Theatres, cinemas, and other cultural spaces in Buenos Aires City reopened on Friday, a welcome move for producers and punters alike after a long coronavirus shutdown.
Entertainment venues – many of which have failed to survive during the pandemic given extended closures – will reopen with a maximum capacity of 30 percent and orders to comply with all current health and safety protocols.
Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta confirmed the news on Thursday at the Multitabaris Theatre on the capital’s famed Corrientes Avenue, alongside City Culture Minister Enrique Avogadro, entertainment producer Carlos Rottemberg, and actresses Moria Casán, Thelma Biral and Nora Cárpena.
"What a joy that the curtain is raised again in all the [entertainment] halls of the City!” celebrated the opposition leader on Twitter. "Culture is the soul of the City and we want to continue maintaining these activities taking care of ourselves.”
Rodríguez Larreta said that 12 productions would return to the stage this weekend. In addition to a cap on attendance, patrons must clean their footwear and have their temperature taken upon arrival, while remaining at a constant distance of at least two metres between groups (with a fixed seating arrangement, to boot).
Covid-19’s impact on Argentina’s cultural sector, which includes entertainment and artistic venues and is a major source of employment nationwide, has been devastating. Financially, the industry is the third-most affected by government restrictions, which began in March last year, surpassed only by the hospitality and construction sectors.
The consequences of these measures, meant to protect the nation’s citizens, run deep. As restrictions wind down, many theatres and cinemas lie shuttered. Thousands of consumers also have made the switch to an all-digital entertainment diet.
Viewing the crisis from a macroeconomic perspective, the sector’s IVA (VAT) tax contributions dropped by 27 percent last year, negatively impacting upon Argentina’s national economy.
The strain on cinemas and theatres has been especially noticed in the federal capital, where the entertainment industry plays a major role.
Avogadro: ‘The sector has been hit hard’
Buenos Aires City Culture Minister Enrique Avogadro is aware of the industry’s troubles. “The sector has been hit hard,” he says.
“Horacio Rodríguez Larreta highlighted in his last press conference the efforts made by the cultural sector’s workers during this time and additionally the way in which they performed under strict protocols, doing so safely and responsibly.”
Avogadro was referring to an incident from a few months before the second wave of Covid-19 broke out last April. President Alberto Fernández shut down Argentina’s entertainment industry despite protests from officials from City Hall, as well as artists and entrepreneurs from the sector.
While museums were open for six months, albeit with many restrictions, theatres and cinemas only opened their doors for two months.
The cultural industry seems to have a greater significance in the City than in other provinces. Does the relaxation of restrictions represent an act of recognition of this?
Yes. It is an act of recognition for all the actors in the sector for their efforts. The industry is a very important one, generating genuine employment and, what’s more, carrying a symbolic value which is very important for our society, because culture is an intrinsic part of our identity. So, we know there is a long way to go but obviously we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it will continue and our expectation is to continue assisting the sector.
Are you going to continue providing aid plans for cultural workers?
Throughout the year-and-a-half of the pandemic [so far] there have been a series of financial aid opportunities for the cultural sector. Right now, the possibility of supporting more than 1,400 cultural projects is open, and next week we plan to announce a series of new opportunities that intend to help the sector and speed up the return to an in-person presence. I insist that the scenario seems to be a little more optimistic, and personally I am very happy about the relevance that the arts have in Buenos Aires City.
City-run theatres are very important, and I suppose they could be seen as part of the private sector. How will very prestigious names in the public sector, like the Teatro Colón Theatre or Teatro San Martín, function?
First, to highlight the commitment of our team to the Colón and San Martín, and also in all cultural spaces: these are spaces that collaborate in the fight against the pandemic today. At the Teatro Colón, there is a section for Covid testing, and the San Martín, open since last week, acts as a vaccination location, inoculating the people who register there as quickly as possible.
Now, last year when they reopened briefly, also at 30 percent capacity, the Teatro San Martín Theatre was the first to return to the scene. The Teatro Colón also welcomed the public when it opened the season with a tribute to Astor Piazzolla, which was extraordinary. Then we had to close and since that announcement, our expectation has been that the public theatre will be part of the return, and that it will be an accompaniment and a stimulus to the private and independent theatres that are so vital and important for the City.
Consumption of the arts seems to have changed rapidly with new habits. Since consumption on entertainment websites has increased, what does the City make of the experiences it has to offer?
Part of what the pandemic left us to learn is how to take advantage of technology to connect. In our case, we launched ‘Vivamos Cultura,’ a free-to-access nationwide platform of public and independent culture which allows us to expand access to cultural services, reach more people, and is a trend that is here to stay. We understand that face-to-face activities will coexist in a hybrid way with virtual ones — we see it as an opportunity that in no way replaces the magical experience of being in a dark room, enjoying a movie or a play or a recital, and the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI) developed it that way. Although it was held in person, with a limited capacity, we were able to offer it for free for the first time for the whole country through Vivamos Cultura. The messages that came to us from the northern and southern provinces are very exciting, and they encourage us to continue betting on virtual entertainment without neglecting the face-to-face presence that we so hope for.