Cultural workers have organized actions in ten French-speaking towns to denounce the precariousness in which they find themselves. Interview with Matthieu Béguelin, actor and director, stakeholder in the mobilization
Towards a cultural desert? This is what the players in the field fear who have
What is the current situation for artists?
Very bad. Since March 2020, cultural venues have been closed for more than half of the year. Many events have therefore been canceled and there are cascading postponements of productions. Result: artists no longer earn their living and, faced with them, the compensation system is insufficient, unsuitable and complicated. In addition, the end of the year represents the strong months of the theater and dance seasons – whose venues were only open for three months (June, September and October). And there is also no guarantee that festivals can take place in the summer. We work without having the certainty that we will play. These repeated shutdowns risk crippling the sector in the long term. And many producers or cultural venues are threatened with going out of business.
What does your mobilization consist of?
We, along with several other organizations, carried out coordinated action in ten towns in French-speaking Switzerland to alert the authorities and public opinion to the need to act quickly to support the cultural community. This mobilization began on February 13 and will last until February 25, date of the first case of Covid-19 in Switzerland in 2020. During the action last Saturday, we were dressed in black and read an open letter addressed to the Confederation and the cantonal authorities to explain our situation and ask for help. We then observed ten minutes of silence – to denounce a State deaf to our requests – before making a noise …
Why act today?
Because the problems are piling up. The second shutdown, last November, comes when the consequences of the first have not been absorbed. From September to December, fixed-term contracts were excluded from access to RHT. However, this is the most common contract in the cultural sector. We cannot currently imagine any new programming before 2023. This situation is however not universal since, in several other countries, cultural venues have not been closed. The drop in cases was mainly observed during the obligation of teleworking and the closing of stores. And not at the closure of cultural circles. If the state asks us to stop working, it must assume its decision until the end, by compensating us properly.
What are your main demands?
We urgently demand the gradual reopening of cultural places to the public, the legal and administrative recognition of the specific status of cultural workers at the federal level, the simplification of the procedures for obtaining financial compensation and the extension of the unemployment framework deadlines. We also demand the massive development of financial support for artistic research and continuing education, to enable us to work if we cannot distribute the works.
Do you think that it would be necessary to introduce a statute of intermittent of the spectacle in Switzerland? Or prefer a model like the one existing in Zurich (monthly replacement income of 3840 francs valid until the end of April 2021)?
Yes, absolutely. There is already an embryonic status of intermittent entertainment that concerns only employees. It should be widened. In France, for example, this statute enabled the State to take a decision for the whole cultural sector. That way, he was able to decree that he saw 2020 as a blank year and that he would fund the actors accordingly.
The compensation base set up by the Zurich model is an interesting idea for solving a problem like the one we are facing. But not in the long run. In the immediate future, it is above all necessary that the compensation be equal to the losses. The restrictions imposed are acceptable only if the State acts in accordance with its decisions.
Is culture the sacrificed domain of the crisis? Do you feel an injustice about this?
Injustice is present from the moment when the indemnities are not equal to the losses. Culture has the power to bring people together beyond their belief and belonging. It represents a use value which is neither material nor quantifiable, but nevertheless essential. Why do we give an exemption to the Churches allowing them to welcome 50 people and not to cultural circles? Our domain, however, also represents a form of spiritual nourishment for many people. This dimension escapes the authorities.
In view of the length of the pandemic, should we rethink the field of culture? How do you see the future?
Culture must not be reinvented, it is rather cultural policies that must be rethought. The arts it encompasses are for some millennia. They faced other viruses and illnesses. They want us to believe that we can individualize cultural experiences, but some must be collective.