Dozens of cultural and arts organizations banded together on Tuesday to demand that the government support the arts, a sector that has been extremely hard hit by the coronavirus regulations.
The staff of every cultural institution, dressed in black shirts, stood together at noon on empty stages and at auditoriums and museums holding signs imploring the government, “Don’t leave this museum/stage/screen empty.”
Among the participating institutions were the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Haifa Museum, Habima Theatre, Tower of David Museum, Tzavta Theater Company, Tel Aviv Museum, Beit Lessin Theater, Batsheva Dance Company, Israel Ballet, Gesher Theater, Khan Theater, Suzanne Dellal Centre, Israeli Opera and dozens of others.
The protesters wore masks and complied with social-distancing regulations. Some 150,000 Israelis are employed in the arts sector, which contributes about NIS 63 billion per year to gross domestic product, according to data from the Culture and Sport Ministry.
The sector has incurred losses of approximately NIS 400 million since the shutdown of theaters, museums and other public places began in mid-March in an effort to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers of the protest said in a statement.
Theaters will reopen on June 14 but can only admit 100 people at a time, and there must be two seats between each audience member, meaning they operate at 30%-40% of their capacity. Museums also face limitations on the number of visitors.
“After three months without income, they expect cultural institutions to jump into an empty pool,” said Danny Weiss, CEO of the Mediatheque in Holon and chairman of the Israel Culture and Arts Forum, who was one of the organizers of the protest.
There is still no plan for how the institutions will avoid economic collapse in the long months in which they will work at a loss and try to bring the staff back to work, including actors, musicians, stagehands, managers and ushers.
So far, we have gotten a lot of statements and zero action,” Weiss said. “Obviously, it is possible to act differently, as countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria have established operational and budgetary programs that can be applied in Israel as well. If there is no progress in the coming days to figure out how to open cultural institutions responsibly and where financing will come from, we won’t be able to open in mid-June.”
Batsheva Dance Company CEO Dina Eldor said: “The losses incurred by the [Batsheva] troupe due to the cessation of operations in March are enormous. The purpose of the protest is to allow all of us to emerge from the cultural closure that is an unprecedented existential threat to thousands of families, as well as to the rich and diverse cultural endeavors in Israel. We require an economic safety net and solutions that will enable us to return to our work.”
To emphasize the tough conditions for artists, the Israeli Opera performed the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from the Verdi opera Nabucco as part of the protest.
Jerusalem Cinematheque events manager Carole Dreyfus, who took part in the protest, said about 80% of the staff had to stop working in March.
“For Passover, we received purple orchids from the Cinematheque, a reminder of the color and life that will come back when we return to work,” she said.
Dreyfus said she looked forward to getting back to her normal work routine as soon as possible.
Another theater staff member said: “Usually all these arts groups are so competitive. They are fighting each other for funding, media attention and audiences. Only a global pandemic could bring them together.”