CIN LUNCH TALKS | Culture in times of a global pandemicMarch 30, 2020
CIN lunch talks are 30-minutes open talks around different culture-related topics.
Every episode, new guests from different sides of the Mediterranean will share examples and perspectives on a specific topic.
The first episode “Culture in Times of a Global Pandemic”, will host Lore Gablier, of European Cultural Foundation (based in Amsterdam) and May Mostafa of Eka3 Music group (based in Cairo).
In this time of social distancing and lockdown, culture has proven – if there was still any doubt – to be essential. Not just as a product of consumption but as the tool to reformulate the future.
Hopefully, a better one.
Although essential and resilient, the cultural sector has proven to be quite fragile. In less than a few hours from the start of the global lockdown, cultural activities have shifted from face to face to online production. Many formats have been invented and the digital shift has been desperately fast, sometimes showing how not prepared we were.
But is it enough? Is it enough to engage the public in a meaningful way and not as passive consumers? Is the quality of live performances replicable online? Is it enough to ensure the sustainability of a sector that not only is pivotal to the cultivation of our communities but also that gives jobs to many people, especially the young generations? How to deal with unpredictable events that threatens long-term planning of our cultural festivals?
We believe culture will have a central role also in rebuilding communities, solidarity and trust after such a long period of isolation and fear.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW
For the first episode of the CIN lunch talk with the topic “Culture in Times of a Global Pandemic”, we invited two speakers: Lore Gablier, from the European Cultural Foundation www.culturalfoundation.eu (based in Amsterdam) and May Mostafa of Eka3 Music group www.eka3.org (based in Cairo). Franziska Dusch (based in Magdeburg) facilitated the talk.
We kicked off with our current quarantine-name: How do you feel right now, what’s the last thing you ate and where are you? Plenty colourful names popped up in the chat just as: hungrypizzaMilan, nonchalantchickpeaAmsterdam, sunnyteaPolignanoamare, LazySalmonVilnius, ColdcoffeeAbuDhabi, ConfusedpancakeLjubljana, happynescafeDamietta, AnxiouschocolateCairo, boredbutsunnyRoma, RelaxedCookieLyon, HappyAvocadoVeliko Tarnovo, TiredBananaPodgorica, ExcitedMuesliMagdeburg
Lore and May described their jobs how they used to be and compared it to our current situation.
Lore: I work as Project manager, currently developing a new program called ‘Stories of Europe’, aimed at supporting and facilitating cultural initiatives that convey the idea of a Europe of Solidarity, beyond the collection of nation-states and individual economic interests that have taken hold of our collective imaginary. Since the beginning of the COVD-19 outbreak, like many of us, I wake up and ask yourself if what I’m doing is worth. If what I’m doing can help us not only getting out of the crisis, but bringing about a brighter future for all and for the generations to come. I believe that Europe has an enormous potential and can play a key role in the transition we need. That’s why I still see the relevance of try and help strengthening a cultural Europe. Part of the ‘Stories of Europe’ portfolio is the initiative for a European Pavilion. My background is in the field of contemporary art, where I worked as curator. I have always been working with formats that are imaginative, that have the potential to raise questions from different perspectives. I believe that, at a time when the responses to our global crisis are mainly national and the cultural sector is in lockdown, raising the idea of a European Pavilion is increasingly relevant.
May: My role at Eka3 Music Group is twofold. The first is fundraising, this includes 1. Searching for opportunities and applying to them to support artists either produce new work or tour. 2. Project and operations development for Eka3, eka3 manages 5 ventures, my role here comes in the project development, proposal writing, connecting with donors and reporting. In addition to projects, I also work on securing funds for operations support, venture support and capacity building for staff members. The second part of my role is artist booking agent. I work to connect artists with promoters and eventually their live audience. This is the most fun part of the work, live performances always give me joy regardless of their stress. However, this March the number of cancellations took out all the fun and joy of the job. I guess I didn’t realize at the time of the early cancellations that the situation was going to blow up to that extent. I looked at the first two to three cancellations was preventable, then the following few cancellations I thought of as extreme measures, and by the time we had gotten to the end of the cancellation I had reached the realization that the lockdown is inevitable in Egypt. Regular booking is no longer active. No one knows when work is going to resume, most discussions and offers are on hold. Although reschedules in autumn are being discussed, nothing is concrete yet. However, it is a welcomed pause to reassess our strategy, discover new artists, share the upcoming work of artists we work with. It is not a welcomed break for all the artists though, as you know Spring season is a very busy one for festivals. Off the top of my head, there was Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (DCAF), Jazz Tales, 3alGanoub (Spring Camping event) where all cancelled. In Egypt, tickets are not sold in advance, usually they are on sale a month before the event date, so all the initiatives calling on people not to refund their tickets didn’t really happen in Egypt. And many artists lost significant income due to that. Many have been looking forward to releasing new projects that seem to need rescheduling so they are linked to a tour or an album release concert. The fundraising part of my work is taking up most of my time due to that. We are looking into opportunities that are opening up. Although it is still unknown how this will end, some funds are being announced for artists and organizations alike. Keeping an eye on them and figuring out how they feed into the development of individual artistic projects as well as to the overall performance of the organization. We are also looking into way to work with other projects that aren’t live performance based or new productions.
Which best practices can you recommend how to bring cultural life/activities online?
Lore: I don’t think that we can identify a best practice yet: it is way too soon. Furthermore, I don’t think that a best practice exists that can fit the needs of all cultural initiatives/institutions. The way to bring activities online very much depends on the scale, scope and context of the cultural initiative. And one has to ask the question: Is it relevant? It is somehow worrisome to see many rushing online, as if nothing was happening. Maybe it is also time to make a pause: to take the time to reflect about what this all means. All in all, I strongly believe that not everything can be translated online. The physical exposure to a cultural context is not something that can be translated and what I observe is actually the fundamental need of human beings to engage with each other, face-to-face. And in a time when interactions are most often associated with social media, this is a realization.
Lore Gablier: “Best practice is not really the right term to use here. Every organisation is different, with a different contest and every measure needs to be tailored. For sure, not everything can be translated online”
May: The whole situation is new, we are allowed to experiment. It is a bit too early to claim that someone has found out the best practices yet. When concerts were cancelled in Egypt, many artists rushed to streaming live performances. As much as these performances sent the message that “Here we are”, “Arts Will Survive” I didn’t perceive them as necessarily positive on the artists. Many of the performances weren’t really fun to watch, some struggled with technical issues, lacked interactivity and most importantly none of them helped artists make any sort of income, not even cover their expenses. Bandcamp’s initiative to waive their fees has helped musicians make $3.4 million. Sacem is paying artists royalties in advance. When it comes to content and new activities, there might be a surplus in available content but engaging the audience effectively is rare. Hence it is key to find a way where the audience makes a difference to the content that is being created or shared and where they would be also willing to pay even if a small amount: maybe buy a product, a CD, or exclusive downloads.
May Mostafa: “The situation is very stagnant right now. We are not rushing online, but we are looking at things from a strategic point of view”
We finished the talk with the question: What learnings or findings would we like to keep once our lives go back to “normal” again? The group chat called out for example for more solidarity and flexibility or a mechanism for culture to be self sustained.
May Mostafa: “The gig economy is very harmful for the people working in the cultural sector, which is pretty much based on that. This global crisis showed it clearly.”
Lore Gablier: “You have to reshuffle everything. And we should invest in things we see happening now, for example solidarity.”
Shared Links during the talk:
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