By Simon Ballam, Dardis McNamee and Margarita Randl
In a widely anticipated move March 13th, the State Secretary for Art and Culture Ulrike Lunacek (Greens) presented a series of measures to support artists, managers and companies in the cultural sector to insulate them from the economic impact of the Coronavirus.
“It is clear that the health crisis will have a massive impact on art and culture” Lunacek said. Culture is of course central to Austrian life, as well as a major driver for the Austrian tourist industry, nearly 9% of the country’s GDP.
General support package
A general support package had already announced March 4 to ease liquidity bottlenecks arising from sales shortfalls. The AWS (Austrian Wirtschaftsservice, a government owned development bank) will guarantee bridge loans based on income losses over the previous year. One key measure will allow companies to delay social security contributions and payroll taxes, while larger organizations may be able to negotiate individual bailout packages. There will a special Härtefonds, a dedicated package of €1 billion to shore up small companies, non-profits and the self employed. This should be particularly helpful for the arts and culture sector, but exactly how much money will be available is still unclear. “This a mosaic of measures for many businesses,” Lunacek spokeswoman Heike Warmuth told Metropole. The arts businesses must hope that Lunacek is a skilled and tough negotiator.
Artists employed by cultural institutions fall under the protection of regulations on reduced working hours (Kurzarbeit) adjusted to current needs – now modified to allow employers to reduce hours to zero. The lower wages will be augmented by subsidies through the Employment Service (AMS) on a sliding scale according to income – 80% for those earning more than € 2.685 gross, up to 90% on wages below €1.700. Artists and employers will able to apply online, with the notification period will be reduced from six weeks to 48 hours.
Online pop-up performances
For the self-employed, the existing Künstler–Sozialversicherungsfond (Cultural Social Security Fund) already provides grants to artists whose primary residence is in Austria who face interruptions in earnings. However, this fund is not enough to cover income lost through federally mandated closures and other cancellations, but in an interview with Der Standard 20.3.20, Lunacek announced that the fund will increased tenfold, from €500,000 to €5 million.
Some of the artists are themselves looking for ways to keep Vienna’s cultural scene alive. Musicians have organized online for pop-up performances, opening their apartment windows every day at 6:00 p.m. to play for their neighbors. Several museums have introduced free online tours.
Vienna would not be the City of Mozart and Beethoven without its own special program to protect musical copyright, often the financial life blood for musicians, composers and music publishers alike. The copyright watchdog AKM/austro mechana has set up a special €1 million catastrophe fund to cover the likely loss in royalties.
“When the music dies, we really know what we up against”, said music industry heavyweight Peter Paul Skrepek.