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Coronavirus: Creatives still reeling from impact of pandemic

feature antigoni main theatres and music venues closed for the most part of 2020
Theatres and music venues were closed for the most part of 2020
State support has been laughable say those in artistic community

A year ago, the Cyprus Mail spoke to artists, actors, writers and musicians who were virtually all in dire straits after a catastrophic few months. Almost two years from the outbreak of the pandemic, artists are once more trying to draw attention to their ongoing struggles, their livelihoods still compromised by restrictions and a lack of sufficient help from the state.

An open letter published last week by professional artists’ union Pasynek revealed the sad truth that artists are still reeling from the blow dealt by the pandemic. Union head Giorgos Giorgalletos wrote that the union is “unable to help members financially without the support of the state”, which according to him has done little more than offering a one-off €900 grant.

Initially, the application process for the creative community’s grant had very narrow eligibility criteria, which resulted in many slipping through the cracks and never receiving any money when they desperately needed it. A year ago today, the government announced a second round of financial aid, with changes to the eligibility criteria to ensure it reached more people.

Speaking to the Cyprus News Agency last week, actress Mara Constantinou said the government’s grant was “laughable and really showed where creatives are placed in the social ladder”, echoing what a veteran actor told us last year. “The arts are systematically downgraded everywhere, not just in Cyprus,” he said, “but that grant was humiliating”.

feature antigoni mara constantinou
Mara Constantinou

Poet Michael Papadopoulos said he considers the support offered to artists “provocatively inadequate” as most have lost their livelihoods during the pandemic, adding that the state should have shown more sensitivity towards the problems faced by people in the arts.

During the first year of the pandemic, cultural spaces like theatres and music venues closed for the most part of 2020 and performances suspended or postponed, creating a climate of uncertainty and instability for most people working in the sector. “Artists were not just deprived of their art, but also of the chance to address the audience they are directly dependent on,” Papadopoulos told CNA.

According to Giorgalletos’ update, the state hasn’t done much since offering the one-off grant. A large number of talented artists have abandoned their calling to survive, while those that remain are unable to support their families, the letter said. Just as it had done earlier on in the pandemic, the union still finds itself having to provide some of its members with food and other supplies, with the help of charities and organised groups.

“Two years of destitution are too long,” the union leader wrote. “The fact some people managed to work for a few months, or received the meagre but necessary grant given last year, does not mean they recovered financially since even before the pandemic, the profession did not provide them with the opportunity to save.”

The new wave of the pandemic and the large number of cases have destroyed any hope of recovery, closing venues and cancelling performances, he said, calling for additional financial support from the state, “to support our workers of culture”.

But not everyone is pessimistic. Painter Anna Vassiliou said that despite not receiving any help from the state, she chose to make the best of the isolation and negative energy of the pandemic, channelling them into new work she will be exhibiting in 2022. Nevertheless, she told CNA that there should be more support for artists and culture “because they are the ones offering light in dark times”.

The situation is difficult for everyone, and we are living with emergency measures, said composer Savvas Savva. “Around the world, we see that governments are following a general policy of setting visitor limits for cinemas, theatres, galleries, concert venues and anything else to do with art…but people are afraid, and incomes are being decimated.”

Despite this, he said he was optimistic for the future of the creative sector, considering that during the second wave of the pandemic, when lockdown was lifted, the public was thirsty for art, flooding theatres and concert venues.

“If we return to normality, the arts will bloom again and I am certain of that,” he said.

“To be realistic, it will take a long time for us to return to go back to normal,” Constantinou said, “but we are definitely not going to give up, and will continue to exist and create, no matter how many problems we encounter”.

 

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