Italians working in cultural sector denounce pandemic closures | Italy News

Milan, Italy – Art and culture workers demonstrated across Italy on Tuesday, marking a year since theaters, music halls, cinemas and cultural spaces closed due to the coronavirus pandemic – closures that made the 300,000 people working in the sector unemployed.

A protest outside the local headquarters of central government in Milan began with a performance in which actors, singers and other performing professionals prepared behind the scenes of a show that never happens.

“It was a five minute show that took nine hours to rehearse. We wanted to show what goes into preparing for a production, ”Beatrice Parapini, a singer, actress and teacher who participated in the little act, told Al Jazeera.

Interregional travel being banned since the start of the second wave, a national demonstration took place in 20 regional capitals.

Labor unions organized side protests in some cities, including Rome and Catania.

On Monday evening, theaters across Italy turned on their lights to “shine the spotlight on the theater”.

Mirko Lanfredini, artistic director of a small theater in Milan, says that while he was eligible for grants, the theater school he founded was left in shock [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

“We call for the reopening of the sites with security measures, and to pay more attention to our category, with serious reforms taking into account the atypical nature of work in the cultural sector,” said Parapini, who helped to organize the event. .

Like others, she has not been eligible for government support in the past year.

“I had a serious health problem [in 2019], and I fell below the threshold of working days needed to be eligible for grants, ”says Parapini, adding that when the pandemic hit, the projects she had recently resumed had to be put on hold.

Arts and culture workers could apply for one grant of 600 euros ($ 730) at the start of the crisis and four additional grants of 1,000 euros announced as the crisis continued.

“But we must also reopen cultural activities with all the necessary security measures,” Maurizio Landini, general secretary of CGIL, one of the largest Italian unions, told journalists in Rome.

“There is also a need for financing and the chance of [Next Generation EU] plan is an opportunity to invest in culture and the performing arts.

Across Europe and beyond, cultural venues have been mostly closed as the coronavirus rises, but there have been short periods of reopening, such as in summer.

In Madrid, the government reopened theaters and cinemas at the end of 2020, as the country remained in a state of emergency until at least May 9.

The UK, which has one of the highest death rates in the world but is winning praise for its vaccine rollout, recently announced gradual measures to ease its lockdown. It aims to completely reopen cultural venues by the end of June.

Exposing structural vulnerabilities

In his first speech, Mario Draghi, the new Italian Prime Minister, said: “Culture must be supported. The risk is to lose a legacy that defines our identity. The economic loss is enormous, but the loss of the spirit would be even greater.

The sector should be supported by investments and strengthening protections for workers, he said.

But a year after the start of a crisis that has left many struggling, protesters are looking for more than words.

A glance out of the window of Montecitorio Palace, seat of the Italian parliament, will remind Draghi, the former ECB president, of the challenges he faces in pulling Italy out of the lingering health and economic crisis.

Around 300,000 people work in the art and culture sectors in Italy [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

On Monday, restaurant owners protested, calling on the government to restore evening hours.

The #iopen movement, launched in January, is strongly supported by the leader of the far-right League party, Matteo Salvini.

Until March 31, employees are protected by a dismissal ban.

But small business owners, the self-employed and seasonal workers did not enjoy such security during the crisis.

Mirko Lanfredini, 42, actor and artistic director of a small theater in Milan, says that while he was eligible for grants, the theater school he founded was left out.

“Since February 23 of last year my school has only worked for one month in June,” Lanfredini said. “The rent is 2,000 euros per month. All of our savings are gone. “

“The theater where I work has 240 seats, and we have managed to accommodate 120 distant seats. But the day we were supposed to reopen the curfew was announced [in October]. “

David Ghollasi, a 32-year-old electrician at the Stable Theater in Rome and organizer of the protest, called for a “continuity income” for workers on short-term or project-based contracts.

The pandemic has exposed issues deeply rooted in the cultural space, including precariousness, widespread informal work and exploitation, said Ghollasi, who added that there was a silver lining.

“The pandemic has certainly helped break down barriers between workers, and a year without work has given us time to take a break and build movements,” he said.

Francesca Bettio, professor of political economy at the University of Siena, told Al Jazeera: “We need to rethink the way we support workers when they are not working, our social safety nets.

“For workers in the art industry, the half-good news is that they will no longer be treated as separate and marginalized. Their problem is more and more common and solutions will have to include them as well. The crisis has confronted us with a paradigm shift that we can no longer ignore.

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