Covid Impact: Cultural centres on the gradual process of reopening
New Delhi: Lockdowns and mobility restrictions around the world may be easing gradually, but cultural centres and institutions in India have some way to go before re-opening and inviting audiences in.
Covid-19 impact on arts and culture
According to Khushroo N. Suntook, Chairman of National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai – which was among the first organisations in the city to cancel all performances due to safety concerns and start a series of online content catering to home-bound viewers – live performances across the country are at a standstill. “We thought this long interval should be used to turn our assets into expanding our audiences, much beyond the numbers we can host in our theatres and create quality archival material. The NCPA@home series is a part of this initiative.”
The art and culture scenario has been severely impacted especially the performing arts. “Our institution has been shut since the beginning of the lockdown and it is not clear when we can open. Only when people feel safe to go to theaters and congregate in places will it be feasible to open”, Hemant Bharat Ram, Executive Vice President, Shri Ram Center For Performing Arts told IANSlife. The centre is based in Mandi House, New Delhi.
“After the sudden outbreak of this virus all the cultural institutions had to cancel their current and upcoming projects. Which was a big blow to both organizers and artists. At this point where the world is trying to make a comeback, it’s still uncertain for the cultural and educational structures. For Alliance Française de Delhi as well, it’s been a very tough period for its cultural activities,” Jean-Francoise Ramon, Director, Alliance Francaise de Delhi said.
The Indo-French centre had to call off its flagship event ‘Francophonie Mela’, which was set to get bigger and better this year.
“The pandemic has impacted the art scene quite gravely, both at the level of the individual artists as well as arts organisations. The sector that we work with mainly constitutes collectively run art spaces or private initiatives which depend on funding as their revenue model and not so much on earnings. So they have had to make adjustments. Many are badly affected as their funding might not come through owing to many factors like the economy, changed models of philanthropy etc.
“As for us, we are fully funded by the Swiss government and there has not been any announcement of budget cuts so far. The Swiss government took proactive measures to set up emergency funds for artists etc as a response. Since our work in India is mostly as part of our mandate of cultural exchange, we work solely with partners and if our partners are affected or have to scale down it will have an impact on our future activities. As of now, we have had several cancellations of projects but mostly due to travel restrictions or postponement of events by local partners,” Akshay Pathak, Head, Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia New Delhi told IANSlife.
How are artistes affected?
“Apparently, the artist community is badly affected in monetary terms during this period. This setback is also affecting the future creations since they can no more have residencies and workshops during this time. Development of new content with very limited resources and without any financial support will definitely be a big challenge. This situation has also affected the support crew and labor involved in putting up a show together. It is distressing, both morally and physically,” Jean-Francoise Ramon said.
Adding, Hemant Bharat Ram said: “Established and upcoming artists have no source of income. Most are trying to stay in the public eye through the use of video and social media platforms however this does not usually result in any earning.”
“It hasn’t been an easy time for artistes and cultural institutions. Programmes which were scheduled had to be postponed/cancelled. We are waiting for the right time to bring back performances that will encourage talent. The musicians who are members of the Symphony Orchestra of India have been presenting musical pieces on our social media pages and teaching students of the SOI Music Academy online,” shared Mr Suntook.
While the reopening of the NCPA will be a gradual process in adherence to government guidelines, and keeping in mind the safety of patrons, it is working towards implementing sanitisation and safety measures to be fully prepared to bring live art to patrons post lockdown.
The SRCPA confirmed that it has no plan to open currently and will see how the situation progresses. “Once and when the situation allows us, we will definitely be opening doors of our cultural space to the artistic community,” says AF Delhi, adding that it is taking precautionary measures.
As for the Swiss cultural centre which does not organize events and depends on partners to do the same, they hope that their partners can think of alternative formats. “We recently also announced an open call to fund such new formats and ideas which got an overwhelming response. As for our reopening, we are currently all working from home and this will stay for a bit. Since we do not run public events it does not adversely impact our work as of now.”
The takeaway? Patrons must come forward and support initiatives surrounding culture, so the performing arts continue to thrive.