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CULTURE | 29-07-2020 16:49

Economic crisis and pandemic suffocate Argentina’s culture industry

Argentina's art scene, particularly in Buenos Aires, is struggling amid quarantine restrictions. Artists and galleries are being forced reinvent themselves online in order to survive.

Theatres and cinemas closed, premieres suspended and concerts cancelled – the coronavirus pandemic has delivered million-dollar losses to Argentina's culture industry, a sector that makes up 2.6 percent of the nation's GDP.  

Buenos Aires, the country's main cultural powerhouse, is also the epicentre of the pandemic. The city and its surroundings make up 90% of the more than 180,000 Covid-19 cases and 3,300 deaths in Argentina. 

In the capital, restrictions are hitting hard. The closure of theatres due to the government-ordered lockdown, which began on March 20, has pushed some to reinvent themselves online and others toward bankruptcy, despite state aid programmes. 

Large-scale events have been cancelled or postponed. The Lollapalooza music festival, originally slated to take place in March, has been postponed until November, although the current trajectory of the pandemic makes that date seem unrealistic. 

When Buenos Aires' famed International Book Fair was suspended the publishers created a network of 900 online bookstores, in a bid to help publishers and book-sellers survive.

In addition to the financial loss, the crisis in the cultural sector means 300,000 workers are at risk of losing their jobs, almost 1.8 percent of the country’s workforce. 

Starting Monday, art galleries in Buenos Aires have been allowed to reopen for pre-booked visits, a hopeful first step towards the industry’s financial recovery.  

'Coup de grâce'

Theatres and theatre artists have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. 

“We were already coming from the previous pandemic: the recession,” explains Roberto Bisogno, the president of the Argentine Association of Theatre and Music Entrepreneurs. 

His theatre, La Comedia, went bankrupt at the end of 2019. His other enterprise, the Apollo Theatre, on the capital's legendary Avenida Corrientes, remains shuttered.

“We’ve had no business or activity for four months, the situation is desperate. This has been a coup de grâce to the theatre business,” he described. 

The government has approved of a protocol for theatres, including limiting audience numbers, but reopening is still uncertain.

“Social distancing limits audience members and compromises our funds for productions, and on the stage it limits the art. How do you make a romance work with no kiss?” He asks. 

Jorge Colombo, a tango dancer, used to organise 17 milongas a month for 2,000 attendees. In July, his first virtual milonga drew 40 people. 

“It was strange seeing everyone done up like they were ready to go out. Some danced alone, others were just sitting there,” he revealed. 

Art reinvents itself

María Andreani directs a foundation that bears her family name. It was due for its grand opening on March 24th, with four floors dedicated to contemporary art in La Boca. 

“Four days before everything closed. It was a shock. We had all the works on display and the champagne unopened,” she says.

Three months later, the Fundación Andreani opened virtually. 

“Creativity begins at the limits of what is possible. We will continue with our dances and artist interviews,” she explains. 

Elsewhere in La Boca, the Galería de Arte Barro has found a way to survive.

Its owner, Nahuel Ortiz Vidal, explained though that the pandemic prevented the opening of its New York branch and participation in international art fairs.

"Buying a work of art is irrational. That’s why we give three works on loan for a month. We send them to clients' houses to live with them. Most of them bought. We have to adapt," he says.

With 400 square metres per exhibition, Barro used to have openings with a thousand attendees. Since Monday, they have been allowed to receive five people per day, with plenty of alcohol hand gel and pre-booked visiting slots.

Broken

Polka, a production company from actor Adrián Suar backed by Grupo Clarín, launched to great success. Now the firm lies in crisis, owing wages to 300 employees. For 25 years, it has been a major producer of fiction films in Argentina. 

“The pandemic gave me a final hit,” Suar said this week. 

His new feature film, Corazón loco, in which he stars with Soledad Villamil and Gabriela Toscano, was supposed to premiere in theatres on March 19th. 

It is estimated that cinemas have lost approximately 15 million movie ticket sales thanks to the pandemic. 

According to union sources, the quarantine interrupted the filming of 18 feature length films and 15 short movies, leaving as many as 4,000 movie technicians without jobs.

The love of art

Cultural spaces, specifically the bars that are hotbeds for artists and cultural activity, are also sinking. Although some may return after the pandemic is over, many have disappeared. 

Others have launched ingenious virtual sales tickets, selling drinks and dishes that will serve as vouchers “when the bar is reopened.”

"It has become natural for artists to work for the love of art," said Lisa Kerner, the manager of Casa Brandon, a cultural and LGBT collective space in Villa Crespo. "But the pandemic is killing them."

by Sonia Avalos, AFP

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