In Cyprus, the arts — dance, theatre music — are a key part of our culture. Yet the arts here are suffering due to pandemic-related restrictions, as artists are seeing their earnings reduced close to zero.
People working in the arts might be performing, teaching, producing, or selling their creations, (or all of the above) but all those activities were affected by Covid-19, leaving artists without any significant salary for about three months.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to keep running my dance school if my landlady had not been understanding about rent payments,” dance instructor Eva Kyprianou told the Cyprus Mail.
The relaxation of measures gave only a small breathing room to the arts, before increased daily coronavirus cases led to the cancellation of events once again.
Comedian Constantinos Psillides said one of his two scheduled performances was cancelled this week because it was indoors. The loss is significant given that the comedian had remained inactive since March, when he had six fully-booked gigs lined up, through June.
“I was frustrated and extremely disappointed for I saw all my efforts were in vain,” Psillides said. “I have been doing comedy for two years and when the lockdown hit, I was just at the point where all my sacrifices started paying off.”
Before the pandemic, the comedian was negotiating a deal for a tour in Greece.
Psillides, like all performers, was massively affected by Covid-19. “I went from regular gigs and a regular income to having absolutely none and the worst of it was we had no idea when things would go back to normal.”
Live shows were also the main source of income for people in the music industry.
Full-time musician Constantinos Lemesios said that, despite earning the most from performing, he is also composing music for films, writing songs, producing, and organising festivals.
“My monthly income was reduced by 80 to 90 per cent. The only thing musicians could do during lockdown was individual unpaid production from their own home. Everything else froze.”
Lemesios was planning to release his second album in April; now it remains uncertain if it will come out in October or November.
“The situation remains difficult. People prefer not to go out, and if they do, they will not choose live music,” Lemesios said.
A lot of music schools chose to offer online lessons, according to the musician. Theatre and dance schools also chose to go online to reach their students. However, they all experienced some difficulties.
Kyprianou, with the homonym dance school in Dali, Nicosia, said connection in her area made it difficult for her to maintain contact with her students from her dance school.
“It was really challenging doing online lessons with low speed internet and bad quality visuals” she said.
She added that with the new instructions by the competent authorities, the number of students per class must be reduced and she must leave a 15-minute interval between lessons.
“This takes out a lot of my time, without any financial benefit” the dance instructor said.
Despite all that, Kyprianou remains positive that by October, things will go back to normal.
Her positive attitude was echoed by actress, theatrologist and theatrical educator Angela Rizaki who started a webinar “Shedding light on the history of theatre” during lockdown. Rizaki is planning to continue the online seminars after she has re-opened her theatre workshop Teatro Angelico in Nicosia.
“I had closed my theatre workshop during lockdown and tried to keep in touch with some of my students though the internet,” Rizaki said. The actress was also teaching at a primary school in the afternoons, a job that she had to stop. “Unfortunately, I had to give up all those lessons completely. After schools reopened, it was impossible for us to continue or to say goodbye to the children, since there were many restrictions and changes post-Covid.”
Even though artists were the workers mainly affected by the virus, the government failed to include them in their initial support schemes. As a result, there are still some who did not receive the state’s €900 emergency support fund- five months after the pandemic outbreak, Rizaki said.
A photographer who received state support for small business, said it was not enough to cover his running expenses.
“I am trying to survive this. I had to dig into my savings because state support did not even cover my rent,” owner of Photo Bella Photography Kyriakos Karacostas told the Cyprus Mail.
Karacostas’ main activities were weddings, christenings and corporate events -all postponed during the outbreak. “Any serious help from the state would be good, mainly with rent payments,” he said.
Photo Bella Photography in Prodromou avenue, Nicosia saw a turnover reduction of 54 per cent in June and 63 per cent in July.
“That is only because we also operate a printing shop and I received a payment for a wedding I did last December” Karacostas said.
Apart from the loss of money, lockdown was an excellent time for artists to come together and create. A number of private initiatives and online exhibitions took place to entertain and support people in the arts by providing them an alternative way to sell their work.
“I sold a couple of paintings using the Support Artists Pledge Instagram hashtag” said artist Lara Sophie Benjamin.
Writer Maria Kouvarou said “there was a positive COVID effect in writing: the inspiration and the creativity and the chance to stay at home and get down to writing without feeling guilty of not doing other stuff.”
Kouvarou said the postponement of events to promote her work affects her in the long run, however, she was lucky in terms of timing as she did not have any plans to publish a book this year. “If I has released a new book and wanted to make presentations or promotion, as I believe happened with other authors, it would have affected me because I would not have been able to cover even the costs of the publication.”
Able to see the silver lining in times of crisis, most artists continue to fight against all odds to do what they love and cultivate locals.
“Even if it rains, who needs an umbrella? We will dance in the rain. The virus will not stop us. People lost their ability to walk and they still found a way to dance” dancer and instructor Kyprianou noted.