrictions and, to show their rejection,  a demonstration was called in front of the Ministry of Culture on Thursday at seven o'clock in the evening. "Enough of despising culture and of applying measures that will have minimum incidences harming the weakest sectors", says El Maldà in a statement. "Enough of useless measures! Enough going back and forth! Enough of mistreating us!", says the management of Girona cinemas in Barcelona. Through Twitter, actors, musicians and cultural workers have called on the Catalan government to reconsider.

The president of the Association of Cinemas, Camilo Tarrazón, believes the decision "is a disaster" because it "compromises all the programming efforts that were made" and the planned releases. At the same time, he says that "if there is no other choice" we will have to "abide". Tarrazón has asked the government to make available the 17.2 million euro cultural budget announced "as quickly as possible" as "the cultural sector is dealing with very complicated situations of extreme need and the damage is accumulating".

"A comparative grievance" for concert venues

Unlike theatres and cinemas, most concert venues have been closed for eight months, so the new restrictions do not directly affect them. However, the manager of the Associació de Sales de Concerts de Catalunya (ASACC), Carme Zapata, criticises the cultural closure as generating a "comparative grievance". She says that "the impact is practically nil because venues were already closed" and regrets that they are not taken into consideration.

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