Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ended a recent speech in Parliament by acknowledging the need brought up by opposition leaders for medium- and long-term measures to support people who work in the arts. He suggested that funds could be found from the European Union-backed development framework for a “targeted program” to help jobless people in the area of culture.
The existential angst being faced by Greece’s artists right now is not driven by unionist concerns or sectoral expediencies, as is often the case. The coming months will be an extremely tough test of survival for the country’s actors, musicians, visual artists and myriad others engaged in the cultural sphere. These are people whose living – occasionally satisfactorily but usually precariously – relies on something that they gave so freely during the lockdown: culture.
Despite the gradual easing of restrictions, we are looking at months ahead during which we will have little to look forward to in terms of culture. There will be no festivals, concerts or play, and though open-air cinemas are expected to operate, they will do so under certain restrictions. Artists will have to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. “We are working on a plan for the Athens Concert Hall that will enable us to make digital appearances, which is something that will become a part of our lives, sooner or later,” the conductor of the Camerata Friends of Music Orchestra, George Petrou, said in comments to Kathimerini recently.
No matter how ingenious and seasoned in the art of survival the people of the arts may be, though, they are facing the challenge of trying to eke a living out of nothing. And even those who can try to make ends meet by taking up jobs as waiters and bartenders, for example, face an uncertain future, as it is unlikely that restaurants and bars will be taking on any new staff anytime soon.
It was not surprising that it took so long for anyone to raise the issue of state support for the arts. The stereotype of the penniless artist remains entrenched in society and in the political system. Who gives a thought to the fact that they may spend half their lives learning to play a musical instrument or need to produce work tirelessly in order to contend in an intensely competitive and small market like the Greek one?
We tend to take art for granted – just as we did our right to meet and congregate. But that show is over and if we want the curtain to rise ever again, we need someone to care, to draw up a plan and to implement it. Art is vital, not virtual.