13,000 new unemployed, 9 million euros in losses and almost a million in unpaid taxes to the state budget - that's how much the government's blindness, disrespect and discrimination of the non-governmental cultural industry could cost Lithuania this summer, according to cultural event organisers.
"It is possible to bring 20,000 people a day to a shopping mall, but it is forbidden to bring 1,000 people to an open-air concert or festival," music artist and producer Saulius Urbonavičius-Samas marvels at the twisted logic, "But the worst thing is that if we think this way, we risk irreversibly ruining the entire private events industry and putting ourselves in the blackest cultural abyss since the regaining of independence."
As the quarantine conditions are slowly easing, the cultural industry is not yet feeling any joy - sports, culture, music events do not seem to exist on the Government's horizon. Event organisers, who have been knocking on the door of the nation's elected representatives for over a month now, not only feel ignored, but are also beginning to talk more and more loudly about a deliberate attempt to disrupt the entire non-governmental market for cultural events, which has been built up over the past 30 years.
"We are not talking about state-supported and subsidised cultural institutions - when they receive financial support from the state, they may not have to worry about survival, even though they will also have less butter on their bread. However, they will have bread. Unlike private event organisers, who have never received and do not receive any state support, but have always been catalysts of cultural progress and evolution. We are talking not only about music festivals and concerts reflecting the diversity of cultural genres, but also about the country's largest arenas and their events, independent theatres, and performances of the world's most famous artists for the Lithuanian public," says Gediminas Jaunius, chairman of the board of the Association of the Event Industry.
Andrius Žiauberis, the head of Siemens Arena and Tiketa, echoes him. According to him, event organisers and distributors are driven to despair not only by the restrictions imposed on mass events, but also by the attitude of officials themselves. "Lithuania is managing the COVID-19 situation well and we are well aware that some restrictions are inevitable. We are committed to cooperation, security and prevention, and we have additional operational plans in place. However, when the government representatives do not see an entire sector with tens of thousands of employees, when almost the entire cultural life, except for a handful of state-funded institutions, has come to a standstill, when we have spent almost a month knocking, talking, suggesting, looking for solutions, and all we have received is complete ignorance, we have no choice but to prepare for the worst scenarios already this summer," Žiauberis says.
Aida Aleksandrovienė, the manager of Palanga Concert Hall, assessing the proposed mitigation plan for events, sees a sad summer in Palanga: "The dates for events in July and August were already booked six months ago, but when we and the event organisers look at the government's proposed numbers of indoor audiences, we do the math and we clearly understand that 200 or 300 people will not cover the cost of a high-quality concert or performance. So this season, our modern and popular event space will be empty, performers and organisers will be left without income, we will be counting our losses, and holidaymakers will lose the opportunity to spend their summer evenings in a high quality and cultural way".
According to estimates by associations of the private cultural events sector, if the Government does not take the right decisions in time, more than 13,000 people working in the events market could lose their jobs already this summer, organisers will have to cope with losses of €9 million, and the state will lose hundreds of thousands of euros in taxes. "These are very "preliminary" losses, given that the real losses - emotional, cultural, educational - are hard to calculate. I am not sure if the government understands this - by relaxing the quarantine conditions, it is only taking into account the part of the cultural sector that does not live in market conditions. And it is doing so on the principle that no private entity will survive for long under such conditions. Worst of all, we are not even consulted. And our reserves and possibilities to organise events this summer are running out in hours, not days", says Valdas Petreikis, Board Member of the Event Industry Association and organiser of the Midsummer Vilnius Festival.
The Music of the Year Awards, a decade-old association dedicated to the welfare and appreciation of performers and musicians, points out that at the beginning of the quarantine, they took the initiative not only to contribute to the support of the medical profession by raising over 108,000 euros, but also with the aim of improving people's emotional health. Today, for performers who are on the verge of survival, it seems that no one will be able to help them by allowing them to perform at festivals or by giving solo concerts to audiences of a financially useful size. "Everyone understands the situation and the importance of ensuring health, but to apply double standards and to view the activities of performers as posing the greatest risk is at the very least too much. Why has no one asked and no one has taken the suggestions on board? Every concert can provide the necessary protection, but the theoretical restrictions on crowds are a completely underestimated motive for the bans, which ties the hands of the private sector", says Martynas Tyla, chairman of the Association of the Year Music Awards.
19 May The Government announces a relaxation of the quarantine conditions, which has been approved by the exclusively publicly funded cultural operators. Unfortunately, under the current conditions approved for the summer of 2020, private event organisers will not be able to operate, but these arguments have so far gone unheard.